Race Day Nutrition

Written by Eve Guenther, KSB Hospital Dietitian

Another year has flown by, and the Reagan Run is right around the corner.  Whether you are a seasoned runner or a complete beginner, now is the perfect time to start getting ready for race day. Nutrition is an important component that often gets overlooked, and frankly, it’s easy to do. Race day can be hectic and I’m here to help. Here are a few tips and tricks to maximize your potential on July 6th.

Before the Race Starts

During an endurance event your body will depend on carbohydrates for fuel so before the race, consider a pre-race snack with around 30-60g of carbohydrates. Check the food label for ‘total carbohydrates’ and compare with the serving size of the package. Try to consume this snack around 1 hour before start time. The snack should be low in fat, fiber, and protein to avoid any stomach upset. Options like simple sugars (white breads) are going to absorb faster in our bodies and provide energy faster than complex carbohydrates (wheat bread). Pick a food you enjoy. Right before the race is not the time to experiment with a new food, so choose what you know is going to sit well in your gut and that works well for you!

Snack Examples

  1. Fresh fruit (2 whole pieces or 2 cups)
  2. Dried fruit (1/3 to ½ cup)
  3. White bagel (1/2 to 1 bagel or 1-2 mini bagels)
  4. White bread (2 slices)
  5. Cereal with milk (1 cup cereal + ¾ cup milk)
  6. Frozen waffles (2 or 1 with fruit/syrup topping)
  7. Pretzels (1-2 oz)
  8.  Potato (1 medium)
  9. Sports drink (Gatorade/Powerade, full sugar, 2-3 cups)
  10. 100% fruit juice (8 oz or 1 cup)

The day before, try to eat a moderate amount of carbohydrates (fruits, grains/starches, milk) prior to race day to prepare your body to store extra carbohydrates for energy; think of it like buying extra gas canisters for your car. The snack on the day of the race is like the gas going into those canisters, ready to be burned into fuel.


Hydration is key during any physical activity, but especially during an endurance event. Water, much like carbohydrates, is something we may forget on race day. When you wake up, check the weather. Is it going to be a warm day? Are you the type of person who sweats during exercise?

When we exercise, we lose sweat in the form of water and electrolytes (especially salt). Take sips of water throughout the day, and with the potential loss of electrolytes, having a sports drink may be appropriate for after the race.  Avoid the temptation to drink a bottle of water over a short period of time.

On race day, keep an eye on the color of your urine. Darker color urine may suggest dehydration. Chances are if you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated.

After the Race

You may think that race day nutrition ends when you cross the finish line, but it’s during that time that our body relies on nutrition to begin what’s often referred to as the ‘recovery period’. This period consists of the 3 R’s: refuel, repair, and rehydrate. About 15 to 60 minutes after the race, grab a snack. This snack consists of a beverage and a food with carbohydrates and protein. As previously mentioned, your body uses carbohydrates as its primary source of fuel, so it is important after a work-out to refuel our body. When we exercise, we are tearing and reforming our muscles; protein builds and repairs our muscles. Rehydrating with the beverages below helps to replenish fluids and electrolytes we lost during our work-out.

Beverage Suggestions:

  • Chocolate milk (1.5 to 2 cups), low fat milk\
  • Coconut water
  • 100% fruit juice
  • Decaf teas
  • Tart cherry juice
  • Water
  • Sports drink

Carbohydrate/Protein Suggestions:

  • Pasta and chicken
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
  • Nuts and fruit
  • Whole grain crackers and peanut butter/almond butter
  • Apple and cheese stick

In summary, stay hydrated and grab a snack before and after you hop onto the track. Proper nutrition is crucial and some of these tips and tricks are sure to help you have the best race possible!