When you're prepping for a Spartan race, physical training tends to take priority over nutrition. But the thing is, proper nutrition has a huge impact on your training, and — ultimately — your performance. Whether healthy fuel has been a major part of your game plan throughout training or not, focusing on what to eat before a race goes a long way.
“At this point, your nutrition should be geared entirely toward fueling,” registered dietitian Anne L’Heureux, a Spartan SGX coach, says. “You’re looking to properly hydrate and incorporate quick-digesting foods that provide energy when you need it.”
Here, L’Heureux shares the fueling approach she recommends for the days leading up to the big race.
What to Eat Before a Race to Ensure You're Properly Fueled
7 Days Before the Race
Food: “Work to eat really clean,” L’Heureux says.
In other words, opt for fresh foods and natural ingredients, such as berries, almonds, avocado, and lean proteins (like chicken, turkey, or roast beef) that are as close to the source as possible. No processed, packaged stuff!
“Tell yourself that every bite of food this week either adds to or takes away from your performance,” L’Heureux says.
Hydration: Aim to drink half your body weight in ounces of water. If you weigh 150 pounds, for example, down 75 ounces of water today.
6 Days Before the Race
Food: In addition to eating clean, be sure you consume enough magnesium and calcium — two often-forgotten electrolytes that are key for healthy muscle function and preventing cramps. And when it comes to what to eat before a race, snacking on a small amount of nuts or seeds (almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, or Brazil nuts) should do the trick.
Hydration: Same rule applies today as did yesterday! Drink half of your body weight in ounces of water.
5 Days Before the Race
Food: “Plant nutrients heal the body,” L’Heureux says.
It’s true: The natural plant compounds (called phytonutrients) work as antioxidants and help to balance hormones, squash inflammation, and more. In the days leading up to a Spartan race, getting your fill of the good stuff is extra helpful.
Of the more than 25,000 types of phytonutrients out there, a few to focus on:
- Carotenoids (found in bright red, yellow, and orange produce like squash, carrots, and grapefruit)
- Curcuminoids (found in turmeric)
- Flavonoids (found in tea, citrus fruit, and berries)
- Glucosinolates (found in mustard greens, cabbage, and horseradish)
To get the most phytonutrient bang for your bite, “aim for at least six servings of fruits and vegetables from a variety of colors, especially leafy greens today,” L’Heureux says.
Hydration: If you’re getting sick of chugging water, L’Heureux recommends adding more high-water-content foods to your meals.
“This way, you can drink a bit less water and still hydrate,” she says.
Load up on produce like tomatoes and cucumbers.
4 Days Before the Race
Food: Keep up the clean eating and load your plate with produce.
“It’s also time to start thinking about travel nutrition," L’Heureux says.
Do you have what you need for any plane, train, or car rides? To avoid relying on fast or convenience foods, pack healthy snacks like almonds, jerky, sliced veggies, tuna or salmon pouches, and chia seeds to mix into yogurt.
Hydration: You guessed it — keep drinking.
3 Days Before the Race
Food: Though you should be tapering down your workouts at this point, L’Heureux says you should be keeping your carbohydrate intake consistent.
“Consider this your version of ‘carb loading,’” she says.
A plate of spaghetti the night before won’t be enough! Instead, starting now allows you to begin accumulating glycogen in your muscles so you’re well-fueled by race day. Though you want to keep carbs up, keep your overall caloric intake in the usual range.
Hydration: At this point, start replacing roughly 75% of your water intake with an electrolyte drink to stock your electrolyte stores.
2 Days Before the Race
Food: “Eat intuitively today,” L’Heureux says.
Your body will tell you what you need most, just choose a healthy way to satisfy those urges. If you're itching for sweets, eat fresh fruit. Does something salty sound good? Try some flavored almonds. Whatever the case, stick with minimally-processed foods.
Hydration: Decrease your electrolyte replenishment drink so it makes up 50% of your water intake.
What to Eat the Day Before a Race
Food: To make sure your digestive tract is clear for your race, cut down on high-fiber foods, like whole grains and beans, which can mess with digestion.
“Keep fruits in your meal plan, and if you're eating bread, pasta, or rice, make sure it’s a white variety, which will digest quickly and leave your body by race morning,” L’Heureux says.
Also, try to eat dinner at least 12 hours before your race start time.
“The goal is to not have anything sitting in your stomach on race morning,” L’Heureux says.
Hydration: Continue drinking 50% of your fluids in electrolyte drinks. If you’re traveling and have to limit hydration to minimize pit stops, don’t sweat it; you’ve hydrated all week and should be in a good place.
What to Eat on Race Day
Food: Eat breakfast three to four hours before your start time, and aim for 400 to 600 calories of mostly carbs to top off those glycogen stores.
One of L’Heureux's go-to race day breakfasts is two packets of instant oatmeal with a tablespoon of almond butter, a drizzle of honey, and a banana on the side.
Then, an hour before go time, have another high-carb snack, such as a second banana. From there, fuel as needed throughout your race.
“Plan to take your first gel 30 to 45 minutes into the race, and another every 30 to 45 minutes after that,” L’Heureux says.
Hydration: Adjust your hydration plan according to the weather forecast for the day. You’ll need more water on a hot and humid day than on a cool one. Bring only as much water as you need, and take note of water station locations!
Final Advice: What to Eat Before a Race
L’Heureux’s final advice: “Relax.” You’ve eaten every day during training, and you’ve learned what works and what doesn’t.
“This isn’t rocket science, it’s just food,” she says. “Follow these simple daily guidelines and go into your race with confidence.”
One key caveat: Since not all approaches work the same for everyone, try out your race-day fuel and drinks well before race day to be sure they don’t cause you any digestive distress.
“Just as you wouldn’t wear new shoes to the race, never bring new fueling strategies to the start line either,” she says.