Exactly what to eat in the week before a big run


Ben Lucas has raced more than 38 marathons, making the former NRL player, coach and co-founder of Flow Athletic Sydney an authority when it comes to preparing for the next big race day. Whether it’s a fun race (like the Sunday Bridge Race in Sydney), a half marathon or a full marathon, your proven tips for knowing exactly what to eat in the week leading up to race day will make sure you’re in perfect conditions to crush that PB.

“Before a great race, it is important not to deter too much from your usual routine. Try to avoid buying new sports like shoes, or push your routine of running beyond your threshold, or try new foods that you might react to negatively. When you’re so close to a great race day, it’s important to keep all the elements of your workout consistent with what your body is used to.

When it comes to nutrition, you want to consume high-quality proteins, complex carbohydrates and good fats, and eliminate everything processed, including alcohol. To make a more complete eating plan in the best possible shape for game day, you can use my week in food as a guide.”

My diet, 6 days before a big running race:

Exactly what to eat in the week before a big run
Oats are a great option for breakfast. Image: iStockSource:BodyAndSoul

Pre-race training breakfast

Before a great run, I try to include so many vegetables in my plate to ensure an abundance of antioxidants. When I train for a great career, my body naturally produces free radicals due to the stress and inflammation caused, therefore antioxidants help compensate for the potential damage.

If I take eggs for breakfast, I’ll try to include spinach, tomatoes, avocados and a little sauerkraut as well. Sometimes I change it and I have oatmeal with whole milk, lots of berries, plus some seeds and nuts on top.

Pre-race training lunch

I try not to eat out for lunch because I never know how much salt is added to meals; I like to know what’s wrong with my body! The only thing that does not want to take to a great race is dehydration, therefore, I refrain from everything that is normally loaded with salts, such as fries, olives, sausages, broths and sauces. Typically, such as homemade salads or leftover dinners, such as grilled chicken with brown rice, sweet potato, broccoli and spinach.

Exactly what to eat in the week before a big run
Salmon is anti-inflammatory, which is perfect when you’re training hard. Image: iStock

Pre-race training dinner

Anything anti-inflammatory is beneficial when you’re preparing for a great run, such as salmon served with quinoa, cauliflower roasted with turmeric, garlic and cumin, and a green leafy salad.

If it’s the night before a race, I could eat pasta with Bolognese mince made from celery, carrot and mushrooms or if you’re a vegetarian, you can replace the meat with lentils. Spray on extra virgin olive oil for an additional dose of good fats. The “carbohydrate load” helps produce glycogen, which is what your body will take advantage of on race day when available glucose has been used.

Pre-race training snacks

I have meetings most days and it’s not good for me to drink too much coffee, so I usually order a smoothie with a variety of fruits and Greek yoghurt, which is a good source of protein. I’ll also eat raw nuts, crisp seeds with hummus or carrots and cheese.

If I go for a run or teach a spinning class, I’ll have a happiness ball made with protein, seeds, nuts and dates for recovery.

My diet on the day of a running race:

Exactly what to eat in the week before a big run
Stick to high GI foods the morning of a running race. Image: iStockSource:BodyAndSoul

What to eat immediately before the race:

You want to strike a balance between eating enough before a big run, but not so much as to feel uncomfortably full. Ideally, consume one to four grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight, up to four hours before the race.

I’ll have something with a high GI, like white toast with peanut butter, and therefore I’ll use all the glucose from the bread. Low GI foods, such as whole-grain toast, take longer to metabolize, which is not what you want when you need available energy in the short term.

If your career is 90 minutes or more, glycogen stores may run out and you may want to pack a gel bag for carbohydrates.

At the risk of sounding raw, I drink a coffee alone before Running to make sure the train leaves the tunnel, more or less. There is no doubt that I have been caught off guard in the course of my many marathons with a sudden impulse and nothing breaks their step more than waiting in line for a Portaloo.

Nutrition during the race:

Exactly what to eat in the week before a big run
Energy gels can be a great mid-race pick-me-up. Image: iStock

You will notice many water stops that will also have the option of sports drinks containing electrolytes. It is important to drink these every three pit stops and drink a little water every two or three kilometres. Electrolytes are extremely beneficial for preventing muscle fatigue, keeping it hydrated and replacing important ions such as sodium and potassium.

What to eat and drink after the race:

Exactly what to eat in the week before a big run
You might feel like you deserve a pizza post-run, but best to wait. Image: iStock

Drink plenty of water and sports drinks. You may not feel like eating right away, but when you try to refrain from eating something too salty that can cause unnecessary dehydration and increase your chance of additional muscle fatigue the next day. Save this “reward” meal for the next day.

Take some magnesium to aid in muscle recovery, and try fruits such as pineapple which contains bromelain to help reduce inflammation.

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