Deciding on a pre race dinner is usually quite a challenge. No matter what option a runner picks, they often doubt whether it will backfire on them the next morning. But after months of training and hard work, that pre race dinner feels like it should be a really good one.
What is the best pre-race dinner?
It’s hard to define what the “best” pre race dinner is. Many different factors contribute to whether a specific meal will set a runner up for success on race morning. The race distance, the runner’s gut, the timing of the meal and the training the runner has completed will all affect what foods are best.
In general, a good pre marathon or half marathon dinner involves a higher portion of carbohydrates than usual, some protein, less fiber and no oils. Pre race dinners before 5k and 10k races aren’t as important, but should certainly still avoid upsetting the gut.
What time should I eat dinner the night before a race?
Much like finding the best pre-race dinner, determining the best time to eat dinner the night before a race is a bit tricky because it varies from one runner to the next.
Most runners find that their typical dinner time is what works best for their body, as they have about the same amount of time to digest. However, if a race starts significantly earlier or later in the morning than when a runner typically leaves for a run, it might be beneficial to add or adjust the morning breakfast.
Foods to Avoid in a Pre Race Dinner
While just about every runner is different in what works best for them, there are a few universal foods to avoid when deciding on a pre-race dinner.
Each person has a varying ability to digest fibers and complex carbohydrates, but nearly all humans struggle with certain foods. Here are a few to avoid altogether in your pre race dinner.
- Heavy oils and saturated fats
- Artificial sweeteners and sugar-free foods
- Heavy fiber foods
- Caffeinated beverages
- Excessive whole grains
- Low calorie or diet foods
8 Tips for the Best Pre-Race Dinner
Creating the best pre race dinner will likely involve a great deal of experimentation ahead of time. Trying a brand-new meal the night before a race has the potential to result in some very unexpected stomach or digestive troubles. Here are some tips to set yourself up for success with your pre-race dinner.
Make a trial meal during training
The best way to ensure success with what you eat the night before a race is to practice during training. Experiment with potential pre-race dinner ideas before your long runs. Keep track of how your body responds, and what worked best.
Most runners love the idea of carb loading and can’t wait to indulge after all of their training. However, over-indulging before the race can quickly lead to gut distress and some digestive issues on race morning. Prioritize the carbohydrates in your pre race dinner, but don’t let yourself go overboard.
Stick to the tried and true
A pre-race dinner is not the time to try something new – even if you’re out of town in a fun location. Stick with the meals and foods that typically work for you, and save the celebrating for the next day after your race. Your gut will thank you if you feed it with the foods it knows and loves.
Simple is often better
The fancier the meal, the more ingredients involved and the more likely that there is something in it that you are not used to. Think simple when deciding on your pre-race dinner: a pasta with sauce, potato, meat and veggies, or bowl with ingredients you love.
Listen to your body
Throughout training, it will be beneficial to take note of how your body feels on morning runs after eating different meals the night before. If you find that a certain type of food often leaves you feeling sluggish or has your stomach in knots the next morning, it’s best to avoid the night before a race.
Time it like usual
Sticking to your usual dinner time will help maintain your body’s natural rhythm. Eating dinner significantly later or earlier than usual will result in either too little time to digest, or some extra hunger in the morning.
Stick with water
Although it’s tempting to splurge with a fun beverage in celebration of your training, sticking to water the day and night before a race will help you stay hydrated. Once the race is over, treat yourself to those drinks you missed out on during dinner.
Make adjustments at breakfast
If the race starts significantly earlier or later than you’re used to running, you’ll need to make a few adjustments. If possible, save those adjustments for the morning. Late races will likely call for an extra snack or two, while earlier races will likely mean a lighter breakfast. Stick to what you are used to for the pre race dinner and then make any adjustments in the morning hours.
What to Eat Before a 5k or 10k Race
Typically, 5k and 10k races don’t call for much of a change when it comes to the pre-race dinner. Since the distance is relatively short, you’ll be able to get away with dinners that you’ve been eating throughout training.
Breakfast usually has a much greater effect on running performance during a 5k or 10k than dinner. If you’re stumped, here are a few ideas to consider – keep in mind, simple is often better.
- Toast with nut butter
- Oatmeal with fruit
- Bagel with cream cheese or nut butter
- Sweet potatoes
Half and Full Marathon Pre-Race Dinner Ideas
The pre-race dinner plays a much greater role when it comes to a half or full marathon. These distances require topping off the carbohydrate stores in order to avoid bonking, which begins with dinner the night before.
Here are some simple and straightforward ideas for a half marathon or marathon pre race dinner.
- White pasta with marinara and a side salad
- Pancakes with eggs or tofu scramble
- Turkey or beyond burger with sweet potato fries
- Grilled meat or tempeh with mashed potatoes
- Flatbread with tomatoes and mozzarella
Oftentimes, the best strategy to come up with what to eat for dinner before a race is to start by thinking of what you’re used to. If you typically have salads every night, you probably don’t need to avoid the fiber. If your body is used to a specific diet, don’t feel like you need to change it for a pre race dinner.
Stick with what you know and simply try to increase the carbohydrate portions. Adding some extra simple carbs, such as white pastas, breads and potatoes is a great way to bump up your stores so you have extra glycogen on race morning.
Setting yourself up for success involves practicing during training and planning to ensure all of your favorite foods are available. After dinner, sit back, relax and visualize yourself completing your very best race yet.