Race Day Breakfast: The Ultimate Guide To Eating Before A Race
You have probably heard your entire life that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. While this is true for many people, it is absolutely essential for a distance runner.
Giving yourself the tools to withstand either a grueling long run or to perform at your best in a race starts with setting the stage in the morning.
What to Eat for Breakfast on Race Day
If you ask yourself what you should be eating on race day, we have answers.
There are a few things always to consider when choosing your morning meal.
- Nothing New: Just like you should not wear brand new shoes or apparel on a race day, you should always give your breakfast a couple of test runs before your big event.
- Simple and Real Food: This is not the day for a huge breakfast of bacon and eggs for most of us. Most runners look to a breakfast that is easy to digest, such as a bagel or oatmeal. A banana with peanut butter is another good choice.
- Hydrate: If you usually have a small cup of coffee, go right ahead, but do not neglect to take in some water. Hydrating from the moment you wake up is important.
- Know the Foods to Avoid: The list of foods to avoid on race day morning includes anything too full of fiber or fat. Also, stay away from anything difficult to digest, like a large protein source.
Sample Breakfasts for Runners on Race Day
If you find yourself struggling with what to eat on race day, we have some suggestions for you. My personal favorite race day breakfast is plain oatmeal with a touch of butter and brown sugar. This bland meal is easy on my stomach but packs the right combination of carbohydrates and sugar to fuel my long run.
If you need some protein to get your morning off to a good start, a bagel with peanut butter might be the way for you to go. Another choice is Greek yogurt with granola. Just be aware that dairy does not sit well with all runners. Remember the adage: nothing new on race day.
Toast with an avocado spread gives you carbs and healthy fat and may work for your body. Famous distance runner Eliud Kipchoge is fond of eating rice before long runs and marathons.
Honestly, there are no completely wrong choices here. Sure, there are suggestions and things that work best for most runners. However, everybody is just a little bit different. Listen to your body.
When to Eat Before a Race?
If you are racing, you want to eat a couple of hours before your race, so you have digested the food. For people running or racing a longer distance, it is a good idea to eat early and have a small snack right before the race starts. In addition, most people need fuel during the run.
You want to load carbs for long runs such as a half or full marathon. While your body can adapt to burn fat while exercising, most people choose to fuel with carbs.
When considering what to take in as fuel while running, there are many packaged options out there. If you are not fond of processed food, you can consider other things.
Some people fuel on bits of potato while running; others use honey. You do not have to eat sugary processed food items if you don’t wish to.
What Do Professional Runners Eat for Breakfast on Race Day
According to many, oats are the “unofficial king “of race day breakfast. Of course, every runner is a bit different, as we have discussed.
On marathon morning, Meb Keflezighi typically eats a couple of slices of wheat bread topped with honey and almond butter. He might also eat some bananas, which he washes down with his Generation UCAN drink.
Deena Kastor also enjoys oatmeal with nut butter. Shalane Flanagan eats her oatmeal with banana mashed into it.
Perhaps oatmeal is the breakfast of champions!
What Should You Eat the Day of a 5K Race?
You could most likely get away with eating a bit differently on the day you are racing a 5K (as opposed to a half or full marathon) because you have a shorter window of time for something to go wrong.
However, I would not make this mistake. To my way of thinking, whatever you are racing, you want to set your body up for success.
When running a longer race, you do need to have more fuel in the tank than for a shorter one.
So the day of a half or full marathon, get some extra carbs in you.
Half or Full Marathon Morning Breakfast
Wondering what to eat the morning of your half or full marathon? Start out the same as a shorter distance, then take in some fuel shortly before you begin running.
You also want to take in some calories every 45 minutes or so of effort on the course. This gives your body fuel for the long effort.
Are There Any Foods I Should Avoid?
Yes. Avoid foods high in fiber. Most runners stay away from raw vegetables, high grain breads, and nuts the 24-48 hours before a race.
Many people also need to avoid high-fat items before a race. I am one of those people. Also, if you do not eat a lot of processed or sugary foods, avoid those.
Anything that is not a regular part of your daily diet is a bad idea in the hours before your big race!
Are Eggs Good the Day of a Race?
For me, absolutely not. However, hanging out with my distance running friends has taught me that no two people are exactly alike. My good friend and fellow runner Kim eats boiled eggs on race day morning. Her stomach has no problems at all with them.
Ultramarathoner Zach Bitter frequently fuels with bacon and eggs before a long run. Who are we to argue with his success?
The truth is that the best race day breakfast is the one that works for you.
6 Tips from Megan Robinson, Board-Certified Sports Dietician
If you are looking for some expert advice, we have some for you. Here is some excellent advice from Runnerclick Pro Nutritionist Megan Robinson.
Robinson is a board-certified sports dietitian, as well as running coach.
- Eat the main meal 3 hours before race time to fully digest your food.
- Choose easily digesting carbs (low fiber), low protein, and fat (bagel w/PB and banana)
- Drink electrolytes w/carbs 2-3 hours before; 16 ounces water mixed with electrolytes (Gatorade Endurance, Nuun Prime or Maurten)
- If you wake up 2 hours before a race, food portion sizes need to be smaller to prevent GI distress (1/2 bagel w/PB and banana + electrolyte drink)
- 30-45 minutes before the race, drink 8 ounces (1 cup water) + a small amount of carb (15-20 g, 100 calories) (Gu, handful of pretzels, carb chews) to top off muscle glycogen stores
- Avoid high fat (breakfast meat/fried foods), high protein on race day – take too long to digest and are not utilized for fuel and carbs. Also, avoid high fiber foods (scale back vegetables, whole grains, and high fiber bars) to avoid any GI upset.
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