What to Eat Before the Race

Food is usually one of those things we don’t think about until it’s too late. Either we are starting to bonk and didn’t bring enough snacks, or we ate the wrong thing and now we are beginning to suffer. Both of these scenarios are equally frustrating and make it almost impossible to finish our run, to say nothing of catching up to the runner ahead of us in a big race.

The truth is that whether you race XTERRA sprint triathlons or XTERRA trail marathons, you are what you eat. We recently caught up with XTERRA nutrition expert Alexandra Borrelly Lebrun to find out how to stay optimally fueled in order to turn our goals into PRs without running out of steam or regretting our last meal.

Lebrun is a pharmacist and has studied sports nutrition and natural medicine. She works alongside her husband, a former professional XTERRA athlete and 2005 XTERRA World Champ, Nico Lebrun, at Organicoach, where they create optimized nutrition plans for athletes of all levels. Lebrun says the most important pre-race meal we can eat is the one we eat most of the time. In other words, it’s not what we do during the race or the night before the race that matters as much as how we fuel our body on a consistent basis.

“One week out from a race, don’t introduce any new foods or dietary habits,” advises Lebrun. “It takes too much energy for the body to learn how to digest a new food.”

Instead, she advises that the week before a race, you make an effort to eat whole grains or legumes at every meal to stock the body’s glycogen stores. If you have a sweet tooth, four to five days before a race is the time to indulge, as long as you don’t overdue it. And it’s always a good idea to avoid dairy products, as these can irritate the stomach. Instead, oatmeal cookies, banana bread, and small amounts of chocolate are safe bets if enjoyed in moderation, and can help build up a bit of energy that you might need on the trails.

“Make sure you don’t deplete yourself,” says Lebrun. “The week before a race, while training, make sure you take an energy bar or drink and some dried fruit. You don’t want to deplete your glycogen this close to the event.”

To make sure you are consuming adequate protein, eat what you normally do, but avoid fatty or red meat like pork and beef and focus on fish, eggs, chicken, turkey, and vegetable proteins. It’s also important to make sure you are getting tons of fresh fruits and vegetables, but it doesn’t hurt to limit tricky vegetables like peppers, onions, cabbage, spinach, and oranges, as these could irritate the intestine.

“Steamed or grilled vegetables are much easier on the stomach that raw veggies,” said Lebrun.

As always, it’s important to get enough fat from nuts and vegetable oils, but avoid fried foods, as they can be difficult to digest. It’s also wise to avoid alcohol, as it can dehydrate the body and cause toxins to build up in the liver.

While as athletes, we have been taught to load up on carbs with a traditional spaghetti dinner the night before the race, Lebrun cautions against this as the tomatoes and cheese, or a heavy meat sauce, can create too much acid.

“It’s much better to concentrate on whole foods,” she advises. “A simple salad with carrots and vinaigrette, some lean protein like chicken, and some whole grains like rice, whole grain pasta, or gluten free bread can meet all of your nutritional requirements.”

Food is a funny thing. When our nutrition is out of line, we can suffer for days. Conversely though, when we are eating optimally, we might not even notice the good we are doing. That’s because when we feel like the best version of ourselves, we can concentrate on training, creating a positive mental state, and crushing our race goals.

Photo courtesy of Alexandra Borrelly Lebrun