Fueling Before a Race

Posted by Andrea Hacker MS, RD on March 11, 2013

The Starting Line: 

What is the best way to fuel on the morning of a race?


Whether you are running a 5K or a marathon, every runner should have a plan for what they are going to eat and drink on the morning of race day. The same way that a race car needs a full tank of gas before the race, a runner needs proper fuel before competition. The goal of eating before a race is to guarantee that your body has a ‘full tank’ of glycogen (the body’s primary fuel for exercise).

For a 5 or 10K, you may want to eat around 300 calories; but for longer events runners should have around 400-600 calories. Your pre-race meal should be mainly carbohydrates (2-3g/kg body weight), moderate protein, and low in fat. Try to minimize the amount of fiber in this meal to help prevent stomach discomfort during your run. You should eat before a race even if you are not hungry - think of it as fueling up your body so that you can perform optimally.

For large races there can be more than 4 hours between waking up and the start of the event. When this happens, it can be a good idea to have 400-600 calories soon after waking, and follow it with a 100-200 calorie snack an hour before the race. This will help curb your hunger at the starting line, give you the energy you need for the early part of the race.

A recent meta-analysis of 17 research studies reported that runners who consumed carbohydrates before running for 70 minutes or more had a 1-13% improvement in performance compared to those that did not pre-fuel.

If you are traveling to a race make sure that you have a plan ahead of time:

  • What are your going to eat?
  • Are you bringing food, or buying it on location?
  • Do you have ways to prepare and store your meal?
  • Don’t forget to hydrate! Try drinking 2-4 cups of fluid a few hours before your workout, and follow it up with 1-2 cups an hour before. See previous posts on hydration for more in depth ideas.
  • One last reminder - it is a good idea to practice your race morning meal or snack a few times before the big day to reduce the possibility of stomach distress and increase your comfort.

Here are a few healthy sample meals to try:

  • Oatmeal with milk, fruit and nuts.
  • Turkey sandwich with fruit
  • Cottage cheese with crackers and fruit
  • Toast and peanut butter.


The Finish Line:

Whether it is a St Patrick’s Day 5K or the LA Marathon, don’t forget to fuel on race morning.  



1. Colombani, P et al. Carbohydrates and exercise performance in non-fasted athletes: A systematic review of studies mimicking real-life. Nutrition Journal 2013, 12:16. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23356905

Photo Credit: javajoba via photopin cc

 *Note: This general information is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment or advice. Always consult a professional before making changes to your health and wellness practices. 

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