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Race Day Nutrition

from Nutrion and Wellness Solutions by Heather Fink, MS, RD, CSSD

I'm running the Mini Marathon in May. What should my nutrition plan look like on race day?

Salmon with Rice and BroccoliWe are only a couple weeks away from 37th running of the 500 Festival’s Mini Marathon. During these final weeks of preparation, fine tuning your nutrition plan for race day is critical. Focusing on your hydration and fueling for the half marathon will help to ensure that you stay healthy, perform your best, and have fun on May 4!

Set the Menu for Your Pre-Race Meals

Dinner on Friday night and breakfast Saturday morning should be focused heavily on foods rich in carbohydrate and protein. Carbohydrates are the main fuel for walkers and runners; protein aids in satiety and blood sugar regulation. Fat should be consumed in small amounts to minimize the risk of intestinal issues on race day. The foods you choose should be based on your preferences and items that settle best with your body. It doesn’t matter what any of your training partners are eating; choose meals that work for YOU. A few ideas include:

  • Pasta with tomato sauce and grilled chicken
  • Salmon with rice and steamed veggies
  • Veggie burger with applesauce
  • Bagel with peanut butter and a banana
  • Yogurt with fruit and granola
  • Eggs with toast and 100% juice

Stay Optimally Hydrated

In the days leading up to the race, drink enough fluid to stimulate urination every 1-2 hours. Drinking more or less will lead to excessive hydration or dehydration, respectively. Drink mainly water, along with your other typical choices such as milk, juice, coffee or tea.

During the race, stay well-hydrated by consuming fluid regularly along the course. The 500 Festival does an excellent job of providing many opportunities to quench your thirst. By drinking consistently throughout the course, you will decrease the risk of stomach discomfort. The amount you should consume at each aid station will vary based on your time goal and fluid needs. The average walker or runner needs approximately 24-48 ounces of fluid per hour.

Supply Your Body with Sufficient Energy and Electrolytes During the Race

For optimal performance, fluid, carbohydrate and sodium should be consumed during the Mini Marathon. Carbohydrates can be obtained from the Gatorade provided at five different aid stations on the course, as well as your favorite gels, blocks, beans or bars. Ideally, you should have been practicing with some of these products during your training. If not, stop by Runners Forum within the next week to purchase a variety of products, brands and flavors to determine what settles best for you while exercising.

Sodium can be obtained from Gatorade, as well as gels, blocks, beans and bars. Sodium is a critical component of race day nutrition so make sure you incorporate it into your plan. Low sodium intake can lead to a serious health condition called hyponatremia (low sodium levels in your blood). Early signs and symptoms of this condition include muscle cramps, dizziness, and nausea. The risk of developing hyponatremia on race day is low; however, why take a chance? Make sure a source of sodium is included in your nutrition plan.

Recover Well

Carbohydrate, protein, fluid and sodium should be the focus after crossing the finish line. Carbohydrates are supplied by the 500 Festival through Gatorade, fruit, and cookies. Water and Gatorade will be your sources of fluid. Make sure you take a water bottle and pick up 1-2 cups of Gatorade in the finishing chute before heading into Military Park. Sodium can be obtained from Gatorade and any chips provided. Protein is typically in short supply at the finish line; but can easily be included in your post-race meal. Enjoy a meat, fish or egg sandwich, hamburger or veggie burger, or drink a tall glass of chocolate milk.

Have fun and enjoy the experience! I’ll see you in Military Park.

If you are interested in developing a personalized race day nutrition plan, contact Heather Fink for an appointment. Heather can be reached at 317-443-6811 or Learn more about Heather on her website:

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