Let's Talk About Race Food

And the fact that today is 420.

In the running world I think it's pretty common to always be asking around trying to find out what so and so eats for breakfast before a race, or for dinner the night before, and also what goes down the hatch during the race.

Lot's of you have commented on my report from this past weekend's Breakneck race - thanks so much for reading! - so I just want to take a few minutes to recap what was also an extraordinary food day for Natalie in the world of trail racing.

The race was Saturday morning at 7 AM. Let's recap what I did on Friday. We'll preface by saying that Thursday also matters, but I actually can't remember that far back at this point :)

On Friday I had one of my typical breakfasts of oats, eggs, kale, kraut, and avocado. Midday I had a little bit of quinoa, kidney and cannelini beans (that had been cooked up with onion, garlic, cabbage, and a few spices), and a delicious red leaf romaine salad with oil and vinegar. On my drive down to Beacon (oops, yes, I eat in the car...far too often...even though this is one of the biggest "nutrition faux pas"...) I ate a little bit of this delicious leftover lentil salad that my students had made in class the day before, with more quinoa. I probably ate a banana and almond butter too. Upon arriving at the campsite I was bombarded by throngs of people leaving to go out to dinner. I hadn't planned to eat out, but I figured, what the heck, why not blend in? :) At the restaurant (which was incredible, by the way; thanks again to Elizabeth for the suggestion - The Hop) I drank 6 ounces of a delicious Catskill Brewery beer - Darbee's Irresistible Pale Ale - lots of water, a bowl of herb polenta, and a kale salad with Lox. Woah, delicious. That salmon was insane. Ask Joel.

Mmmm, quinoa!

Back to camp. I didn't hang around too much after dinner. I drank more water, foam rolled and stretched to please Elizabeth and my quads :), and then tried to sleep.

Saturday morning - race day. I've trained my stomach fairly well to operate with a little bit of residual food still in it. So I'd planned to finish eating by 6 AM for a 7 AM race start. If you've not trained with food in your stomach historically, but you want to start trying, best to give yourself closer to 2 hours for your stomach to digest before you set out for your adventure. Also, I'm sure you've already heard it a million times before, but: practice! try eating different pre-run foods to find out what works for you and what doesn't.

As you might know, I woke up a little earlier than planned. I got out of my tent around 5:15 AM. Coffee was the first thing I made, simply for ease. But first I drank close to 16 ounces of water. Coffee ready, time to heat up breakfast. I'd packed a container full of my "breakfast porridge" (a combination of buckwheat groats, rolled oats, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, and coconut flakes, seasoned lightly with coconut oil, cinnamon, and sea salt), two eggs (which I'd soft-boiled at home the day before), about 1/4 avocado, 1/4 of a roasted beet, a bulging handful of spinach, and a hefty tablespoon of ruby sauerkraut. Once that was warm, I stirred in a heaping spoonful of almond butter. Yup, that's what I had for my pre-race breakfast. I'd also brought along a couple slices of Ezekiel bread, and I always travel with almond butter; I was planning to have a last-minute energy blast with a slice of toast and almond butter around 6:30 AM, but it never happened. I also kept drinking water.

Mmmm, buckwheat!

In my pack I carried two liters of water, a dozen Gu Brew electrolyte tabs, one Justin's Almond Butter pack, a couple gels (one from Hammer and one from Huma), one Pro Bar - Superfruits variety - half of a Picky bar that Joel so kindly gave me at 6:57 AM, 3 medjool dates, 4 candied ginger chunks, and, admittedly, four quarters of a roasted beet, and two strips of roasted sweet potato.

Mmmm, dates!

Mmmm, almond butter! Mmmm!

But what did I actually eat? :) During the race, I promptly ate through the Picky bar and the Pro Bar. Both of these offer a very nice balance of fruit to nuts (let's say sugar to protein to fat), so when I eat them, I feel energized, but also not icky. Do you ever force down a gel for a quick little energy, only to feel completely ill and yucky thirty minutes later? I drank water regularly throughout the day and popped one electrolyte tab every hour. I only stopped at two aid stations, where I drank more water - sorry, I hate Tailwind and all other electrolyte beverages, except Nuun, because they give me the runs and turn my stomach sour; but to each his/her own! If those things work for you, by all means keep doing it! - and ate banana pieces and "cuties" (little clementine-like-things). As I started to run low on fuel from my pack (aka: I finished the Pro Bar and the Picky bar), I tore open the Justin's almond butter pack, and ate it in thirds with one date at a time. I never got around to eating the ginger cubes, the beets, the sweet potato, or the gel packs (as I've said before, I carry the gels for emergency because they're so easy to carry...but I hardly ever actually use them).

Mmmm, Pro Bar! (Not exactly a whole food, but, perfection is impossible.)

Let me say, I've run many a race where I totally bonk. Where I take too many salt tabs, or not enough salt tabs. Where I down a gel or eat dates without any protein/fat to balance them and feel icky for doing so. During this race, when I got around to eating my first date, I noticed that it was way too sweet! I could hardly stand it; I could almost sense that a minor sugar crash was impending. So I promptly opened the almond butter pack to try to balance out the sweetness. This helped tremendously. I've eaten dates and other dried fruits on long runs before, only to find a similar energy slump shortly thereafter - very similar to my experience with gels. Eating the date with the almond butter this time allowed me to completely avoid that slump.

Personally I've come to love the Gu electrolyte tablets. Historically I've tried to carry and electrolyte beverage and plain water. But recently I started using these tabs in place of carrying and electrolyte beverage and I love it! They are so easy to take, and it allows me to be a bit more hands-free while I'm running.