For most runners, preparing for a race day starts with a good race day breakfast. Knowing what to eat before running is a personal thing; yet, there are some common threads for most people.
Consider the Distance
Many runners vary what they eat the morning of a race based on the distance they will be racing. Considering food for what it is, fuel is important.
The last thing you want to do is lose steam halfway through a race. Of course, many runners fuel during distance races, but that is another topic.
Growing in popularity is fasted running. The idea is that running fasted reduces the glycogen in the body and forces your body to fuel with stored fat during the exertion. This is often used among athletes who are also trying to lose weight, as diet trends like intermittent fasting become popular.
Other runners choose to run fasted because of gastrointestinal concerns. What goes in must come out and for runners who experience gastro distress, not eating can help stave off stomach issues. This is more likely to be successful with individuals running 10K or less, as long-distance efforts likely require more fuel.
Interestingly enough, if you ask fasted runners what they drink on a run day a common answer is at least a little coffee. The answer to why coffee varies. Some drink it because it is part of their daily routine, some to wake up, and others because it’s necessary to have the much needed morning bowel movement.
Most running communities have at least a few individuals who will tout the beauty of drinking bullet coffee: coffee with butter and coconut oil. Many people feel there are large health benefits to gain from this concoction including improved metabolism, better gut health, improved brain function, and regular bowel movements.
Carbohydrate Only Breakfast
Some runners focus on only ingesting carbohydrates on race morning. Typical carb-heavy breakfast favorites include oatmeal, bagels or other bread sources, or granola bars of some sort. Carbs are essential running fuels with most runners consuming 65-85% of their food from carbs leading into an important race.
Easy to digest fruits that have proven to be easy on the stomach are also popular choices. Fruits such as bananas or pears with the skin removed are examples (note that citrus fruits are more likely to induce heartburn during strenuous efforts and skins or peels are high in fiber and may cause stomach issues).
Carbs plus Simple Protein
Other runners add a simple and easily digest protein to their breakfast. A bagel with peanut butter or other nut butter is an example of this. Waffles spread with peanut butter are another popular “go-to.”
Cream cheese can also be added to a carb source such as a waffle, but a surprisingly high amount of runners avoid dairy on race day. Of course, every runner is different and there are exceptions to every rule.
Protein pancakes are a popular product. They eat like a carbohydrate but have protein powder within the food itself. Some runners find adding protein powder to their own favorite foods is a good way to have the best of both worlds.
There are some runners who consume very few on the regular, and many of the elite runners. Ultra-marathoner and 100-mile champion Zach Bitter consumes almost no carbs.
There are certain athletes like Zach out there who defy convention. It bears asking the question if more runners could feel differently than they do.
Breakfast on the Road
What if you are traveling? Many runners find themselves at a destination race having to plan ahead for food. A hotel continental breakfast might be carb heavy (DONUTS!!) but not exactly what your body needs pre-run.
Luckily, there are travel oatmeals that come in their own bowls for mixing, warming and consumption. Just add water. Many runners find conveniences such as these to be worth paying a few extra dollars.
Fruit is often readily available at most hotels or gas stations, or can be brought to the race venue. With changing TSA rules, runners have to be smarter and plan ahead to bring fuel to races.
Traveling with peanut butter or gels for on the course should be easier than it is. Peanut butter and other nut butters are considered a liquid by the TSA to purchase small, travel size packets and fit them into your one quart allocated bag with your tiny shampoo and other hygiene necessities.
Bars (Not the Kind that Serve Tequila)
Ready to consume items like Clif, Kind and Luna bars are tiny bars packed full of the stuff most runners want before a run.
Runner beware, however, because some bars work hard to be based off of natural ingredients that might cause stomach issues during the run. Kind bars, for example, are delicious – but packed full of nuts. Nuts can be a gastro nightmare during a run.
As meal replacers rise in popularity, some runners drink them on a daily basis. Companies like Beachbody and Nutrisystem have formulas where they put nutrition into a single shake.
If this is what you do daily, far be it for anyone to tell you it doesn’t work or you should switch it up on race day. When push comes to shove, as stated before, nutrition is a personal decision and everybody is different.
Try It Out
Any veteran runner will tell you the most important thing to do is practice. Yes, we are talking about getting the mileage in before the race. However, we are also discussing the food you will consume.
If you always eat oatmeal before your Saturday run, don’t change that routine on a race day. Do you run fasted and it works for you? Resist the urge to try a nutrition bar on race day just because someone insists it will help your performance.
Should you try it? Sure, on a “practice” run. The old adage nothing new on race day is an important one, especially for food.
Everything from what you eat the night before, to your race day breakfast, to the fuel you use on the course should be items you have consumed throughout your training.