Ask a Coach, with Dennis Barker
Ask a Coach, with Dennis Barker, is TCM’s way of helping you get the most out of your running and training. Barker, who coaches Team USA Minnesota’s professional athletes, answers your questions and offers helpful tips targeted at runners of all abilities. Today's topic: Pre-Race Nutrition for Longer Races.
Question: A number of readers have asked for pre-race nutrition advice for longer races. What pre-race nutrition advice do you have for runners competing in events from 10K through the half marathon?
Barker: I think it's important to practice pre-race nutrition because food likes/dislikes, allergies, etc. vary among individuals. Runners I have coached have eaten everything from a chicken sandwich to lentil pilaf the morning of a marathon because that's what they liked and what they knew would sit well in their stomach. But they wouldn't have found that out if all they ever ate was pasta and bagels.
Whether to eat the morning of a race can be dependent on how long you will be out there. The glycogen stored in your muscles from carbohydrates stays overnight. But the glycogen in your liver is depleted overnight. If you replenish your liver glycogen stores in the morning, your glycogen will last about 1 1/2 hours, depending on your pace and conditioning. This would have consequences for a half marathon for most people.
For a half marathon, I would use the same eating protocol as for a marathon. Have a carb meal in the evening. In the morning, get up four hours before race time and eat a light carb meal such as a bagel and a banana (or a chicken sandwich or lentil pilaf). The important thing is to eat something you like and that will be good in your stomach. Then during the four hours before your race, alternately sip a carb drink (that you have previously tested) and water until you feel hydrated enough (but not too much).
For races under a half marathon it is not necessary to eat the morning of a race. You will have enough energy. But if you want to have a less-hungry feeling at the starting line, use the same timing as for the half marathon - three to four hours ahead. Anything closer to the race than that is more likely to hurt your race by causing stomach problems than help it.
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Dennis Barker has coached successful marathoners from beginners to U.S. Champions. He is the coach of the Team USA Minnesota Distance Training Center. For more information, visit his page on Team USA Minnesota's website or follow him on Twitter @dbinsaintpaul.
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