What should I eat the night before the marathon is a question that I have been asked with a fair degree of regularity. Most runners, even those who have not been mindful about their eating throughout their training, are zeroed in on what they are planning to eat the night before their race. Traditions are made around this ritual.

While a mounding plate of pasta may not have shown up on Leonard da Vinci’s The Last Supper table, it is a mainstay of runners for a reason. When cooked al dente it is that perfect low glycemic index carbohydrate that will supply your body with the fuel it needs on race day morning. It is low in fiber, and easy to digest.  Many gluten-free runners will opt for brown rice or quinoa pasta. Pair this with a small and simple protein source like salmon, chicken, or tofu and you are good to go.

Is there anything you should not eat? Yes, stay away from high fat and high fiber foods. I would also not overload on the protein. Protein-rich foods take a longer time to digest. On race day you don’t want your stomach still digesting dinner from the night before. You have more important things to be doing, running!

More importantly, think about what you are doing two days out from race day.  So, for Vermont City Marathon runners, think about Friday as really being your fuel-up day.  Now, I am not saying to go for a full out binge, but I am suggesting that you eat every three hours and focus on carbohydrate-rich foods such as breads, pasta, rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes, and the like. Seventy percent of your calories should be coming from carbohydrates, the good carbs! Go to bed full, but not stuffed. Even consider having a bedtime snack, such as oatmeal or granola.  By really focusing on your eating two days prior to race day, you can get busy just resting on the day before race day. Rest your body; rest your digestive system; rest and get ready for all that you have been working toward.

The take home messages for you:

  1. Make your eating two days before race day your real fuel-up day with 70 percent of your calories coming from good carbohydrates.
  2. Have a bedtime snack of oatmeal or granola in the two nights leading up to the race.
  3. The last supper before the race should be carb-rich, but not overly filling.  Avoid fiber and too make fat or protein.
  4. Stick with foods that you know agree with you. Now is not the time to see how your body feels about squid or octopus, for example.
  5. A few of my favorite pre-race dinners:
  • Salmon with brown rice and asparagus
  • Red quinoa and white bean salad (see recipe) and an omelet
  • Grilled chicken with sweet potatoes and wilted spinach
  • Pasta with olive oil, parmesan cheese, and wilted kale

This year, I will be having the pasta. See you all on Sunday morning! Happy running and happy eating!

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RECIPE: Red Quinoa and White Bean Salad

  • 1 cup red quinoa
  • 2 cups cooked white beans of your choice or one 14 oz can butter beans or cannellini beans, drained of all liquid
  • 1/2 lb green beans
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 small red onion, finely diced
  • 2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons good extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
  1. Place quinoa in a medium saucepot with 2 cups water and a pinch of salt.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover and cook about 10 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed. Fluff with a fork and set aside to cool (You will want to assemble the salad when quinoa is still warm, but not hot).
  2. In a large pot of boiling salted water, blanch the green beans for about five minutes (they should be cooked, but still crisp), then transfer them to an ice water bath. When cool, drain them and cut into 1-inch batons.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the quinoa, drained white beans of your choice, green beans, diced onion, diced pepper, lemon zest and juice, vinegar, and olive oil.
  4. Season to taste with salt and pepper and garnish with chopped parsley.

Courtesy of Healthy Living Market

Kimberly Evans, RD, is a clinical nutritionist at the UVM Medical Center. Read her additional blog posts about preparing for a marathon by eating right, including “What to Eat the Week Before a Marathon,” “Quick Ways to Fuel Up Your Run,” and “What to Eat for Lunch When You’re Training for a Marathon.”

Kim Evans, RD, is a clinical dietitian for UVM Medical Center's Cardiac Rehabilitation and Prevention Program.

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