The Running Doc’s Race-Week Recommendations

Follow these guidelines to make your next race a smashing success!

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Follow these guidelines to make your next race a smashing success!

Written by: Lewis G. Maharam, MD

As you scale back on the distance and intensity of your training during that last week before the race, realize that your body will not be burning as many calories. If you don’t reduce the quantity of your food servings early in the week, you may gain one or two pounds. My recommended guidelines for the week before your race are as follows:

Choose high-quality, nutrient-dense foods. Use care in selecting foods to eat during this time period. Aim for eating quality foods rather than snacking on high-fat products. Desirable foods that are high in carbohydrate, moderate in protein, and low in fat include rice, cereal, pasta, oatmeal, eggs, and potatoes, and sandwiches with roast beef, turkey, ham, or peanut butter and jelly. High-fat foods you should avoid include bacon, steak, sausage, ice cream, and foods with thick or creamy sauces. Salads are fine, but even with additions of fish or chicken, they tend to be low in carbohydrates and low in calories.

Stock your body’s hydration needs in advance. Hydrate well the week before your event (water is best). Research has shown that carbohydrates convert to glycogen (the storage form of carbohydrate you will need during the race) more effectively when accompanied by the consumption of water. This is the time when you probably will  gain a couple of pounds, but don’t worry about it. This will be the fuel you will use during your race!

Dial back on alcohol. In the week before your event, cut your alcohol consumption to a minimum, or eliminate it altogether. Alcohol dehydrates the body, which is exactly what you don’t want before a race.

Pack healthy foods for travel. If you are traveling out of town, be sure to pack healthy snack foods you may wish to eat during event weekend. Doing so will eliminate the need to search for a grocery store that stocks your favorite foods.

Drink water on the plane. If traveling by plane to your event destination, carry bottled water with you (remember you will need to purchase this in the airport once you have cleared security). Flying at high altitudes causes dehydration.

Stick to your proven training diet. Be sure to eat all food products that have been “tried and proven” during your training period. Keep pasta sauces simple, avoiding high-fat varieties (Alfredo, pesto, and similar toppings). Now is not the moment to try Mexican food for the first time!  Avoid eating differently the night before the event. This is not your last meal, and if you eat differently than usual, you may feel sick on race day.

Unless you eat lots of greens regularly, avoid eating a big salad or vegetables (roughage) the night before your race as these may cause digestive problems on race day. If you are used to them, you can probably get away with eating some, but don’t overdo it. Stick to water during the evening meal. Because coffee and tea contain caffeine, these products may make it difficult for you to fall asleep easily.

Stay away from anti-inflammatories. Stop taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as Advil, Motrin, Aleve, ibuprofen, and naproxen), as these have proven to be a risk factor for hyponatremia (low sodium level and high cellular water level), a serious condition you want to avoid (see the sidebar on syncope and hyponatremia on page 28). You should also avoid a full dose (325 mg) of aspirin. However, if you are taking a baby aspirin once a day for your heart, that low dose does not have a significant nonsteroidal effect and can be safely continued. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is safe during this period and during your event. You may restart an NSAID six hours after you finish the event.

Watch your meds. Do not take dehydrating cold medicines, antiallergy meds, or antidiarrhea medications before or during the event.

This article was adapted from the new book Running Doc’s Guide to Healthy Running with permission of VeloPress. From head to toenails, Running Doc’s book explains healthy running practices and guides runners to the right diagnosis and treatment for over 100 running injuries and related health problems. Running Doc’s Guide to Healthy Running is now available in bookstores, running shops, and online. Download a free sample and preview the contents at


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