Fit Fueling: You don’t have to restrict any food or drink before your race

This post is part of a series that aims to promote the benefits of mindful eating practices for runners. If you want to explore this further, sign up for the next Fit Fueling course, starting on Monday, October 23!

I’ve never been one to practice food restriction by giving anything up anything during training cycles—unless you count a few drinks on a Friday night before a Saturday Long Run (LR), or a few hours of sleep to get said LR done on Saturday morning. I have mourned a few happy hours missed, but mostly made up for it with a post-run brunch party. Then, when we lived and trained in Monterey, California, I had no qualms about waking up early and running to the tune of this view.

running in Monterey

Maybe it’s because I sensed that wading into the “I’m giving up XYZ” food restriction waters was dangerous, a triggering disordered eating territory. Or maybe because I’ve always felt that, when in marathon training, you give up enough free time that I can’t really imagine adding much else to the “not doing this” list. Maybe it’s because I will never be the type to go ALL IN with a training cycle (and maybe that’s why I’ve never quite hit the moving-BQ-target).

Well, to me, going ALL IN means getting the runs done and rest in and massages scheduled. To others, “ALL IN” means not only training rigorously, but also giving up food and drink vices to do so.

Fit Fueling: Mindful Eating for Active Women — during week two, we work on ditching food and diet rules that dictate your training and fueling! Instead, we focus on mindful practices that keep you well fueled, hydrated, and making endurance progress.

Real Talk: I don’t think we gain anything from taking away foods and drinks we love.

(This is true of a training cycle, AND life. We’re here to talk about training, though.)

I gave a talk to a group of runners on Saturday morning. Most of them are about to run the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) here in DC on October 23. I started by going around the circle to get a sense of their endurance running experiences–which ranged from first marathoner, to first marathon but have completed Ragnar races, to third time MCM-er—and what fueling tips might be most helpful to them.

We reviewed what will be supplied at aid stations on the course—everything from the various gel flavors at Mile 12 to the animal crackers at Mile 24. We talked about not trying anything new on, or immediately preceding, race day. We talked about taper nutrition. We talked about fueling strategies, and how to practice them between now and race day. Standard stuff.

When it was time for questions, there were the usual suspects.

How much should I eat during the race? Drink?

What if someone hands me a beer?

Why are they giving out animal crackers?

(Answers: It depends on what you’ve trained your gut for and what you need; that’s your all on game-day, you do you; It’s an odd choice, indeed.)

Then, “Should I give up XYZ between now and race day?”

Of course I’ve heard this (many times) before. Of course I have clients who have done this for themselves. Of course I acknowledge the health benefits of NOT drinking alcohol during your training cycle, or specifically during the week(s) leading up to your race. I try my best to respect personal decisions and the reasons for them.

But, FWIW, I don’t think it’s necessary to give anything up, entirely.

The common players in this restrictive game are added sugars, “junk food,” alcohol, fried foods, or the favorite morning latte. When you restrict something you love or enjoy, more often than not, it backfires. Even if you don’t find yourself craving this particular food or drink, you’ve put yourself into a restrictive mindset. “I can’t have X, because I’m training for a marathon.” There may be good intentions, or there may be intentions to manipulate the way your body looks and feels for race day. There may be a mix of both.

In any case, the race is being used to justify a diet rule.

I see this leading to one of three race day scenarios:

  1. You get to race day having not had a drink, or pastry, or “junk food” for the past however many weeks. You run your race and everything goes according to plan. (Which probably would have been the result anyway, but no one can know for sure.)
  2. You get to race day after however many weeks of restriction and feel an amplified anxiety to perform “your best” because, damn, you haven’t even allowed yourself to have a drink or a pastry or “junk food” for weeks! So, at the very least, you’ve added pressure to a day that is already ridden with performance angst (for most).
  3. You get to race day (possibly under-fueled and) mentally fatigued from the energy it takes to restrict your food and drink choices. You don’t run well, and you can’t pinpoint why, because you did EVERYTHING “right.” You’re now mentally and physically fatigued, and disappointed. You overlook the fact that you trained for and completed a race–a personal accomplishment in and of itself.

An additional possible outcome: Nothing went right on race day and really, it had nothing to do with the decision to restrict a food or drink (or not). It simply wasn’t your day. That happens too.

Depending on your relationship with food, or history of disordered eating or dieting, this decision to restrict before your race may not simply end on race day. The aftermath could be a post-race binge (which I heard about during this Saturday run-group talk). Or it could be additional restriction because a) you’re prone to disordered eating and/or b) your race didn’t go as planned, so you don’t give yourself permission to celebrate by breaking the diet rule(s).

Is there any positive outcome to this pre-race restriction?

Even if scenario (1) is your story, did you gain anything via restriction? There’s no way to tell with 100 percent certainty. There are too many other factors to consider. And we’re not trying to turn your race into a research project. It’s okay to just celebrate and be happy that you accomplished a goal!  

Instead of choosing to restrict something (without medical need to do so), trust the process.

Trust yourself and your body to enjoy the foods you love, and the sport you love, in a healthy way. Trust that you can learn to eat (and drink) to satisfaction, without having to give yourself rules and perimeters to do so (or not do so). Trust that your body is on your side, throughout the whole training and racing process, if you respect it.

Sign up for the next Fit Fueling course to learn the basics of both sports nutrition and mindful eating, and how they come together to fuel your active lifestyle. Next course starts Monday, 10/23—early registration prices end on Friday, October 13!

Fit Fueling course details can be found here, on Kelly Jones’s website. It is a four-week virtual course led by Kelly and myself, covering sports nutrition and mindful eating practices. Registration includes full time access to Kelly and I for questions, four weeks of detailed emails, videos, and handouts. It is open and applicable to RDs and non-RDs alike. The only requirement is that you have an activity you love and want to fuel well for! 


  1. October 15, 2017

    Do you happen to do payment installments for the course? Thanks!

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