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12 Ultimate Pre-Race Breakfasts To Fuel Your Next PR

What to eat before a race.

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 PR-smashing race and falling short.

If your race day breakfast doesn’t digest or sit well or that’s too big, you’ll feel bloated, nauseous, heavy, crampy, and running to the bathroom rather than down the course.

If your pre-race meal 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? 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.

Pre-race breakfast: a bowl of oatmeal with blueberries.

What Should I Eat for Breakfast Before a Race?

Truthfully, the only rule is that you should eat what appeals to you, digests well for you, and leaves you feeling energized and sharp. You shouldn’t eat anything that bothers your stomach and leaves you feeling uncomfortable.

It often takes runners a few tries 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 from the race start to finish.

Sometimes, even 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. Still, if you find you have a more sensitive digestive tract every time race day morning rolls around, you’re certainly not alone.

If you 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 cereals like Rice Krispies, 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 the stomach faster. They are also low in FODMAPs and fiber, so they produce little gas if you don’t have sensitivities to the ingredients in them.

A sliced banana.

What Is the Best Pre-Race Breakfast for Runners?

Whatever works best for you is simply the best pre-race breakfast for you to have. 

Whether it be oatmeal, a bagel and cream cheese, eggs and toast, or a waffle with maple syrup, whatever your body responds to well is your best choice.

With that said, if you need some advice regarding foods that often make the best pre-race breakfast ideas, 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 racing a 5K or other short race, you may 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 such as a half marathon or full marathon 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. 

A bowl of cereal with rasberries.

#2: Pre-Race Breakfast Timing

How long before a race should I eat my pre-race breakfast?

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-run 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 of energy and blood glucose from the food you ate for your run.

Dried fruits including cranberries, apricots and pineapple.

#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 are 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, and energy bars.

Pancakes with butter and syrup.

What Are The Best Pre-Race Breakfasts for Runners?

Ready for some ideas for the best pre-race breakfasts? Here are the best pre-race breakfasts to fuel your next PR.

#1: Oatmeal 

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, rolled, or steel-cut oats.

You can dress it up or down, so to speak, with fruit, nuts, chia seeds, plant-based milk, 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.

Banana smoothies.

#3: Smoothies

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 contain carbs and electrolytes like potassium and magnesium. Freezing them before adding them in will make your smoothie thicker. 

Pineapple adds sweetness, and 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.

#4: Cereal

Breakfast cereal, such as Cheerios, Chex, Kix, or any relatively low-sugar, low-fiber option can be one of the best pre-race breakfasts. 

If you are sensitive to dairy, add plant-based milk. Sliced bananas, blueberries, peaches, or other berries make good toppings. You can also sprinkle a few nuts on top.

Energy-dense cereals like Grape Nuts, granola, or muesli are great options for longer races.

Heart-shaped waffles with powdered sugar.

#5: Waffles

Waffles topped with a bit of syrup, honey, jam, or nut butter provide plenty of 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 Bars

Some runners do best with a low-sugar, natural granola bar or energy bar like 88 Acres bars, Honey Stinger Waffles, or Bobo’s Oat Bars.

These bars are designed for runners and endurance athletes. They provide the nutrients you need in a convenient package, digest well, and provide both quick and sustained energy.

Even though energy gels are often used during a race, popping one about 15 minutes before the start line can give you a little boost and won’t fill your stomach.

#7: Protein Pancakes

If you’re not an oatmeal person but want another warm breakfast option, protein-packed pancakes are an excellent 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.

A variety of bagels on a wooden table.

#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.

#9: Fruit

A simple banana with or without nut butter is one of the best pre-race breakfasts for a 5K or short race. 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 running a 5K or short race. 

They provide quick energy without bogging you down in weight and bulk.

A rice cake with peanut butter on top.

#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.

If you can tolerate it, add nut butter or a spread for a slower blood sugar increase.

#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 want more ideas for great snacks for runners, check out this next guide:

Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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