Crossing the Finish Line with Good Nutrition

by Brooke on October 5, 2010

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With the Chicago Marathon coming up on October 10th, I have been receiving many questions pertaining to adequate nurtition and hydration for endurance events.  Adequate nutrition and hydration before, during, and after a race or physical activity is very important.  It is imperative to begin a race or other types of physical activity well hydrated.  Hydration makes the difference between optimal performance and sub-par performance.  Carbohydrates are stored in the muscle and serve as a source of readily available energy.  Protein is needed to repair tissue damage after a race.  Consuming protein and carbohydrates together after a race can help aid in quicker recovery. 



  • 24 hours prior to a race continue to meet your normal hydration needs.
  • 2-3 hours prior to a race consume between 17-20 ounces of water.
  • 10-20 minutes prior consume 7-10 ounces of water.


  • During a race consume 7-10 ounces every 7-10 minutes. 
    • Before a race, check to see what mile makers the water stations will be located at.
  • For short distances (<60 minutes) water is all you need to drink to meet your needs.  
  • For long distances (>60 minutes) it is important to replace lost electrolytes and carbohydrates.  
    • You can consume a sports drink.  
    • Normally, a sports drink is served throughout a race, but be aware that some runners feel nauseous when drinking these types of drinks during a race. I am one of those runners.  Therefore, it important during training to test out different hydration methods to see which is most comfortable for your body. 
    • While training for your long runs, try drinking a few ounces of a sports drink every few miles to determine if this increases your performance or causes discomfort. 


  • Replace water lost during exercise.
  • Consume 2-3 cups for every pound lost during a race or any other type of physical activity.
  • One way to identify if you are adequately hydrated or not is to check the color of your urine.  If you are hydrated your urine will be a clear to very pale yellow color, but any color darker than that indicates   dehydration.  The darker the color the more dehydrated you are! 


Eating for Success

  • Before you exercise it is important to consume a carbohydrate-rich snack, that is low in fat and fiber so your body may properly digest all of the food.
  • 3-4 hours before try:  peanut butter with toast, fruit and yogurt smoothie, oatmeal, whole fruit, or mini-bagel.
  • 30-60 minutes prior to your race try: a sports drink, water, sports gel, half of a sports bar, or a small banana.

Fuel During Exercise

  • It is important to determine your optimal nutritional needs during a race to ensure adequate intake of fluid, carbohydrates, and electrolytes without ingesting too much, which could lead to cramping.
  • Design a plan of intake a few days before the marathon that you can use in training.  Practicing your nutrition plan along with your long runs can prevent any race day problems.
  • During the race, you can consume: sports drinks, sport foods (gels, bars, gummies) or bite sizes pieces of granola.
  • Consuming fluids, gels, or gummies containing charbohydrates during a race will provide quick fuel that is transported to your fatiguing muscles.

Eating for Recovery

  • After the race, it is important to replace glycogen stores (aka carbohdrate stores) in the muscle with carbohydrate sources like: sports drink, sport bar, banana, graham cracker with peanut butter, milk, mini bagel, smoothie,  small turkey and cheese sandwich, or yogurt.
  • Consuming a protein-rich food after your race will help aid in muscle repair.
  • 15-60 minutes after your race start the nutrition recovery process.

Adequate nutrition and hydration before, during, and after a big race will help you reach your optimal performance!

What race day techniques help you meet your nutritional needs?

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Emily Radlowski October 5, 2010 at 7:02 pm

Oh man! I remember that race. 90 degree weather and 90% humidity…

How did we ever survive? 😉

I also remember that the banana I had after the race was the BEST banana I had ever tasted :)

My pre-race techniques: granola bar and water.
During race: lots of water or gatorade and maybe a gel (if its longer than a 10k).
post-race: bananas, gatorade, and bagels…and sometimes beer 😉


Lauren Slayton October 7, 2010 at 9:47 pm

Very useful post. Are you running Chicago? 1st time? I am running Chicago for 1st time and very excited. One question on the post and I too, as a nutritionist know what we technically or optimally may “need.” 7-10 oz per 7 to 10 min or a cup per mile is very hard to take in. This would mean about 2 dixie cups per fluid station. Seems a little high, no?


Brooke October 8, 2010 at 3:18 am

Hi Lauren, Goodluck this weekend! I wish I was running, but I am currently going through physical therapy and am not able to run in this race. You brought up a great point! During the races, the 8 oz. water/sports drink cups are not always filled up all the way. Therefore, you may only get about 5-6 oz. per cup. This is a general hydration recommendation and each individual will have unique needs. Meeting with a Registered Dietitian and/or performing a sweat study will help an athlete determine their specific hydration needs. For those runners, that do require 7-10 oz. every 7-10 minutes a running water belt is often used.


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