Whether you have been training for a hard-core, competitive race or plan on taking part in 3-mile fun run, proper fueling is crucial. Experimenting with different foods and beverages during training -- versus trying something new at race time -- will help you figure out what works best for you. Practice and planning will help you determine your tolerance and timing for pre-race foods.
Consuming a carbohydrate-rich snack or meal before exercise will top off your muscle stores. Most carbohydrates are easily digestible and will give you quick energy. However, not all carbohydrates are created equal. Foods that are high in fiber, such as berries, bran and beans, can actually slow digestion and cause bloating, cramping and gas, which are not welcome companions on race day. If your race is later in the day, begin fueling early with easily digestible carbs like toast, yogurt or a banana.
Most of your body, including your muscles, skin and immune system, is made up of protein. Plan to eat enough protein every day, including on race day, but you may not need as much as you think. Include small amounts of protein -- about 10 grams -- in your pre-race meal or snack. Protein helps build and repair muscle tissue. Adequate protein before exercise may help reduce muscle soreness after exercise, which will help keep you off the couch for the next few days. Good food choices include lean meats, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese or egg whites.
Don't skip your morning coffee. According to an article in the "Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport," caffeine significantly improved 5K running performance in both well-trained and recreational runners. But, resist the urge to gulp down several cups. The caffeine in one cup of coffee -- 8 ounces -- should be enough to boost your energy levels, which may lead to a faster race time.
Three to four hours before race time, eat easily digestible carbohydrates and a small amount protein. Some suggestions include a turkey-and-Swiss sandwich, fruit and a sports drink or oatmeal with almonds, skim milk and a banana. Thirty to 60 minutes before the race, consume foods or drinks with simple carbohydrates to avoid undesirable symptoms like stomach pain, gas and bloating. Try a sports drink or water, sports gel, sport beans, a piece of fruit or a jam sandwich. These foods will give you the energy you need to maximize your performance without weighing you down. If you have pre-race jitters, stick to liquids in the hour leading up to the start time.
Allison Childress is a registered and licensed dietitian employed in Texas as an outpatient and consultant dietitian specializing in sports nutrition and weight loss. She also teaches nutrition courses at the university level.