What to Eat When Training for a Long Race
You’ve worked hard and you’re ready to compete in a long-distance race—a marathon, half marathon or half-Ironman triathlon. An important part of your training is what you choose to eat—on training days and off days. Food and beverage products such as bars and sports drinks are fine for a quick energy boost while you’re working out or when you’re on a long bike ride and need some fuel, but foods such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy and wheat germ are essential for recovery.
Your journey begins
At the onset of training, you do not need to increase the amount of calories in your normal diet significantly. If you need a 100- to 200-calorie snack before your workout to stay energized, try eating a banana, half a peanut butter or almond butter sandwich or yogurt with a small handful of homemade granola. When you feel energetic during a workout, you’ve probably fueled properly. If you’ve had enough sleep but can’t make it through your workout, try eating a bigger snack about 30 minutes before exercising and make sure you stay hydrated. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s SuperTracker site provides information and an app where you can track your food and activity; it can also help you determine the amount of calories you need while training.
Once you start to exercise for more than an hour at a time, you’ll need additional calories before setting out for your workout; if you’re exercising for longer than two hours, you’ll need fuel during your exercise routine. Listen to your body, and always remember to hydrate!
A month before the big day
At this point your workouts are intense. Long runs, bike rides and swims are the norm when training for a half-Ironman. Being well fed and hydrated is the key to extended workouts. It’s fine to take your favorite packaged bars and sports beverages with you, but if you’re tired of the taste, make some homemade Honey Crunch Energy Bars with Wheat Germ. You can make a big batch, freeze the extras and take them out as you need them. Other foods that will rejuvenate you during long workouts include boiled potatoes, dried fruit and peanut butter or almond butter sandwiches. Start practicing to see which foods give you the energy you need but don’t upset your stomach.
A week before the race
You are tapering your exercise this week and your workouts are not as intense. You should also taper your eating slightly, reducing your calorie intake. Eating well-balanced meals including lean protein such as fish, chicken, eggs and lean beef or pork; whole grains or baked potatoes; and lots of green leafy vegetables will help you perform better on race day. Don’t skip breakfast! For a hearty breakfast, try this Cheese, Bacon and Wheat Germ with Poached Eggs recipe.
The night before
Remember, eat foods you know will not upset your stomach. Don’t start a high-fiber diet if you don’t regularly eat whole grains and vegetables—your stomach will suffer through the race. Give your body enough fuel the night before because you’ll need those calories on race day. Prepare a dinner that you normally eat before a big workout including all of the food groups. Don’t hesitate to have an extra portion of pasta and a snack before bed. Pack your snacks and beverages the night before so they’re ready to grab in the morning.
The day of the race
Don’t change your practiced food plan—everything you eat should be something you’ve already been eating during your long training runs, rides or swims. Make sure you’ve eaten something that’s easy to digest before the race (think low fiber). A plain bagel with peanut butter, eggs and toast or a banana with yogurt and bread are good choices. You should know your body by this point and know how much time you need between when you eat and when you start to run, bike or swim. It may mean you need to get up a little earlier to let the food digest. Race-day jitters can also affect your stomach, so be careful with your food choices.
Recovering from the race
A combination of protein, carbohydrates and fat is necessary to help repair your muscles. Eat or drink something with calories as soon as you finish your race. A smoothie is a good choice, as are a bagel, fruit and juice. When you’re ready to eat a meal, enjoy something that’s packed with vitamins and minerals, such as pasta with turkey meatballs and sauce and a big salad, a brown rice and black bean burrito with guacamole or roast chicken, sweet potatoes and spinach. Or treat yourself to your favorite special meal. You deserve it!
What’s your favorite go-to food or beverage when you are training?