What you eat before a race can make the difference between finishing strong, finishing poorly or not finishing at all. Carbohydrates are ideal to eat before a race because they provide quick energy to the body and fuel working muscles. In the hour or two prior to a race, you should stick to higher-glycemic carbs, those foods that release energy more quickly into the bloodstream and are easier to digest. Practice good nutrition during your training periods to avoid any race-day nutritional surprises.
Most fruits are a source of simple carbohydrates that release energy quickly into the bloodstream for immediate use prior to a race. They also contain little to no fat, making them easier to digest before a running race. Try eating a banana, which can contain up to 31 grams of carbs depending on its size or water-rich peaches, plums or citrus fruits such as oranges. Berries including strawberries and blueberries can also be easy on the tummy but contain fewer carbs than starchier, sweeter fruits.
Whole grains are complex carbohydrates that slowly release energy into the bloodstream. These carbs are low on the glycemic index in that they help to stabilize blood sugar levels instead of causing rapid fluctuations that lead to fatigue and hunger cravings. Carbs from whole grains are best eaten three to four hours before your race to allow enough time for digestion. Try eating whole grains such as a bowl of oatmeal, whole-wheat toast, crackers or brown rice early in the day if you have an evening race or the night before a morning race for a fuel-filled dinner. The fiber in complex carbs also aids in good digestion to help push food wastes through the digestive tract for elimination prior to your event. Drink plenty of water with high-fiber foods to prevent gastric upsets.
Low-fat dairy products are a rich source of carbohydrates in contrast to full-fat dairy foods, which have more fat and fewer carbs. Higher-carb, low-fat yogurts release energy more quickly into the blood, making them ideal foods prior to a race. A 6-ounce serving of blueberry yogurt has approximately 26 grams of carbs. Avoid yogurts that have high carb counts due to added sugars in favor of plain, natural low-fat yogurts. You can also add chopped fruit to plain yogurt to add natural sweetness and boost energy levels.
If you have a sensitive stomach or feel too nervous to eat much before a race, consider drinking your carbs in the form of juice or a smoothie. Orange juices or banana-strawberry smoothies blended with low-fat milk, yogurt or water are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream where carbs are broken down into glucose for quick energy and less indigestion. Avoid store-bought energy drinks that have added sugars and a long list of ingredients containing preservatives and colorings, since these are unhealthy and can cause stomach sickness in some people.