This is a question everyone asks when they start long-distance running competitions, and it’s a question everyone must answer for themselves. There is no simple single answer scenario that will solve everyone’s problems the same way. All of our bodies work differently, and no two people are alike. What one person eats and digests might affect that person’s body in completely different ways than another person, and so a little experimentation might be in order. That said, what should you generally eat before a marathon?
First of all, if you decide to eat a big dinner the night before a marathon, make sure you know and like what you’re eating. This is not the time to try something new. If you do, then this is when a new allergy will develop or a serious bout of gastrointestinal distress will strike with a cold vengeance the likes of which you’ve never known. Don’t take the chance.
The key to a good race is often keeping your digestive processes consistent and constant. In other words, it’s often better to eat a lot of little foods more often than it is to eat three or four bigger meals the day before. That way your body can get used to digesting important nutrients and calories over a period of time instead of at a single moment’s notice. Don’t consume any red meat–that takes forever to digest and you’ll pay the price later. Fish or chicken are good choices, as are small portions of fruit and veggies or energy bars.
Although some athletes load up on carbs the night before, this tactic isn’t right for everyone. Pasta and other grainy foods tend to make their way through your digestive tract slowly, and depending on the person they can lead to gas and bloating for a long while the day after you eat them. If you know your body can handle the carbs, then go for it. If you don’t know, then you should. Until you do, avoid them like the plague.
Cut down on the fatty foods, dairy products if they give you trouble, and avoid roughage (potatoes and rice and fiber, etc.). You don’t want to be midway through a race and start to feel a bowel movement coming on. Remember: exercise helps your digestion, and you’ll be getting a lot of exercises all at once. Your intestines won’t need any more help than they already have.
A few hours before the marathon, try to eat a small breakfast. Don’t eat too much. Eating too much food too soon before the beginning of the race can lead to cramps, gas, bloating and other stomach injuries. Don’t hydrate all in one go, either. Drink water at regular intervals the day before and the day of, and when the race starts don’t wait until you’re thirsty or hungry to replenish what you’ve lost. If you’re running a marathon or more, then start adding calories before mile five or so and you should be good to keep going at a proper pace for much more. Good luck!