What to Eat and Drink Before and After a Race

Chef George Duran offers five nutrition tips and his own recipes for marathon runners.

Too often, runners don’t know how much is too much when it comes to their food and drink intake. From loading up on too many carbs to overhydrating, making the wrong dietary decision can lead to world of hurt during a long race.

Look no further than a popular episode of The Office, in which overzealous boss Michael Scott makes real-life athletes cringe as he stuffs his face with creamy pasta just minutes before running a 5K. “I ate more fettuccini alfredo and drank less water than I have in my entire life,” he says after puking and crawling to the finish line.

But drinking too much water can be also be extremely dangerous or possibly even fatal. Taking in more fluids than you end up sweating or urinating out can cause cellular bloating in the brain, which can lead to death. This condition, called hyponatremia, has caused several marathon runners to die during a race in recent years.

Whether you’re running the Marine Corps Marathon this weekend or are just fueling up for a long run, these tips and recipes from chef George Duran, spokesperson for ConAgra Foods and host of TLC’s Ultimate Cake Off, will help you figure out the best things to put in your body before and after a race.

1. Focus on Carbs
“Load up on carbohydrates the night before the marathon. Carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of energy during long-distance races and will ensure that you perform your best. Choose carbs that are easy to digest to minimize digestive upset during the race. Pasta is a common choice for a pre-marathon meal.”

For a new take on the old spaghetti dinner, try this guilt-free spaghetti carbonara.

2. Power Up With Breakfast
“Eat a light breakfast the day of the race so you start off strong with proper energy. If you’re eating breakfast one hour or less before the race, try a piece of fresh fruit, an energy bar, or a piece of banana nut bread.

If you have two to three hours before the race, breakfast can be a bit larger. Peanut butter and apple wraps will give you pre-race fuel, and they can be made the night before to save you time the morning of the marathon.”

3. Replenish With Fluids
“Drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after the race to prevent dehydration. Refuel with sports drinks during the marathon; afterward, replace lost sodium with salty foods, such as soup and pretzels.”

4. Protect With Fruits and Vegetables
“During training, eat a variety of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. Strenuous exercise can produce free radicals in the body, and fruits and vegetables such as blueberries and sweet potatoes act as natural antioxidants to help protect your body from aging and disease.”

5. Store Up Some Iron
“Focus on eating plenty of foods that are high in iron to boost your natural stores. Marathoners, especially female runners, are often at risk for low iron levels.”

Try incorporating red meat, dark poultry, fish, iron-fortified cereals, beans, and dark, leafy green vegetables into your diet.