One of the most common questions among beginner runners preparing to run their first race is, “What should I eat before a race?”
Although it may seem like your actual training leading up to a race will nearly wholly determine whether you run a PR or have a bad race performance, your pre-race breakfast can actually make or break the difference between a PB-smashing race and falling short.
If your pre-race breakfast is too small or lacks the calories and nutrients you need to fuel a longer or harder race, you may lack the energy you need, so you’ll feel sluggish, weak, hungry, and may bonk or hit the wall prematurely.
So, how do you strike the right balance with your pre-race breakfast? What should you eat before a race to run fast and feel strong? Although every runner will have slightly different taste preferences, dietary needs, and food sensitivities, this article will give you some great ideas for ultimate pre-race breakfasts to fuel your next PR.
In this guide, we will cover:
- What Should I Eat for Breakfast Before a Race?
- What Is the Best Pre-Race Breakfast for Runners?
- 12 Ultimate Pre-Race Breakfasts To Fuel Your Next PR
Let’s dive in!
What Should I Eat for Breakfast Before a Race?
Truthfully, they only rules when it comes to what you should or shouldn’t eat before a race is that you should eat what appeals to you, digests well for you personally, and leaves you feeling energized and sharp, and you shouldn’t eat anything that bothers your stomach and leaves you feeling gross or “meh” at best.
It often takes runners a few tries after some experimentation to discover what pre-race breakfast works best for them that reliably digests well, provides satiety without feeling heavy or bloated, and enables sustained and consistent energy while running.
Sometimes, foods that might work well during training cause GI issues on race day.
Maybe it’s the more vigorous effort of racing, the nerves on race day, or just some unidentifiable variable, but if you find you have a more sensitive digestive tract every time race day morning rolls around, you’re certainly not alone.
If you do struggle with an upset stomach race day mornings, opt for very easily digestible foods.
Simple carbohydrates like plain rice cakes, bananas, white bread, an English muffin, low-fiber breakfast cereal like Rice Krispies or rice or corn Chex or flakes, a plain bagel, or applesauce can be good options.
These foods are low in fiber, fat, and protein, so they digest more quickly and empty from the stomach faster. They are low in FODMAPs and fiber so they produce little gas if you don’t have sensitivities to the ingredients in them.
What Is the Best Pre-Race Breakfast for Runners?
As mentioned, there’s no absolute right or wrong when it comes to the best pre-race breakfasts. Put simply, whatever works best for you is simply the best pre-race breakfast for you to have.
Whether you’re an oatmeal guy or gal, swear by your pre-race bagel with peanut butter and honey, do well with an energy bar or simple banana, follow a keto or low-carb diet with eggs and avocado or meat, or eat something more unique like rice and beans, if you like it and the food helps you feel your best, than it’s the best pre-race breakfast to fuel your next PR.
With that said, if you need some advice regarding foods that often make the best pre-race breakfasts, here are a few important factors to consider when thinking about what to eat before a race:
#1: Race Distance
The longer your race, the more calories you’ll need, so the more important your pre-race breakfast becomes.
For example, if you are just racing a 5K or other short race, you may be able to get away with a very light snack, such as half a banana, or even just a sports drink with some simple carbohydrates and electrolytes.
Moreover, the shorter your race, the faster you will be running, or the higher the intensity of your effort.
This means that carbohydrates will be the primary substrate for energy during the race, so the best pre-race breakfasts for the 5k and 10k are often almost entirely carbohydrates with small amounts of protein and fat.
On the other hand, longer races require more robust fueling. You will need more calories and more grams of carbohydrates to top off glycogen stores, which deplete somewhat overnight as you fast.
#2: Pre-Race Breakfast Timing
Eating too close to the time the starting gun fires can cause you to feel bloated and heavy when you run, and it can increase the risk of getting a side stitch or runner’s trots.
Depending on the time of your race, you’ll want to wake up early enough to give your body enough time to digest your pre-race breakfast.
Large meals usually need 3-4 hours, while smaller meals need 2-3 hours to digest.
Plan to give your body at least 1-2 hours for a light pre-race breakfast or snack. If you don’t have much time, choose a light breakfast with simple carbohydrates to ensure the food is digested in time.
Otherwise, not only will you have food sloshing around in your stomach, but you also won’t be able to reap the benefits in terms of energy and blood glucose from the food you ate for your run.
#3: Pre-Race Breakfast Macronutrients
The best pre-race breakfast foods are generally high in carbohydrates with a little bit of protein. Again, if you’re following a specific dietary pattern, this may differ for you.
Carbohydrates are the primary fuel source for high-intensity exercise like running.
The longer the race, the more balanced your macronutrient ratio can become because the slower you run, the higher the relative proportion of fat you will burn.
