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Preparing to run (or walk) the Indianapolis Mini Marathon? We know that ice cold chocolate milk at the end is the best part, and not just because it tastes good, but because the science says it’s a fantastic beverage to help your muscles recover after a hard workout. So how should we fuel up the rest of the time? We asked our friend, Beth Young, Registered Dietitian and Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics to offer some advice.

What to Eat for the Big Race

The Indy Mini is an event that brings together a variety athletes, from recreational to professional. When competing in distance running events, the two main factors that lead to exhaustion during competition are: using all of your carbohydrate stores and dehydration. Carbohydrates are an important source of energy. Our bodies break them down into sugars that it can use immediately, or store for later use. Storage of adequate amounts of carbohydrates, known as glycogen, in the muscles is required to ensure that runners can complete their event at a desired intensity.

Pre-Race Nutrition:

The pre-race meal is the best opportunity to top off glycogen stores and to make sure you are properly hydrated. For an early morning race, a light, low-fiber carbohydrate-rich snack can be eaten 1-2 hours before the race. Some great pre-race snack ideas include:

  • Yogurt with fruit and granola
  • Peanut butter and honey on toast
  • Cottage cheese and fruit

If your race has a later start time that allows for a larger meal 3-4 hours before the start of the event, you can follow that up with a small snack or carbohydrate containing fluid closer to the race start. I always tell my athletes “you train your gut like you train your muscles.” Experiment with foods and beverages during your training, to ensure that your body tolerates and digests those foods well. Some examples of pre-race meal ideas include:

  • Oatmeal with milk and fruit
  • Pasta with veggies and marinara sauce
  • Turkey sandwich with piece of fruit
  • Banana smoothie

During the race:

As the race goes on you will use up the majority of your glycogen stores, resulting in the need to consume more food or fuel. For half marathons or longer events, having 30-60g of carbohydrate per hour is recommended to prevent muscle exhaustion and to maintain energy levels. These should be easy to digest and high in carbohydrate with minimal fat, fiber and protein as these slow down our body’s ability to break down our food. Sports foods such as gels, energy chews, sports bars and sports drinks are great choices and easy to carry on the race course. Other whole food options include raisins, dried fruit or bite size pieces of granola bars. Consuming a standard 6% carbohydrate sports beverage at the water stations located throughout an event will help to meet carbohydrate and fluid needs at the same time.

Recovery Nutrition:

Races or long runs deplete glycogen stores. Consuming a carbohydrate-rich meal or snack soon after finishing the race, will help to maximize recovery. The recovery meal or snack should also include ~20-25g of high quality protein to aid with muscle repair. Fluids (mainly water) should also be included to rehydrate and replace sweat losses. Some recovery food suggestions include:

  • Low-fat chocolate milk, banana and graham crackers with peanut butter
  • Tuna, avocado and lettuce sandwich
  • Pita sandwich with turkey and veggies, low-fat chocolate milk and piece of fruit

Good luck and enjoy the race!

About Beth:

Beth A. Young, MA, RD, CSSD, CD

Beth is a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics and Instructor in the Food and Nutrition department at the University of Southern Indiana (USI). In addition to her work at USI, she provides nutrition services at both the collegiate and professional levels, most recently with the Evansville Thunderbolts. Reach her at bayoung12@usi.edu