Friday, October 26, 2012

Breakfast of Champions

As I prepare for my 8k tomorrow, I'm preparing my race gear and facing down the age-old question of runners everywhere: what to eat? Most veteran runners have figured out their perfect pre-race meal, but newer runners often struggle with figuring out a filling (but not too much) and quick meal that won't make a reappearance of any kind during the race itself. We've all been there, right?

I'm experienced enough with shorter-distance races that I know what I can and should eat before a race. 5k breakfasts take almost no thought. I have a banana and part of a protein bar, plus a cup of coffee to get things moving along, intestinally-speaking. K and I call this our race breakfast tradition. I try to eat all this about an hour before the race. But as I only have one Half and a 10k under my belt when it comes to long-distance races, I'm sometimes still not sure what to eat.

Before a long-run, I have about half a protein bar. But that's a slow, easy run. So what's a good go-to for race-day foods?

If you have time to cook, eggs in a basket are good for race days.
The rule of thumb is to have enough protein to keep you full, and to eat your carbs the day before. Those carbs shouldn't be too full of fiber; we all know how our stomachs tend to react to the nerves and adrenaline of a race, and fiber can really make a mess, to say the least. This is a good time to actually eat your white pasta and white bread.

This article breaks down foods to eat or avoid depending on how much digestion time you're giving yourself, but for some reason there aren't many breakfast foods listed. Since most of my races are in the morning, this isn't really that helpful, especially now that I'm a morning runner. (Who knew I'd ever call myself that?)

While I have pretty much stuck to my banana-and-protein-bar combo, I've also had success with two egg whites (no cheese). Peanut butter toast is great, too, and oatmeal is a solid bet as well. (I really love eggs before a race, but cooking takes prep time, and I'm rushed enough as it is. Back to the drawing board.)

Eating more than an hour before a race allows for bigger meals.
Foods to avoid include high-fiber fruits or vegetables, anything with a ton of dairy, and nothing. The first is kind of obvious, as I've already touched on that. Dairy can be heavy, and depending on your tolerance for it, it can really cause stomach issues you didn't realize you'd be facing. I'm very tolerant of dairy, but if I have too much over a week, suddenly my body rebels. The morning of a race is not the time to spin that roulette wheel and hope my intestines aren't going to just decide to hate on the milk I've poured on my cereal.

Case in point, M ran a race with K and me last spring after drinking a protein shake. The weight of the shake, plus the dairy, left him feeling sluggish, over-full, and completely nauseated. He could hardly keep up a jog toward the end, and it was only a 5k.

Eating nothing before a race can be detrimental. You're more likely to push through your race strong, with energy to spare, if you eat something before getting to the starting line. I don't mind being hungry suddenly halfway into a race, but I hate starting a race feeling starved. There's a perfect balance I strive for.

Finding the perfect breakfast combination can be annoying; it's pretty much trial-and-error. The most important tip I can offer is to test new foods during training so that you're ready on race day. Eat, digest, run at race pace, and really monitor how you feel.

What are some foods you've been successful with? What were some bad choices that led to sticky situations? Be brave; share!



  1. What about hard-boiled eggs? You can make them ahead of time, and eat one with a piece of toast, or a banana. I think eggs toast pb, and bananas are the way to go.

    1. Great suggestions! HB eggs are an acquired taste, but I think if you can stomach them, they're a great option!