#GetPiggyWithTCH: Your Big Race Healthy Eating Plan

When Cincinnati’s Flying Pig Marathon takes off at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday, May 6, it’ll represent the culmination of months of training for a record number of runners.

If you’re planning to be among them—running the full or half marathon—you’ve no doubt followed a carefully scripted training regimen, increasing your mileage until you’ve reached max distance, then tapered off before the race. You’ve targeted a pace and times for each mile. You have your shoes broken in and your raceday outfit planned.

Is your nutrition gameplan similarly locked in? 

According to Kate Ferry, registered dietician and diabetes educator with The Christ Hospital, you should be well along in an eating plan at this point before the race.

Starting about six weeks out from the Flying Pig, you should begin to build up your body’s glycogen stores — that’s a form of glucose in your muscles and liver that stores energy to power your body for intense physical activity. That means switching over to a more carb-heavy eating plan that’s low in fat and includes adequate protein.

As your running program prepares you for endurance, so should your nutrition program. “This kind of ‘practice eating’ in the few weeks before also lets you know how food affects you so you don’t end up with digestive problems during a race,” Ferry says.

6 Weeks through Race Week

During the training process, you’ll want to emphasize carbohydrates to fuel your body. Shoot for 4 grams of carbohydrates per pound of your body weight, per day. Make sure you get adequate lean protein (lean meats, yogurt, eggs), which helps muscles repair after exertion. Minimize fat intake and fiber — especially before long training runs or the race itself — as these can make you feel bloated and nauseous and cause digestive upset.

The Night Before

This is your last chance to build up your glycogen supply before the Flying Pig, so it’s important to be strategic about your pre-race dinner. Make it a carb-heavy, low-fat, low-fiber meal with some lean protein. Don’t make it a heavy meal, though, and don’t eat too late in the evening. Again, shoot for a total of 4 grams of carbs per pound of body weight for the day before the race.

Some good meal options? Ferry recommends carb-heavy pasta with a low-fat sauce, like spaghetti with tomato sauce, or rice pilaf with a small grilled chicken breast. As a nutritionist, she commonly encourages vegetable consumption — but not the night before a marathon because runners need to avoid. To fill out your daily carb requirements, consider a low-fat dessert like frozen yogurt. 

The Morning Of

Ferry says a good rule of thumb is to have a small meal about three hours before the race. Shoot for about 300–400 calories, mostly carbs with a little protein, and no fiber. A plain bagel, a cup of lowfat yogurt, and/or banana are good choices. If you need to eat closer to race time, make it just a cup of yogurt or a banana no less than an hour before you run. Sports drinks, which contain carbs, are another good choice prior to running.

During the Race

If you anticipate running the Flying Pig in under three hours, you may need nothing more than water during the race. Ferry says that some people need to add a carb source—like energy gel packs, jelly beans or sports drinks—about halfway through. If you run in three to five hours, you may need to eat more like every 5 or 6 miles.

Ferry advises that marathoners practice their in-race eating during the last long training run before the race, and develop a plan to take carbs with them.

Post-Race Recovery

Within 24 hours after the marathon, take in plenty of hydration to replace what you’ve lost; Ferry recommends weighing yourself before and after the race, and consuming 1 1/2 times the amount of fluid lost in a run. (Multiply pounds lost x 16 ounces x 1.5.)

Again, you’ll want to consume some carbs to replace the energy your muscles have spent, and plenty of lean protein to help repair muscles. Chocolate milk, Ferry says, is a good quick post-race recovery beverage, as are fruit-yogurt smoothies or fancy juices.

Hydrate, Hydrate

Throughout training, the race itself and the post-run recovery period, hydration is essential. The week before the Flying Pig, Ferry says, you should be drinking enough water that your urine is consistently a pale yellow color. On raceday, hydrate as much as you can without needing to stop for the bathroom every couple of miles. 

Running a half- or full marathon is a huge accomplishment, and it takes major physical and mental effort. So craft your nutrition plan accordingly. “Make sure you’re fueling your body for the work you’re expecting it to do,” Ferry says.

Good luck, runners!

From 5K to marathon, are you looking for more running motivation? Check out our #GetPiggyWithTCH series leading up to the Flying Pig Marathon's 20th Anniversary race events May 5 and 6. 

​Bryn Mooth is the author of the Findlay Market Cookbook, the editor of Edible Ohio Valley  magazine, and she also publishes a website called writes4food.com. She loves cooking tasty and uncomplicated dishes, cultivating a small vegetable garden and shopping at the Tristate area's many local farmers markets. Saturday mornings, you'll find Bryn at Findlay Market bright and early, doing much of her grocery shopping for the week. She's pleased to be partnering with Healthspirations to share her recipes, how-tos and information about eating healthfully in Cincinnati!