When it comes to race fuel, it’s easy to think just your training should take you over the finish line. But for endurance feats, you need a little food to give your tank more power.
Raeesa Solwa Mehtar, a biokineticist and running coach, has run multiple marathons, ultra-marathons and several half marathons. Here’s her advice on race fuel; what to eat and drink during the race — plus, what to avoid.
“Personally, I’d say ditch the gels,” says Raeesa. “Do you feel that energy gels make you feel nauseous, sick or give you stomach issues? I know I do. I’ve run four marathons (all under four hours), one ultra (under six hours) and a couple half marathons and did not use any form of energy gels.” Instead, Raeesa fuels up on real food. “Whole food solubles can easily provide the nutrition and electrolytes needed for long-distance endurance efforts,” she says. Here are her go-to strategies for race fuel that’ll get you across the finish line feeling strong.
1. Drink lots of water leading up to race day.
Your body needs to be thoroughly hydrated on the day of the race. “I usually have small sips of water during the race,” says Raeesa. Per experts, you should drink about two cups of water two hours before your run, then stay hydrated during the run, too. Go with your sweat as an indicator. Sweat is water loss from the body that needs to be replaced, so keep hydrating along with the rate at which you sweat.
2. Eat a good race-day brekkie.
“On the morning of the race, I have the same type of meal that I would normally have for breakfast, which is a smoothie,” says Raeesa. “You need to practise your pre-race meal strategy during training. The stomach needs to be trained to handle food during a long run.”
One Co Ready-To-Drink Smoothie Box
This selection of healthy, ready-to-go smoothies offers three different flavours in a compact bottle that you can stash in your bike kit or have before and after the race to fuel up.
3. Replace your body’s electrolytes.
After the first 10 kilometres in a race, you need to start replacing electrolytes. “I sip on any form of energy drink, but you could also opt for coconut water, which will provide natural energy, potassium and magnesium,” says Raeesa. Electrolytes could also come from small amounts of food containing salt and sugars, like nuts.
4. Go bananas!
Bananas are one of the best energy sources you can have as a runner. They’re a good source of carbs and help prevent cramps. Supporters usually hand out bananas on the side of the road, so grab one.
5. Pack some padkos.
“Dates are easy to chew and are higher in sugar and carbs compared to other dried fruit – they’re one of my favourite pre-race snacks,” says Raeesa. “Though certainly not an all-natural, real food, gummy bears or jelly beans contain fast-digesting simple sugars, which will reach the bloodstream quickly, giving you a boost when you need it. Honey may just be nature’s version of a sports gel.”
You can also make little oat balls as snacks and carry them for homemade, healthy fuel.
Tropical Mix Snacking Bundle
Combine these into a delish snack mix or pick and choose the ones you’d like to much on.
Nanuki Boom Bar Seismic Crunch
This bar, loaded with sunflower seeds and healthy cornflakes, makes for great race fuel.
OhMega Macadamia Butter
Choc-o-block with micronutrients and healthy fats, this delicious snack will keep you going for longer.
Check out Raeesa’s running woman’s workout for killer abs:
6. Don’t skip the taters.
A baked potato wedges stand during a marathon or ultra race is like approaching an all-you-can-eat candy stand in the running world. They’re not the easiest things to carry (ew…mashed potato pocket!) but if you come across a stand along the road, grab some munchies for a hit of minerals and sustained energy.
7. No surprises.
Be sure to test these new foods on training runs instead of during a race – just in case your stomach doesn’t react well to them while exercising (#totesawks). If gels do work for you, then, by all means, use them properly: drink enough water, train with gels months before, try different brands to see what suits you best and wash them down with water.