Note that fat, fiber, and protein slow gastric emptying, so these foods will sit around in your stomach longer.
#4: Pre-Race Breakfast Size Versus Energy
You don’t want to feel weighted down or “stuffed” when you race, so the best pre-race breakfasts for running fast are energy dense but not bulky.
While on a day to day basis, voluminous foods like vegetables are good choices because they are filling but not calorically dense, these foods are not ideal for pre-race breakfasts because they will make your stomach feel full and bloated.
Opt for low-fiber, low-water foods like toast, rice, porridge, bananas, dried fruit, energy bars, etc.
12 Ultimate Pre-Race Breakfasts To Fuel Your Next PR
Ready for some ideas for the best pre-race breakfasts? Here are ultimate pre-race breakfasts to fuel your next PR.
Whether you call it oatmeal, porridge, or mush, this oat-based hot cereal is a popular pre-race breakfast among runners.
It’s filling, hearty, easily digestible, and provides sustained energy with plenty of complex carbohydrates.
You can use pre-made packets or make your own from quick oats, rolled oats, or steel cut oats.
You can dress it up or down so to speak with fruit, nuts, seeds, plant-based milks, brown sugar, honey, coconut, and more, depending on your preferences and caloric needs.
#2: Cream of Wheat
Cream of wheat, congee, or grits also work well as a pre-race breakfast instead of oatmeal.
Some runners enjoy a pre-race breakfast smoothie. Select fruit, vegetables, some sort of liquid, and a source of protein and blend the mixture until smooth.
Bananas make a good base, and they contain carbohydrates and electrolytes like potassium and magnesium. Freezing them prior to adding them in will make your smoothie thicker.
Pineapple adds sweetness, and it contains digestive enzymes. Berries add tons of flavor, antioxidants, and fiber.
You can add a scoop of protein powder for longer races or if you have a couple of hours before your run. We love Vega and Orgain protein powders because they are made with clean ingredients, taste great, and digest easily with no gas or bloating.
Breakfast cereal, such as Cheerios, Chex, Kix, or any relatively low-sugar, low-fiber option can be one of the best pre-race breakfasts.
Add plant-based milk if you are sensitive at all to dairy. Sliced bananas, blueberries, peaches, or other berries make a good topping. You can also sprinkle a few nuts on top.
For longer races, energy-dense cereals like Grape Nuts, granola, or muesli are great options.
Whole-grain waffles topped with a little syrup, honey, jam, or nut butter provide plenty of complex carbohydrates.
You can even eat them dry or put two together with nut butter and honey in between and eat it on the go while you drive to the race.
#6: Energy Bar
These types of bars are designed for runners and endurance athletes, so they have the nutrients you need in a convenient package. They digest well and provide both quick and sustained energy.
#7: Protein Pancakes
If you’re not an oatmeal person but you want another warm breakfast option, protein-packed pancakes are an awesome alternative. You can whip them up with oats, bananas, and Greek yogurt.
Combine 1/2 cup of rolled oats, 1/2 tsp baking powder, and 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon with 1/2 medium-size ripe banana, 2 large egg whites, 1/4 cup of plain Greek yogurt, 2 tablespoons of unsweetened almond milk, and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract.
#8: English Muffin, Toast, or Bagel
Any sort of starch provides the carbohydrates runners need, so bread, toast, a bagel, English muffin, etc. with some peanut butter, jam, honey, butter, marmite, or other topping can be an easy pre-race breakfast that also digests well.
One of the best pre-race breakfasts for a 5k or short race is a simple banana with or without nut butter. Oranges, apples, and other fruit can be good too, but don’t have too much or your stomach might get upset from the fructose and fiber.
Stick with lower fiber fruits.
#10: Dried Fruit
Dried fruit, such as craisins, pineapple tidbits, dried apples, figs, and dates are good pre-race breakfasts if you only have an hour or so before the race or if you’re running a 5k or short race.
They provide quick energy without bogging you down in terms of weight and bulk.
#11: Rice Cakes or Crackers
If you have a really sensitive stomach, are just running a short race, or only have an hour or two to digest your pre-race breakfast, a light snack of simple carbohydrates like rice cakes or Saltine crackers can be a smart choice.
Add nut butter or a spread for a slower blood sugar increase if you can tolerate it.
#12: Breakfast Wrap
A breakfast wrap can be a good pre-race breakfast for longer races. You can add scrambled eggs, potatoes, and a little meat or turkey. Another good option is just peanut butter and jelly or banana rolled up in a tortilla.
You can also go with something more savory like turkey and cheese or avocado and hummus for ultramarathons or slower races where you might want more fat.
Skip the beans and too many veggies, though. The fiber may bother you.
What’s your ultimate pre-race breakfast?
If you are looking for more ideas for great snacks for runners, check out our best snacks for runners, here!