If you’re a runner, you’ve used the term “carb loading” before—probably right around race day.

Carbohydrates are stored in the muscles as glycogen and are an easy and accessible form of energy, especially in preparation for a long race. But, if you’re only focused on it the night before the big race, and if you’re eating unhealthy carbs, you’re not giving your body the fuel it really needs.

Let’s take a step back. What do you think of when you say, “I need to carb load tonight”? For many runners, it conjures up visions of eating two heaping bowls of pasta the night before the long race, but that’s a lot of pasta for anyone to consume, and most likely you’d fill up before you consumed all of it anyway. I know I would!

I tell clients of mine at the CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center all the time, you can’t fill your muscles with enough glycogen from just one meal so it is important to start the “carb load” several days before the race. And don’t just start early, keep your carbs healthy and easy to digest—foods like tortillas, oatmeal, bagels, yogurt and juice.

Here are a couple pre-race recipe ideas, featured in the segment above, that are easy to prepare ahead of time for convenient fueling, and for more healthy fuel, pre- and post-race recipes visit anschutzwellness.com.

Blueberry Chicken Saute (vegetarian option included)

Yield: 4 servings

1.5 lbs Chicken breast

1C Blueberries

1C Shallot

2C Mushrooms

1C Chicken stock

2T Tarragon

1T Flaxseed

3 medium sweet potatoes

4 cups Arugula, washed and drained

1T Lemon juice

1T Dijon mustard

1T+1t Olive oil, extra virgin preferred

Set non-convection oven to 375F (400F for 5000ft above sea level). Begin by washing and peeling the sweet potatoes. Cut each in half lengthwise, and again in half by width. Finally, cut frites, or fry-sized potato slices, from the remainder. On a foil covered sheet pan, spray with non-stick spray then toss on sweet potato frites, sprinkling some salt and pepper before placing in the oven. Bake in a single layer for 20 minutes, then turn the frites over and bake for an additional 10 minutes.

While the frites are baking, mince up the shallots, mushrooms, and roughly dice the blueberries last. On a different cutting board, prepare the chicken by butterflying the breasts completely in half. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat a medium-sized skillet to high heat and spray with non-stick spray. Saute chicken breasts on each side until golden; remove and set aside. Add the shallot and

mushrooms, reducing the heat to medium and stirring constantly. Allow mixture to gain some color before incorporating the blueberries. When added, reduce heat down to low, stir in the flaxseed and the minced tarragon, and add chicken breasts back into the mix as well.

For the vinaigrette, combine the Dijon mustard and lemon juice in a wide bowl. Using a balloon whisk, continually beat the mixture while slowly drizzling the olive oil into the bowl. The mixture will be a semi-permanent emulsion, so whisk again when needed to combine.

To plate, place a large handful of arugula on the plate, a tablespoon of vinaigrette on top, 4 oz sweet potato frites, and 6 oz of chicken breast with 2oz of sauce.

Looking for a vegetarian option? Substitute the meat protein for a veggie-based protein such as tempeh, quinoa in a mushroom cap, or baked tofu. Use vegetable stock as well.

Don’t want starchy tubers but still want the “fry” effect? Cut up zucchini or eggplant instead. These have more water content and fiber than potatoes since these are above ground vegetables.

Calories: 478; Total Fat (g): 13; Saturated Fat (g): 2; Mono (g): 6; Poly (g): 3; Omega 3 (mg): 10; Total Carbohydrate (g): 35; Dietary fiber (g): 6; Protein (g): 57

Turkey Pasta with Vegetables

Yield: 1 serving

6 ounces lean ground turkey, uncooked

¼ C yellow onions, small dice

½ C eggplant, peeled, small dice

2 t fresh garlic, minced

1 t dried basil

1 t dried oregano

¾ C diced tomatoes in juice

2 T fresh chopped parsley

2 C zucchini and/or yellow squash, spiraled

Pinch of salt

In a large non-stick skillet, coat pan with spray and sauté onion and garlic until translucent. Add ground turkey and brown. Drain off any excess fat. Add dried herbs, tomatoes, eggplant, salt and pepper. Simmer 20 minutes. Steam spiraled squash for 1 minute. Toss with sauce and finish with fresh parsley.

Calories: 286; Total fat (g): 5; Protein (g): 44; Total Carbohydrate (g): 22; Total sugars (g): 12; Dietary fiber (g): 7; Sodium (mg): 261

When we fail to supply our bodies with adequate fuel (healthy carbs), that’s called “hitting the wall”. Your body has run out of glycogen and has started working overtime to convert fat into energy, which, as a result, slows you down. You can avoid hitting the wall with proper fueling prior to the race, and by consuming sports drinks and energy gels during the race to ensure you replete your carbohydrates and get across the finish line.

Now let’s talk hydration. Our bodies are approximately 60 percent water, so hydration is a key factor in any long race. This is why training is critical to determine what you need to keep your body hydrated effectively. Depending on a variety of factors—your body type, pace, heat, humidity and rate of perspiration, you should drink the amount of water you can empty from your stomach or lose from sweat. For most runners that’s about 6-8 ounces every 15 minutes, and if you drink more than that the residual will not provide a benefit. And yes, you can drink too much water, so don’t guzzle it down just because you can. Drinking too much can put you at risk of hyponatremia.

On the morning of your race fuel your body by eating simple carbohydrates and protein. Then post-race eat a small protein-and-carbohydrate-packed snack within 30-60 minutes. You won’t need a recipe to enjoy my personal favorite—a simple apple with peanut butter. Then 2-3 hours after the race eat a more substantial meal with lean protein and complex carbohydrates. You can download some of my favorite recipes here.

Staci Lupberger, MS, RD, is assistant director at CU’s Anschutz Health & Wellness Center and director of the Center’s My New Weigh Program. She holds a Masters degree in Human Nutrition & Food Science from Colorado State University, a BS in Dietetics from the University of Northern Colorado and a BA in Media Arts from the University of Arizona. Prior to joining the center in 2015, Staci's work experience included strategic development, corporate compliance, and account management with Pfizer Inc., Morgan Stanley, and the National Football League. In her free time she enjoys hiking, running with her dogs, practicing yoga, playing the piano and spending time with family & friends.