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lunch 2 days before race: thai style chicken salad | stephanie's on newbury | boston

This past weekend, I ran the Boston Half Marathon, and just as importantly, I spent the days leading up to the race strategically planning my meals to strike the perfect balance of carbs and protein, all the while hydrating with plenty of water and coconut water (no thanks, Gatorade!).

I am certainly not an expert on pre-race nutrition, but since I started running marathons and half marathons in 2003, I have read countless articles (the latest in Runner’s World, here) and sought advice from more seasoned runners and licensed nutritionists. With expert advice in the back of my mind, I have learned through trial and error which foods and eating schedule work best for me.

If I could only give one piece of advice to a new race runner, the Golden Rule would be: Eat something you know your body digests easily.

For me, that means avoiding dairy, high-fiber foods, and extra greasy foods, especially as the proximity of the race gets closer. As a consequence, although many people favor Italian restaurants for carbo-loading, the omnipresence of cheese in Italian dishes is unideal for me. Instead, I focus on proteins and carbs that I know my body will not fight to digest.

Pre-Race Dinners

dinner 2 days before race protein fix: center cut pork chop | local 149 | south boston

sweet potato and marshmallow gratin (served w center cut pork chop and curly kale) | local 149 | south boston

When I race locally and prepare my own pre-race meals, my typical pre-race dinners, starting about 48 hours before the race, include fish (or steak), sweet potatoes, and leafy greens. On the road, things can get trickier, but after running my personal best at the New York Half Marathon in March 2011, another element of pre-race eating has been added to the equation–superstition.

The morning of the New York Half and throughout the entire race, I felt great. My stomach was just empty enough, my energy level was boundless, and I did not have a single cramp the entire race. Obviously, I decided that I must now replicate every dietary and beverage choice I made for New York :).

The night before the New York Half, I had an early dinner (around 6 PM) at Kin Shop consisting of their stir-fried wide wonton noodles with chicken sausage and Thai broccoli raab (carbs, protein, and leafy greens), grilled prawns (more protein), and stir-fried aquatic vegetables (water spinach, water chestnuts, and watercress) (more leafy greens!). Although (surprisingly) I had not previously eaten Asian food before a race, based on the Golden Rule, I thought it would be a safe choice. . . and it was!

night before race dinner: surf + turf black pepper shanghai noodles | myers + chang | boston

Naturally, for Boston, to mimic Kin Shop (and more importantly, my Kin Shop race performance), I sought out a modern Asian fusion restaurant. I knew I had the perfect spot when I came across Myers + Chang, co-owned by Taiwanese-American Joanne Chang and her husband Christopher Myers. Inspired in part by food Joanne’s mom and aunt taught her to prepare when she was growing up, the Myers + Chang menu had plenty of ideal pre-race carb and protein options for me.

protein + carbs : mama chang's pork and chive dumplings | myers + chang | boston

chinese sesame cucumbers | myers + chang | boston

my friend A's sweet potato fritters (I had a bite!) | myers + chang | boston

Pre (and Post)-Race Breakfasts

On race morning, I try to eat a small breakfast about two hours before the start time. Ideally, I prefer to have two scrambled eggs, coconut water, water, and a soy or almond milk macchiato. The New York Half Food Plan also added a new breakfast item: a few bites of almond biscotti.

Pre-race day brunches generally follow the Golden Rule (note: I did not eat the dairy-filled whipped cream! :)).

pre-race day bunch: "buttery breakfast" - pancakes with bananas (potassium = no cramps) and chocolate chips, sausage, scrambled eggs | south end buttery | boston

And of course, there is the rule-free post-race brunch (although, I’m usually craving protein!):

"fresh & hot house made donuts" | franklin southie | south boston

post-race treat: oysters! | franklin southie | south boston

skillet breakfast | franklin southie | south boston

creamy grits | franklin southie | south boston