What to eat the night before and morning of a half marathon. Plant-based foods that will help you PR in your next race! And make sure you know what foods to avoid.
By Rachel Longo (Reviewed by Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD)
Preparing for a half-marathon is no easy task. Not only is training important for performance, but so is nutrition. Since you’re reading this article, you’ve likely made the decision to transition to a plant-based diet and you’re in good company as plant-based has become increasingly popular among pro athletes, like boxer Mike Tyson, tennis star Serena Williams, and ultrarunner Scott Jurek.
Whether you’re new to plant-based eating or a seasoned pro, you may have questions about how to eat the night before and the morning of your race to make sure your body is properly fueled throughout the race.
These tips will help you craft a pre-race meal plan that will work with your plant-based diet.
What to eat the night before
Since carbs are the primary source of fuel for athletes, many runners may try carb-loading leading up to the event. [Learn more about carb loading and how to do it correctly.] If you’re carb-loading, you will increase your carb intake to 80% of total calories for the 2-3 days leading up to the event. The goal is to build up your glycogen stores, otherwise known as the stored version of carbohydrates in your body, so that your energy levels last longer throughout the race.
Carb loading is not necessary! If you don’t carb-load before a race, that’s perfectly okay! In that case, eat a pre-race dinner meal that consists of carbs, protein, and fat. Aim for 50% carbohydrates, 25% fat, and 25% protein.
Based on those macro recommendations, choose a dinner that is well-balanced with carbs, protein, and fat. Most plant-based meals are a good place to start, but here are some specific suggestions:
- Rice bowl with sweet potato, sautéed spinach, and tofu
- Pasta primavera– whole wheat pasta with veggies and olive oil
- Coconut Fried Rice
- Spiced Chickpea Veggie Burger on Whole Wheat Bun
Foods to avoid the night before
There are certain foods you definitely want to avoid the night before a race. Never try anything new or unfamiliar because you do not know if that food will cause indigestion, GI issues, and even sleep disturbances. Choose foods that are familiar to you.
Some foods you want to avoid the night before the race are:
- Fried Foods, like french fries, can lead to indigestion
- Caffeine-containing foods or drinks, such as coffee, tea, or chocolate, can alter sleep patterns
- Spicy foods, like salsa or sriracha, can cause stomach issues
- High fiber foods, such as beans and cruciferous vegetables, can cause gas and bloating
The night before the race you want to feel fueled, relaxed, and get a good night’s rest, so stick to those foods you know and love.
What to eat the morning of the race
On the morning of the race, it’s necessary to eat enough to fuel your body for the race.
The best type of pre-race meal/snack is one that contains a good amount of carbohydrates to raise blood glucose and add some additional carbs to your glycogen stores. You also want to make sure your pre-race meal fuels your hunger, provides fluids to prevent dehydration, and avoids you from having GI distress.
For the pre-event meal, a runner should consume 1-4 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight (or per 2.2 pounds body weight) about 1-4 hours before the event.
Here’s a quick reference tool for you to build a healthy pre-race meal:
|Time before race||Grams of carbs/kg||Example: 150 pound (68 kg) runner|
|4 hours before||4g/ kg||272 grams|
|3 hours before||3g/ kg||204 grams|
|2 hours before||2g/ kg||136 grams|
|1 hour before||1g/ kg||68 grams|
If you plan on eating 4 hours before the race, choose a meal that is higher in carbs and contains some protein. Since it is 4 hours before the race, you can have a larger meal because you have more time to digest. Here’s an example:
- 1-2 cups of granola + 1 large banana +1 cup of non-dairy milk + 1 tablespoon of nut butter + 1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup
If you’re eating 2-3 hours before the race, have a slightly smaller meal that has some carbs and protein to keep you full and provide sustained energy. Here’s an example:
- 1 cup oatmeal made with ½ cup milk +1 cup berries + 1 tablespoon nut butter
If you’re eating within 1 hour before the race, opt for simple carbs that can be digested quickly. Here is an example:
- banana and a swig of sports drink.
- Most of the options for mid-run fuel are also great options for pre-workout fuel within 60 minutes before a workout. Check out the list.
When planning meals for the morning before the race, it is best to try out different options during your training to see what works for you. Do this on king run days to mimic race day.
Foods to avoid the morning of
Similar to the night before the race, you should avoid unfamiliar foods the morning of your race. You’ll also want to stay away from fried foods, high fiber foods, and spicy foods.
Also, if you’re not normally a caffeine drinker, do NOT include it the morning of your race without experimenting first. Read more about the benefits of caffeine for runners here.
Specifically, it is best to stay away from foods such as:
- Croissants, due to high butter (fat) content
- Vegan Sausage
- Sugary muffins, such as a crumb cake muffin
Now that you know exactly what to eat (and what to avoid) the night before and the morning of your half marathon or marathon, it’s time to start planning your meal plan. Download your free 1-week Vegetarian Athlete Meal Plan now. If you make anything, snap a pic and tag me on IG @nutritionalanat.
Rachel Longo is a Master’s candidate and currently going through her Dietetic Internship at Teachers College, Columbia University. She studied Nutrition and Exercise Physiology and has a passion for sports nutrition. Her dream is to work with collegiate and professional athletes after finishing her internship and becoming a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.