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Race Day Morning - How to Fuel to Run Your Best

Or ANY morning competition - games/matches

I was recently at a cross country meet and overheard many runners talking about how they don't eat anything the morning of races. I get it - you are nervous, you don’t have an appetite, it’s really hard to eat.

I’ve been there.

BUT - you will not perform your best if you do not fuel your body before competing!

This goes for ALL athletes competing in the morning, not JUST cross country runners.

Many athletes believe fueling in the morning is going to lead to stomach cramps, contributes to nausea, will make you feel worse BUT with practice and the right fuel, you can avoid those mishaps. Morning nutrition BENEFITS your morning performance. For my athletes competing in tournaments, skipping out on morning nutrition starts you off on the wrong foot and it is hard (if not impossible) to dig out of later on in the day.

Why does it matter if I eat (or drink) in the morning?

Your body needs calories in order to live. Even if you laid in bed ALL DAY LONG, your body is still burning energy and you gain that energy through the calories found in food and beverages. When an athlete eats dinner and goes to bed and wakes up in the morning, that is typically 10+ hours the athlete has gone without any food. While sleeping, the athlete burns energy and wakes up in a fasted state. The body NEEDS food to start energizing itself. The muscles and brain prefer to use carbohydrates as energy and after a night of sleep, carbohydrate stores are low.

Expecting your body to perform without giving it the fuel it needs to do so is CRAZY. Your body cannot do what you are training it to do without the FUEL it needs to perform.

Give your muscles and brain the CARBOHYDRATES they need to do their jobs race day morning.

What do I eat race day morning?

Think HARD DAY PLATE - which means half of your plate is carbohydrates. How you eat in the morning will really depend on how much time you have. If you start running at 7:00 or 8:00 am, there may not be enough time to eat a whole meal. Let's go through these situations.

When possible, eat a meal 3 hours before the START of the game

Most of you have to arrive onsite at least an hour before you will start competing. For many of you, this will allow you to have a full 3 (or 4) hours to digest a meal before the competition begins. It is okay if you begin warming up and your stomach is a little full, it will be ready once it is time to race.

When you have this time, you want to eat 20-25 grams of protein and LOTS of carbohydrates. The goal is to eat 1.3-1.8 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight 3-4 hours before competition begins. For a 100 lb athlete this would equal to 130-180 grams of carbohydrates in ONE meal. For a 150 lb athlete, 195-270 grams of carbohydrates. A WHOLE LOT of carbohydrates. A dietitian, like myself, can help you determine what mix of carbohydrates is going to work best for you.

Keep your meal low in fat as fat is hard to digest, especially when you factor in race day nerves.

I only have 2 hours until game time!

When you have less time, you don't have quite as long for your food to digest, so you want to eat the same type of meal but smaller. You want a small amount of protein and CARBS CARBS CARBS. Milk and cereal would work well here or peanut butter on a bagel.

All athletes should be up long enough before the competition starts to get this in. PRACTICE eating before morning practices and before morning races early in the season. You want to have your pre-competition meal NAILED DOWN by the time you reach championship season.

Need a boost? Less than an hour to go!

Many athletes can benefit from adding a carbohydrate rich snack 45-60 minutes before competition time. You want this snack to MAINLY contain carbohydrates because carbohydrates digest fast and give your muscles much needed energy.

Some athletes will drink some sports drink here, others will eat a fig bar, others a couple honey stinger chews. The key is to figure out what your stomach can handle.

My tournament athletes definitely need to take advantage of the quick carbohydrate snack to help keep energy levels high all throughout the day.

But Lindsay - I am too nervous to eat!

This happens to ALL of us. We all get those nerves before big competitions. Even professional athletes still have nerves. However, when it comes to nutrition, you have to fight something down and tell yourself WHY you are doing it - you are eating to PERFORM YOUR BEST.

If you aren't eating at all, I recommend starting small with liquid nutrition. Sports drinks, juice, even drinkable yogurts can all work well here. If you have 3 hours, make a smoothie! Remember, what works well for your teammate may not work well for you.

Carbohydrates are going to be the easiest on your stomach, so having an english muffin with jam or a frozen waffle with jam would be food options that may sit well in your stomach.

You can train your gut to process food when you are nervous but you have to practice! It will be worth the results once you discover WHAT your stomach tolerates. It may take some trial and error but it will be worth it.

What Happens When an Athlete Eats Before Racing

So many good things happen! You will feel STRONGER and you will be able to perform at your full potential. Your endurance and strength is increased because your muscles are fueled. Surprisingly, your brain is also better fueled which helps increase MENTAL toughness which is a big part of all sports.

I recommend for all of my athletes to consistently practice their game/race day fueling and hydration strategies. Fueling makes a huge difference in performance. For all my tournament athletes, eating beforehand is a MUST or else you dig yourself into a huge whole when it comes to energy and nutrition. It is nearly impossible to get out of it, especially when it is a multiple day event.

I help athletes with the game day/race day fueling. If you want help, book a session with me today, we will customize a competition day plan for you.

Comment with your go-to pre race or pre game meal!


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