(This information is based on current peer reviewed research. I will update when there are new developments.)
As a runner, you should follow a healthy diet, not a fad diet. Also, take note that a runner’s nutritional needs are different from those of sedentary individuals. Long-distance running, and especially endurance running, increases the nutritional needs of the body. Ideally, you should have regular medical checkups to keep an eye on your nutrient levels.
Here are a few key areas of importance before a race.
Make sure you drink water every day. Your urine is a basic indicator. It should be light yellow.
To help improve nutrition you can add some chia seeds to your water. It is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, iron, calcium, potassium, zinc, vitamins & antioxidants.
Stick to your regular, healthy diet. Do not make big changes to your diet the weeks before the race. You should aim for about 5 – 8 grams of carbohydrates per kg of bodyweight per day, and 1 – 1.6 grams of protein.
Do not load your body with large amounts of carbs the night before the race. You might end up feeling bloated the next morning. Anxiety about the race can also impact digestion, adding to your discomfort.
You may want to add Rooibos tea to your diet at some point. It is a natural bronchodilator – helps you breath easier.
Tea made from Mullein flowers helps clear congestion in the lungs and soothes irritated mucous membranes. It is also an anti-inflammatory.
Ideally, your diet should be rich in all the essential nutrients. Have it checked from time to time. Your doctor will prescribe a supplement where necessary.
The key nutrients for runners are iron, vitamin B, magnesium, zinc and vitamin E.
Iron helps power a runner by providing the muscles with oxygen, without it the aerobic capacity is hampered and fatigue sets in prematurely.
The mineral is lost through sweat, and footstrike, which damages red blood cells in the feet. Vitamin C helps to retain the mineral in the body.
When you have your iron levels checked, also ask for a check on your ferritin levels. Ferritin is a protein that stores iron and releases it when needed. Ferritin binds with iron, keeping it from becoming a free radical in the body. Runners must have good ferritin levels.
Vitamin B keeps your nerve and blood cells healthy, and plays a role in many metabolic processes that are directly related to running performance. A deficiency results in tiredness and weakness.
It is well known to runners that constant cramping of the legs is often an indicator of a lack of magnesium. Among the many biochemical functions it performs in the body, energy production is of special interest to us.
Zinc helps us process the carbohydrates, fats and proteins, and is vital for a healthy, high-performing immune system that will prevent you from getting sick. It also helps to kill bacteria and viruses should you become sick.
The longer distances you run, the more vitamin E you need. Intensified exertion brought on by high mileage produces more oxidative stress. Vitamin E is an antioxidant which helps guard cells from potential damage by combating oxidation.
One of the runner’s greatest fears is falling ill before a big race. Try to avoid contact with other people as much as possible the week before your race. Stay away from public places like movies or restaurants, and especially schools and hospitals.
Runners tend to turn to preventative medicine during this time. Because we can not always be sure of the effect of these supplements on our running you should try to stick to a natural nutritional supplement which is known to be easy on the stomach. Examples are Echinaforce and Bio-Strath.
A study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that consuming probiotics helps in preventing stomach problems during endurance distances. Unfortunately, probiotic supplements aren’t closely regulated, which is why it is probably better to include foods like yoghurt or sauerkraut in your diet leading up to your race.
Sleep as much as possible the week before your race – at least eight hours per night. The night before a race is often stressful, resulting in less sleep.
In the same vein; Netflix and chill is not of the menu the night before. Studies have shown that female athletes tend to perform better after a sexual encounter the night before. There is a slight, insignificant drop in performance for male athletes; there is no need for them to abstain from sex the night before.
Finally, focus on your positive experience. Nerves are normal, but take your positive training experiences to the start.