I’m Running at Disney – Where and What Do I Eat?!?!?!

Run Disney #1

So, you’ve made the decision to enter one of the many marathons/half-marathons/10k/5k that Walt Disney World has to offer throughout the year.  It’s an exciting time and always a fun event (though I have never participated in one).  It may be your first attempt at running in a race.

A lot of these tips, in this article, are common knowledge to most avid runners.  I know a lot of runners and a couple triathletes and their eating tips helped me put together this article.

You’ve made a commitment that this isn’t going to be a normal Disney vacation especially you have decide to run in the half marathon, marathon, or decide to compete in something like the Dopey Challenge.  You’re not going to be spending the days leading up the event running around the parks going from attraction to attraction.  You’re going to need to spend those days getting hydrated and fueling your body for the event.  I’m not saying not to have any fun and not tour the parks during these days.  But, you should put your body first so you can be ready to race come race day.

The best way to do this is find restaurants where you can best fuel your body for race day(s).  Fortunately, Disney has a wide variety of restaurants and cuisines to choose from to help fuel your body for these races.  But which ones are the best?

 Everyone knows that you should be “carb-loading” leading up to the event.  It terms of sit-down meals this comes in three main forms: pasta, rice, and potatoes.  It shouldn’t be your whole diet but it should make up a significant part of your diet for those days leading up to the race.

photo courtesy of only wdworlddining
photo courtesy of only wdworlddining

This is a time where have a lot of Italian sit-down restaurants to choose from comes in handy.  Pasta is one of the best ways to get carbohydrates into the body.  It’s made up of very simple sugars and the tomato sauce is another great way to fuel up with carbohydrates.

  • Animal Kingdom: no Italian restaurants
  • EPCOT: Tutto Italia, Via Napoli
  • Hollywood Studios: Mama Melrose
  • Magic Kingdom: Tony’s Town Square
  • Downtown Disney: Portobello’s, Wolfgang’s Puck
  • Resorts: Mangino’s (Shades of Green), Il Mulano (Swan)

A wide variety of sources to get pasta to help “carb-load.”  In addition, many restaurants have pasta options.  These restaurants are exclusively Italian cuisine and your best chance to load up on pasta.

Another great source is rice.  This simple grain can help fuel the body for race day.  There are many places to get rice at a table service restaurant at Walt Disney World.  Some great places to load up on rice is Sanaa at Animal Kingdom Lodge, California Grill (The Contempory), Teppen Edo (Japan Pavilion EPCOT), Toyko Dining (Japan Pavilion EPCOT), and San Angel Inn (Mexico Pavilion EPCOT).  Most of the rice dishes found at these restaurant will also come with a little beef, chicken or fish.

Rice Sanaa Disney #1

The last easy way to “carb-load” is through potatoes.  However, the potatoes should be either roasted or baked.  You should avoid mashed potatoes (mixed with butter) or french fries (cooked in oil).  The fats in the butter and oil will only slow you down race day.  Potatoes are an easy find at most Walt Disney World restaurants.

Roasted Potatoes #1

If you get down to Disney a few days before your trip, you should probably go heavy on the potatoes as a side item to a beef or chicken when you first get to Disney before heading into the pasta and rice dishes closer to race day.

As you get closer to race day, your meals should be more and more carbohydrate based and less protein based.  The body is able to store glycogen in the muscles and liver for a couple of days.  It is what the body uses as fuel first before moving on harder to break down fuels like fat.  When the body transitions from glycogen to fat, this is when a runner “hits the wall.”  Having lots of glycogen in the body helps prevent or delay that from happening.

Other ways, especially, at breakfast time to get carbohydrates into your system is through grains and fruits.  Load up on toast and bagels.  Again, no butter but go with jams and jellies instead.  Simple sugars easy to convert into glycogen by the body.

Bottled Water #1

Hydration is another important thing that runners at Disney need to be taking care off not just the night before but days before the race(s).  The humidity in Florida, even in the morning, can be unbearable.  You can walk out the door and be in a full sweat in a matter of minutes.  All that sweat is water rushing out of your body.  It’s helping to cool you off but it’s not helping you stay hydrated.

As a result, drink plenty of water and sports drinks (which can help a little with “carb-loading”) in the days leading up to the race.  Try to avoid alcohol (sorry) and caffeine.  These help dehydrate the body not hydrate it.

It’s 24 Hours Before the Race – What now?

This is when your body should be getting hydrated and loading up with carbs the most.  It’s probably a day where you shouldn’t be doing much touring in the parks.  Maybe a day that should be spent relaxing at the resort pool or at one of the water parks or maybe even a day at Downtown Disney.  Meals, on this day, should be almost exclusively carbs (see the variety of Italian restaurants from earlier in the article).  Have an early dinner.  You want your body to wake up hungry on race day so you can give one last carbohydrate boost a couple hours before the race.

After the Race

photo courtesy of trip advisor
photo courtesy of trip advisor
  • Keep moving after the race – mainly walking (helps bring the heart down and removes lactic acid from muscles)
  • Small carbohydrate heavy snacks for a couple hours after the race
  • Later that night – finally a protein heavy meal to help repair the muscles.  Now go get that big steak dinner!
  • Hold off on a massage until the next day – the muscles need a night of repair

Putting this terms of a Disney vacation

  • Make ADRs 180 days out so you have reservations at restaurants where you easily “carb-load”
  • Make sure you are well stocked in bottled water, Gatorade, energy bars, grains, fruits, and jelly in your hotel room
  • Maintain high hydration levels pre-race even if it means take a day or two off from the parks
  • Run your race on race day
  • Find a nice place to have a celebratory post-race dinner
  • Schedule a massage in the couple days after the race
  • And make sure to wear your race medal everywhere after the race
photo courtesy of run disney
photo courtesy of run disney

Hopefully, you put this advice to use as you prepare for your Disney race or share this advice with someone you know who is preparing for a race at Disney.

As a reminder, I am planning a giveaway when the Facebook group reaches 500 members and I return from my trip to Disney at the end of the month (maybe something Villains Unleashed party related, I’m not 100% sure).  So, please continue telling your friends and family about the Facebook group.

I can also be found on twitter: @DadForDisney

Thanks for reading!


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