Whether you’re preparing to run a 10km, 21.5km or 42km race, it’s important to eat right for race day success. Twenty-time marathoner Pam Nisevich Bede, who is also a dietitian with Abbott’s EAS Sports Nutrition, shares her list of must-eats before race day. The views expressed here are her own.
1. Whole grains
A natural choice when carb-loading, whole grains are recommended for at least half of your daily allotment of grains. This can include foods made from whole wheat, whole grain corn, brown rice, steel cut oats, quinoa, and Kamut. Antioxidant-rich, nutrient-dense, and fiber-full whole grains have been shown to decrease low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol —often known as “bad cholesterol”— decrease blood pressure, and improve glucose and insulin responses. Additionally, whole grains have been proven to reduce the risks of cancer, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Whole grains can also help counter inflammation, which is key for race day success.
2. Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are widely available and easily prepared in a variety of ways — roasted, baked, smashed or pureed. Loaded with vitamins A and C, beta-carotene, manganese, and other nutrients that are essential for runners, sweet potatoes are a great pre-run snack; and for runners looking for a natural alternative to gels, they can be enjoyed as a mid-run pick-me-up.
3. Tart cherries and tart cherry juice
For years, runners and athletes in the know have been adding tart cherry juice to their post-run protein smoothies when training. That’s because this functional food not only tastes great and provides a healthy source of carbohydrates, it has been proven to reduce pain and inflammation (and really, what runner isn’t looking for both at one point or another?).
Research has found that intake of this emerging super fruit can lead to reduced inflammation, reduced pain from gout and arthritis, and an extensive list of heart health benefits. Recent studies even suggest tart cherries can help reduce post-exercise muscle and joint pain. In order to enjoy both the flavour and health benefits, be sure to choose a high-quality brand packed with real cherries and not just cherry flavoring.
You might turn your nose up at beets but there’s a reason your mom recommends that you eat more root vegetables. Beetroot is a rich source of inorganic nitrate, which your body converts to nitric oxide and then uses as a vasodilator to assist in blood flow, muscle contraction, neurotransmission, and much more. Some research says taking beetroot juice may help athletes 1-2 per cent faster in races ranging from 5km runs to marathons.
5. Tea with honey
Not only is tea a great option when it comes to rehydration, it offers health and performance benefits not every runner is aware of. Tea contains hundreds, if not thousands, of bioactive compounds —including potent health protectors like flavonoids, and performance-boosting caffeine — and is naturally calorie-free which might seem ironic given that you’ll be increasing your intake of carbs and even calories in the days leading up to the race.
By adding a hint of honey and milk, runners can easily reap the health benefits that tea provides while also restocking their glycogen stores for the big day.