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Pre-Race Meal Plans (for Every Distance!)

Elizabeth Kelsey /
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com


Fuel up for your best race ever with our easy-to-follow meal plans.

The night before her historic win at the 1978 New York City Marathon, Grete Waitz famously dined at Tavern on the Green, where she enjoyed a three-course meal complete with shrimp cocktail, steak, ice cream and red wine. The next morning, Waitz ran a new world record, but felt so badly that she took off her shoes and threw them at her husband, yelling, “I’ll never do this stupid thing again!”

The heavy dinner may have left the legendary marathoner with a bad stomachache, but for us mortal runners, it would almost certainly have led to disaster. “Never invite a new food or drink into your diet on or before race day,” says St. Louis-based marathoner and sports nutritionist Jennifer McDaniel, M.S., R.D.

So what should you eat before a big event? McDaniel says that depends on the race. The fueling strategy you use for a marathon will be different than a 5k, although one rule of thumb always applies: “Practice nutrition strategies during training so you are comfortable with your routine.” Here’s McDaniel’s best advice for fueling your way to a strong finish no matter the distance.

5K MEAL PLAN

Short races may upset your stomach because of their higher intensity. To avoid GI distress, reach for a breakfast that’s easy on the belly. Your meal should be low in protein and fat and include low-fiber carbs. After the race, take advantage of the orange slices, bananas, bagels and cookies you can often find near the finish line.

Lunch (20 hours pre-race)

Turkey sandwich with avocado
Carrots dipped in hummus
Small apple
Water

Snack (16 hours pre-race)

Trail mix
Water

Dinner (12 hours pre-race)

Grilled salmon
Brown rice
Steamed zucchini
Water

Snack (10 hours pre-race)

Air-popped popcorn

Breakfast (90 minutes pre-race)

Banana with 1/2 Tbsp. peanut butter
16 oz. water or low-calorie sports drink

Get more pre-race nutrition tips with a subscription to Women’s Running Magazine. Subscribe today!

10K MEAL PLAN

During training, experiment with a variety of fueling options before tempo runs to gauge which foods your stomach can handle. After the race, eat an energy bar that contains both carbs and protein.

Lunch (20 hours pre-race)

Veggie burger
Baked sweet potato fries
Water

Snack (16 hours pre-race)

Trail mix
Water

Dinner (12 hours pre-race)

Grilled chicken
Steamed quinoa
Spinach salad with light dressing
Water

Snack (10 hours pre-race)

Low-fat ice cream with strawberries
Water

Breakfast (90 minutes pre-race)

Fruit and yogurt smoothie
8 to 10 oz. water or low-calorie sports drink

Get more pre-race nutrition tips with a subscription to Women’s Running Magazine. Subscribe today!

HALF MARATHON MEAL PLAN

You will need some serious fuel to carry you through this long race—especially carbohydrates. During the half, eat one or two gels and drink water and a sports drink at the aid stations.

Lunch (20 hours pre-race)

Chicken burrito with guacamole
Black beans and rice
Water

Snack (16 hours pre-race)

Trail mix
Water

Dinner (12 hours pre-race)

Tofu and vegetable stir-fry
Brown rice
Water

Snack (10 hours pre-race)

Vanilla pudding with sliced banana

Breakfast (2 hours pre-race)

Whole-wheat bagel with peanut butter and jelly
8 oz. water or low-calorie sports drink

Snack (1 hour pre-race)

Banana
8 oz. water or low-calorie sports drink

Get more pre-race nutrition tips with a subscription to Women’s Running Magazine. Subscribe today!

MARATHON

In the days leading up to your marathon, include more carbs in your diet where possible: a cup of juice at breakfast, an additional spoonful of honey in your tea, a snack of pretzels, extra rice at lunchtime and fruit with dinner. During the race, aim to consume 20 ounces of a sports drink as well as one or two gels per hour. Snack on bars and oranges at the finish line and make sure to eat a protein-rich meal within two hours of crossing the line.

Lunch (20 hours pre-race)

Turkey burger on whole-wheat bun
Side salad
Pretzels
Lemonade and water

Snack (16 hours pre-race)

Greek yogurt and strawberries
Water

Dinner (12 hours pre-race)

Baked fish
Steamed zucchini
Brown rice
Banana

Snack (10 hours pre-race)

Frozen yogurt with drizzled honey

Breakfast (2 hours pre-race)

Whole-wheat bagel with peanut butter and jelly
8 oz. water or low-calorie sports drink

Snack (90 minutes pre-race)

Banana
8 oz. full-calorie sports drink

Snack (45 minutes pre-race)

1 gel
4 oz. water or full-calorie sports drink

Get more pre-race nutrition tips with a subscription to Women’s Running Magazine. Subscribe today!

THE UNFIT LIST

Fatty, fibrous and processed foods will come back to haunt you mid-race like the ghost of pizzas past. Avoid these items in the 24 hours before the gun goes off.

-Cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts)

-High-fat cheese

-Bran cereals

-Sugar-free or “diet” snacks and beverages

-Deep-fried foods

-Fatty meats