Exactly what to eat in the week before a big run

Ben Lucas has run over 38 marathons, making the ex-NRL player, trainer and co-founder of Sydney’s Flow Athletic something of an authority when it comes to preparing for that next big run day. Whether it’s a fun run (like this Sunday’s Bridge Run in Sydney), a half marathon, or a full marathon, his tried-and-tested tips for exactly what to eat in the week leading up to race-day will make sure you’re in tip-top condition to smash that PB.

“Leading up to a big run it’s important not to deter too much from your usual routine. Try to avoid purchasing new athleisure such as shoes, or pushing your running routine past your threshold, or trying new foods that you might react negatively to. When you’re this close to a big race day it’s important to keep all elements of your training consistent with what your body’s used to.

When it comes to nutrition you want to be consuming high quality protein, complex carbohydrates and good fats, and eliminating anything processed – which includes alcohol. For a more comprehensive eating plan to be in the best shape possible for game-day, you can use my week-in-food as a guide.”

My diet, 6 days before a big running race:

Pre-race training breakfast

Leading up to a big run I try to include as many vegetables to my plate to ensure an abundance of antioxidants. When training for a big run my body naturally produces free-radicals due to the stress and inflammation caused, therefore antioxidants help to offset the potential damage.

If I’m having eggs for breakfast I’ll try to also include spinach, tomatoes, avocados and some sauerkraut. Sometimes I switch it up and have oats with full cream milk, plenty 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 going in to my body! The one thing you don’t want leading up to a big run is dehydration, therefore I abstain from anything typically laden with salt, such as chips, olives, deli meats, stocks and sauces. I usually eat homemade salads or left-over dinners such as grilled chicken with brown rice, sweet potato, broccoli and spinach.

Pre-race training dinner

Anything anti-inflammatory is beneficial when you’re prepping for a big run, such as salmon served with quinoa, roasted cauliflower with turmeric, garlic and cumin, and a side salad of green leaves.

If it’s the night before a race I might have pasta with a mince Bolognese made from celery, carrot and mushroom or if you’re vegetarian you can substitute meat for lentils. Drizzle over extra-virgin olive oil for an added dose of good fats. The “carb loading” helps to produce glycogen, which is what your body will tap into on race day when available glucose has been utilised.

Pre-race training snacks

I have meetings most days and it’s not good for me to have 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 snack on raw nuts, seed crisps with hummus or carrots and cheese.

If I’ve gone for a run or taught a spin class I’ll have a bliss ball made with protein, seeds, nuts and dates for recovery.

My diet on the day of a running race:

What to eat immediately before the race:

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

I will eat something high GI, such as white toast with peanut butter and therefore utilise all the glucose from the bread. Low GI foods, like wholegrain toast, take longer for the body to metabolise – which is not what you want when you need readily available energy in the short term.

If your race is 90 minutes or longer, glycogen stores may be depleted and therefore you may want to pack a gel sachet for the carbohydrates.

At the risk of sounding crude, I have a black coffee before a run to make sure the train leaves the tunnel, sort of speak. There’s no doubt that I have been caught off guard over the course of my many marathons with a sudden urge and nothing breaks your stride more than waiting in line for a Portaloo.

Nutrition during the race:

You’ll notice a lot of water stops which will also have the option of sports drinks that contain electrolytes. It’s important to drink these every third pit stop and have some water every two to three kilometres. Electrolytes are extremely beneficial in preventing muscle fatigue, keeping you hydrated and replacing important ions such as sodium and potassium.

What to eat and drink after the race:

Drink plenty of water and sports drinks. You may not feel like eating immediately, but when you do try to refrain from indulging in something too salty which may cause unnecessary dehydration and increase your chance of further muscle fatigue the following day. Save this “reward” meal for the day after.

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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