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  • Writer's pictureAllison Koch, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN

Fuel And Hydration Tips For An Afternoon Or Evening Race

It’s officially Summer Trail Chase week! By now you are probably starting to think about what you’ll wear, when you need to leave to get to the race, how you’ll get there, and hopefully, how you’ll fuel/hydrate. Unlike many road races here in Chicago, the Summer Trail Chase starts in the evening. Does this change your race day fueling/hydration strategy? The short answer is yes… and no. Read on for some tips on how to best fuel up for an evening event that will help you perform at your best and maybe even set a new PR!

Have a plan! Think about the ENTIRE day before your race. Not just the hour or two before or meal prior to the race. Create a plan for the day that includes not just your warm up, but meals and hydration as well and stick to it. To create a plan that works for you, think backwards from the race start.

  • < 60 min to start time: focus on hydration and if hungry, simple energy sources like Gatorade Endurance chews, gels or sip on some Endurance Formula.

  • About 90 min - 2 hours before the start time: aim to have your last solid fuel (or food). This could be your typical morning pre-race meal (just because it’s in the evening doesn’t mean you have to skip your go-to bagel with peanut butter). Just be sure it’s not too heavy (i.e., high in fat), contains simple or easy to digest carbohydrates (avoid high fiber options) and a little bit of protein to keep you satiated. Toast with peanut butter, a small bowl of cereal with low-fat milk, a granola bar, or some pretzels with hummus are all good options.

  • 4-6 hours pre-race start time: a lunch that is easily digested and carb-centric. The goal of this meal is to top off your glycogen stores - or the storage form of carbohydrates in our muscles - which ensures you have adequate energy for the race. Avoid very high fat/fiber foods at this meal as they can take longer to digest and lead to stomach upset during the race. If you typically munch on a salad for lunch, swap it out for a turkey sandwich and add a bag of pretzels in place of the chips, plus a piece of fruit. Other ideas could include a bowl of pasta with light red sauce, a small serving of lean protein (like chicken, ground turkey or tofu), ½-1 cup cooked veggies mixed in and a piece of bread or toast. Or a classic PB&J sandwich with a handful of baby carrots and a piece of fruit. Whatever sits well with you, tastes good and satisfies your hunger will help you race well.

  • 8-10 hours before start time: a hearty breakfast that will help fill you up without weighing you down. Stick with something tried and true. A bowl of oatmeal with dried fruit and nuts mixed in plus a couple scrambled eggs. Waffles or pancakes topped with nut butter and paired with a glass of milk. A fruit smoothie made with protein powder, frozen fruit, milk of choice and paired with some avocado toast.

Stress snacker? Plan for that, too! Stick to your race day meal plan and keep your snacks light. Also try to stay mindful when munching. If you eat out of boredom or stress (which you are bound to feel on race day!), stop yourself before reaching for another handful or chips, popcorn or pretzels and ask yourself if you are really hungry at that moment. The simple act of checking in with yourself may help keep you from mindlessly munching all afternoon. If, after you check in with yourself, you are still hungry then it’s time to eat!

Good snack options include a carbohydrate-containing food + a protein-containing food to provide a satisfying mix. Examples include a piece of fruit + a spoonful of peanut butter or string cheese, DIY trail mix made from a handful of dry cereal or pretzels mixed with dried fruit and nuts, a low-fat yogurt topped with granola, a granola bar with at least 7-10 grams of protein, or even a couple fig cookies with a glass of milk of your choice. All of these options include easy-to-digest carbohydrates that can help fuel you up throughout the day when you feel like snacking. Snack attacks will happen. But if you plan for how you’ll handle them - vs. resorting for endless handfuls of chips or trips to the office vending machine - you’ll be in much better shape come race time.

Don’t skip hydration! But also don’t drink all your water in the 2-4 hours leading up to the start of the race. Spread it out evenly and sip - don’t chug it - all throughout the day to help with absorption. Always have a water bottle handy or within an arm's reach. Aim for at least ½ your body weight in fluid ounces of water (e.g.,a 150 lb person would need 75 fl oz of water per day or about 9 cups) as a daily goal and at least 16-24 oz in the 2 hours leading up to the race. For more on hydration tips and how much to drink during and after the race, visit this blog post.

Practice makes PRs! I know it may be tough at this point (given its race week), but if you haven’t practiced training/running hard at night, add a couple of workouts or easy runs in the evening to allow your body to adjust if possible. And as the familiar saying goes -- do nothing new on race day. That includes how you eat - from new restaurants, cuisines, or pre-race protein bars. Stick with foods you’ve tried before and you know sit well with you. Race day also isn’t the day to start a new diet, increase your fiber intake substantially, or to have a high-fat meal for lunch. Keep it simple and you’ll have one less thing to worry about come race evening!

Having a plan for race day - whether it’s in the morning or at night - can make all the difference. Take it from me personally -- and know that snafus with fueling can happen to dietitians too. I’ve only DNF’d a race twice in my 20+ years of running. And both were because I didn’t follow my race day plan -- including one race that just so happened to fall in the afternoon. I made a bad lunch choice and about 1 mile in, I knew I needed to visit the port-o-let. Too embarrassed to jump back into the race, I slowly walked back to the finish area to collect my things and head home. Avoid the embarrassing DNF by thinking through your race day strategy -- and even practicing it if you can -- prior to race day! You might even surprise yourself with a brand new PR!


Do you have specific nutrition or hydration questions? Curious about what it’s like to work with a dietitian? Reach out to me today!


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