Updated: Jul 26, 2019
Now that race season is starting to get underway it’s time to talk about your pre-race breakfast. This should be the same breakfast you are fueling with on your long bike or run day during your building blocks toward your goal event. We say this because we need to train our gut to take in the food we are feeding it and so our body knows what to do with it. Think of this is a 'dress rehearsal' run and it gives you the opportunity to experiment with different foods and how best to time your eating and swimming / biking/ or running. Some athletes can eat and immediately go run with no problems, others need to eat 1 to 3 hours before running to avoid gastro-intestinal issues, so find what works best for you. All the research in the world, however, can't match good old real-world experience and practice. Your race day performance is affected by many factors, and so the perfect pre-race meal is only as good as your ability to control your nerves, pace and fueling yourself properly.
What to eat? Although athletes do take in additional calories during long-distance races, it is impossible to absorb race nutrition quickly enough to balance what is being lost. Thus, breakfast serves as the nutritional cornerstone. Unsurprisingly, pre-race favorites include foods that are both carbohydrate-rich and easily digested.
Some options include:
1. A nervous belly (low fiber/low residue)
Applesauce (no sugar added)
2. A sensitive belly (gluten-free, IBS-friendly, heartburn, food sensitivities)
3. An iron stomach (tolerable of most foods, little stress/nerves affecting digestion)
4. International eats (keep it simple overseas)
There are endless options, this is why experimenting during training is so important. You need to know which foods, and in what amounts, work best for you. My personal race day breakfast before an Ironman includes ½ cup oatmeal, 1 small banana, 1 chocolate chip clif bar, and some applesauce. For a shorter race I would cut down the amount of calories but stick with the same foods.
When to eat breakfast? Depending on the length of the race you will eat breakfast at different times. For longer endurance races like Ironmans, Ultramarathon, and Marathons you will want to aim at eating breakfast 3-4 hours before your race start. For mid distance races such as Half Ironmans and Half Marathon eating breakfast 2-3 hours before the start of the race is usually acceptable. Race morning can be hectic, I recommend setting your alarm, getting up eating breakfast, relaxing and giving your body time to absorb everything and let your breakfast settle and then making your way down to the race start.