Nutrition Tips For Running Your First Race

marathon runners

( Whether you’ve been running for a few years or just got started, having a plan for nutrition and hydration leading up to, during and after your race can help make the experience a great one. Read on for nutrition tips to create your own customized race plan so you can perform at your peak and recover in no time.

Why Carbs Are King: 

Endurance sports are the last place to skimp on carbs. The majority of the time your body is working, it is using the aerobic energy system which relies primarily on blood sugar and stored sugar (glycogen) to fuel muscle movement. Not having adequate stores or circulating blood sugar means early fatigue and less power, period.

Pre Race :

The key to making any distance work is to maximize your glycogen (the stored form of glucose in your muscles) before the race by including healthy whole grains, fruits and starchier vegetables regularly throughout the day for a few days before your race. For longer races you’ll likely want to do a more formal 5-7 day carb loading, if you’ve never tried it before the best thing to do is talk to a sports nutrition pro to work out a plan designed specifically for you.

The night before your race have a meal rich in whole grains or another low glycemic index food (potatoes and sweet potatoes with skins on work too) along with a lean source of protein and moderate amount of fat to top all your energy stores off.

What about hydration? Being fully hydrated in the days leading up to the race means you won’t have to guzzle down as much the morning of or during the race which helps prevent stomach discomfort without sacrificing the performance edge being hydrated gives you. Try to keep yourself drinking throughout the day starting several days leading up to your race and include a few big glasses the evening before.

Race Day:

The morning of your race you want to stick with a pre-race meal that you’ve tried before a full length training run so you don’t get any surprises. Experiment with both solid meals, like oatmeal and fruit, and liquid meals,, like a yogurt and fruit smoothie to see what you feel better running on. The goal of the morning of is to top off your circulating blood sugar and also provide as much comfort as possible.

  • Comfort means finding a balance between not being hungry during the race, but also not being too full or triggering any uncomfortable reactions from the gut.
  • Digestion and absorption slow down significantly while you’re running for extended periods, so be gentle on your system for the best results.

Hydration needs to start early so your body has a chance to absorb the water. Including liquids as tolerated right up to, and even during the race. As with food you need to test out what your optimal race day amounts are to keep from feeling too full (or having to pee!) mid-race.

Know Thy Distance and Thyself:

5-10 K : You may not need during race supplements like gels or bars as the time you’ll spend running is relatively short and if you’ve prepped properly the glycogen in your muscle will carry your energy through the race (up to about 60-90 minutes). If you do want to bring something, make sure it is easily digestible (now is not the time for high fibre or even hard to chew), easy to eat on the run, and provides you the quick pick me up you may need.

10 K and up: Know your body! Some people are more efficient at pulling the last bit of glycogen from muscle, and others feel symptoms of low blood sugar more quickly (fatigue, weakness, shakiness, feeling like your feet weight 50 lbs each). Experiment with what works best for you beforehand and always bring a back-up source of glucose if you’re not sure. It could be as simple as a water bottle with 1/3 juice and 2/3 water or as fancy as carbohydrate gels if drinking lots of fluid tends to make you feel “weighed down” or sick to your stomach. Feel better with solids, I’ve had a client who ate a banana during every marathon so don’t feel like you have to do what everyone else is doing. Running a race is all about you and your body connecting.


Recovery is an oft overlooked but really important phase, even for amateurs and first timers. Maybe especially for amateurs and first timers! You have put your body through a pretty incredible workout and quite a bit of impact that comes from pounding the pavement.

Follow up your race with a well balanced meal- a good dose of protein for muscle repair, a mix of low glycemic carbs (like whole grain pasta, wild rice or quinoa) and medium to higher glycemic carbs (such as pineapple, melons and bananas) for maximal muscle glycogen repletion and lots of fruits and veggies throughout the next 24 hours to amp up your natural anti-oxidant intake to help repair any damage and form new healthy tissue. 

Your first race is both a milestone and a learning curve. Take mental notes of how you felt at different portions, as you may find that certain symptoms like sudden fatigue or feeling sick are not just your muscles giving out on you- it could be your body telling you it needs to be fueled differently.

What food and fluid tricks help you make it through runs feeling like a champ? Share with us in the comments below!

HONcode accreditation seal.About

HealthCastle, founded in 1997, is the largest online nutrition community run by Registered Dietitians. Information on this site is provided for informational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or dietitian. Information and statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.