The Perfect Pre-Race Meal

The perfect pre-race meal | 17 of 26 Marathon Series

What is the perfect pre-race meal? Is a question we get asked a lot. The pre-marathon meal starts 48 hours before the race as this is when you really need to focus on your food intake. Don’t get me wrong your diet throughout your entire training and general life is very important – however the 48 hours before the race are crucial. Also bear in mind you need to be in a comfortable routine with your diet, so you don’t make any changes before the race.

With this in mind, for this blog, we’ll break down overall pre-marathon nutrition into 3 parts:

1 – Marathon Training Diet

  • Your diet throughout your training should be focused on building a routine for your body, so that come race day your body won’t be surprised at what you’re eating and neither will you.
  • The timing of your meals is also important, because your body regulates many of its biological functions based on your eating routine; so aim to maintain a stable eating routine that takes into account the time of your race (especially breakfast). Aim to eat most of your daily carbs during breakfast and lunch and reserve dinner for protein and vegetables.
  • You will also need to ensure that you are supplying your body with fuel (in the form of low to medium glycemic index carbohydrates) and protein to repair the muscular damaged caused by heavy training.
  • A good example training day menu would be: Breakfast composed of oatmeal or porridge with honey, nuts and banana (eaten 3-4 hours before the time that your race will start) and maybe a greek yogurt with a small amount of fresh fruit. Lunch composed of sweet potato or rice, vegetables and chicken. Finished with a dinner composed of either salad (you could add some beans or pulses) or vegetables accompanied with either some fish or a type of meat; if you are vegan or vegetarian then check out our article on going vegan for more useful tips.
    Pre-marathon Meal
    Rice, Chicken and vegetables makes a fantastic training lunch and doesn’t have to be bland.



2 – Carb loading/ Last 48 hours

Carbohydrate loading (or carb loading as many call it), is a technique used to ensure your body’s stores of glycogen (energy storage molecules) are at their maximum so you have less chance of “hitting the wall”. Traditionally this was done by carbohydrate fasting in the week before the marathon and then consuming as many carbs as possible in the 48 hour period immediately before race day. This method has since been proven slightly ineffective due to the stress of fasting. So the best method is to simply increase your daily carbohydrate consumption to around 8-10g per kilo of bodyweight in the 48 hours before the marathon. This doesn’t mean scoffing down the biggest bar of chocolate you can lay your hands on!

  • Avoid sugary foods and aim to hit your carb target with good quality natural medium to long chain carbohydrates. This means rice, potatoes, grains nuts and seeds.
  • Don’t crazy with pasta. As although it is not high GI, it has a high GI load and also is very bloating; if you do have pasta, have little and often and ideally combine with grilled chicken, vegetables or grated cheese.
  • If you’re struggling to hit the carb target, then consider drinking a good quality sports carbohydrate drink to boost your carb intake.
  • Avoid eating within a couple of hours of sleeping as food digestion will lead to reduced quality of sleep.
  • Drink plenty of fluids as the body requires plenty of water to help store glycogen. This will lead to weight gain, but remember this is just water weight and will be gone after the race; so don’t panic!

3 – Race Day Breakfast

marathon breakfast
Porridge with honey and banana or dried fruit is an effective marathon breakfast.

By now you will have rehearsed this meal plenty of times during training, so it should not be a surprise to you. Make sure you eat it at least 3 hours before the race start and don’t be tempted to change what you have practiced in training.

  • A good race-day breakfast is carbohydrate rich, with some sugars and not too heavy.
  • Aim for around 3.5 grams of carbohydrates per kilo of bodyweight, so for a 75 kg runner this would mean consuming 263g of carbs; which is quite a lot at that time in the morning.
  • Add dried fruit and honey to oatmeal or porridge for concentrated, but easy to eat carbs.
  • Consider having two thirds of these carbs when you wake up and the other third about 90 minutes before the race in the form of an energy bar and/or a banana.
  • Avoid fats as they will take time and energy to digest and limit fibre; as it can cause bloating.
  • Remember coffee is a diuretic and will make you want to pee more, losing you crucial electrolytes and water.
  • Snack on sports sweets when you’re at the event for that final carbohydrate boost.

Follow this plan and you should have no reason for hitting the wall. And remember that your recovery meal is very important, hold the beer and desserts until you are well fed and hydrated.

Here is the next blog article in our marathon series:

18. What to Wear – Upper Body

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Ryan has worked in the sports industry since 1999 and has a wealth of experience across most subjects. Ryan holds a BSc in microbiology and has studied sports physiology in great detail in his own time. His main areas of specialisation are: footwear construction, footwear technology, strength & conditioning and anatomy & physiology. He splits his 13 hours a week exercise between, Kickboxing, MMA, Crossfit, Rock Climbing and Running.