Right up there with double-knotting your shoes, eating a solid breakfast is a must on race-day morning. It’s crucial to be fueled before the main event.
“When you wake up in the morning, your body has been in the fasted state, so eating some quality carbs can actually improve running performance,” says Georgia-based dietitian Christine Rosenbloom. “When I ran the Peachtree Road Race, my go-to meal was a cup of instant oatmeal with a tablespoon of peanut butter mixed in. I had to leave the house at 5 a.m. to get to the start line, so a quick meal was all I was willing to manage!”
Whether it’s something simple or a full meal you prep in advance, here are some ideas based on what other runners and nutrition-minded athletes are eating.
Boston-based sports nutritionist and author Nancy Clark makes her own cereal with “carbs to fuel my muscles, protein to build and repair my muscles, and a yummy taste!” It’s also what she normally eats on a daily basis. “I like to eat foods that are tried and true, and that I know settle well. (Though I do have a cast-iron stomach and can eat most anything.) My standard breakfast is Fraction- ½ cup raw oats + Fraction- ¼ cup Grape-Nuts + Fraction- ¼ cup granola + 3 chopped dates + handful of almonds + enough milk to make it swim. Yum!”
No Carbs Needed
Ruth Poutanen is a 64-year-old runner who’s been eating a low-carb to ketogenic diet for almost three years and says she’s never felt better. “I’ve run five half marathons with no carb-loading, using only water and electrolytes for my race,” she says. “Before a race, I usually try to eat breakfast a couple hours—at least—before, usually eggs and bacon or maybe just eggs and/or cheese.”
She adds, “I’m not that concerned. Eating high fat and low carb puts my body in a keto-adapted state so I can access my fat stores easily. It takes a few weeks of eating this way to adapt one’s body to be able to access these fat stores. I am a fat burner rather than a sugar burner. I never bonk and never run out of energy. I may not be fast, but I can go and go and go!”
Anything But Gluten
Two WR editors are gluten-free and it wasn’t until prepping for this article that they realized they both eat the same thing pre-race: gluten-free bread with almond butter, banana and honey. For contributing gear editor Allison Pattillo, this is a go-to for a marathon distance or longer. “Anything shorter, I’ll eat a gel or Justin’s Nut Butter while walking to the start.” Caitlyn Pilkington, our web editor, says for single-digit runs, half a banana works for her.
WR editor in chief Jessie Sebor says, “I like to eat one or two (depending on the distance) Honey Stinger waffles and a bottle of caffeinated Nuun.” She explains that the simple sugars and low fiber are agreeable to her sensitive stomach.
Coffee is too acidic for her to drink before running, so the sports tabs help wake her up, while providing solid hydration. When traveling, she says, “I’ll use Pop-Tarts (strawberry with frosting). Not a clean-eating option, but they’re available anywhere and I know they will work.”