What to Eat on Race Day – 27 Expert Runners Share Their Race-Day Breakfast
If you're like many runners, you’ve trained for weeks or months, ready for your first race or a PR and you've probably made sure to fuel properly in the days leading up to the race.
But if you think your fueling has been completed, then you may have forgotten how important race-day breakfast is.
When it comes to "what to eat on race day", it's best to give the floor to the experts.
To help you get a sneak peek at their kitchens, we asked 28 expert runners two questions :
1. What's your go-to race-day breakfast?
2. And what's your ideal time to consume your pre-race meal before the race?
So, if you want to make it through your marathon or half marathon fueling and hydrating and getting across that finish line not feeling sick or dehydrated, make sure you read what our expert runners eat and drink before the gun!
But before you start scrolling, I just want to thank all the 28 ladies and gentlemen for taking the time and contributing to our first roundup post EVER.
So, let the scrolling begin! (or you can use the quick navigation below 😉
My race day breakfast depends on the length of the race! No matter what, it's something I have "practiced" eating before training and I definitely follow the rule of "nothing new on race day!" Usually it consists of a Dave's Killer Bread bagel with butter, a banana (of course) and maybe some whole wheat fig bars with Teddy Natural Peanut Butter smothered on top if I have a longer race. On the way to the venue I usually sip on Skracth Labs electrolyte drink to top off my hydration.
I need to be finished with food at least 45 minutes prior to the race start. Since I mostly race triathlons these days, it's easier for me to digest on the swim and I know I will start eating again on the bike. If it's a running race, I need 60-90 minutes of digestion time before I start pounding on my GI system!
Ideally, I'll have 1/2 scoop of protein powder with 1/2 scoop pre-workout mix while I'm getting ready. After that I slather 2 tbsp of almond butter on a big slice of sourdough bread and usually take that with me to the start line to eat, which means I'm eating usually within 30-40 minutes of starting the race. That particular meal doesn't seem to require more digestion than that.
If it's a race where we're going to be awake for longer than 2 hours prior to the start I might also eat some oatmeal or a banana. The morning of the race, I mostly want to get in enough to not feel hungry, the real fueling I need will have been done in the week leading up to the race.
My go-to race day breakfast is always toast with peanut butter and sliced banana. Simple, satisfying, and sits well! Always make sure to eat something before you run, no matter the distance - I'm a Registered Dietitian, and a lot of my runner clients come to me making the mistake of not eating before their runs, especially if they are morning runners. Don't go into a run with your fuel tank on empty! I have a blog post about What to Eat Before (and After) a Long Run that might be helpful here.
I generally eat about an hour or so before a race. Before training runs, I usually eat closer to 15 to 30 minutes beforehand, and eat a smaller portion. On race day, since I'll be eating earlier due to getting myself to the starting area, I generally have a larger portion and eat it a little earlier! It's best to experiment and see what works best for you personally. Don't forget to fuel DURING the run, too, if you'll be running for over an hour! I have a blog post with guidelines and recipes about How to Fuel a Long Run - check it out!
Typically for shorter distance races, my go-to race day breakfast is a piece of gluten-free toast with some almond butter and a cup of coffee. For longer distance races, I will have a small cup of oatmeal with some almond butter mixed in and maybe some dried fruit. I LOVE the Vigilant Eats brand Superfood Cereal because they come in portable cups, the spoon is included and you can add cold water! Regardless, I ALWAYS have coffee - I can't function without it 😉
If the race is in the morning, I will usually wake up, have my cup of coffee and eat my toast or oatmeal/cereal about 2 hours before which gives my stomach enough time to digest and settle!
My race day breakfast (for half marathon or marathon) is pretty minimal as I don't like a lot in my stomach when I run. I keep it bland and basic - usually a plain bagel with some jelly and a banana. I find this sits well and leaves room for me to easily take in gels/GUs while running.
I'm also careful to start hydrating right when I get up so I start the race in pretty good shape. For a 5K or 10K might just have a banana before the gun goes off.
Our go-to breakfast on race day is a bagel with dairy-free spread and a good thick spread of jam. We're sure regular toast would be just as good, but we're almost superstitious about it having to be a bagel specifically. We've been known to spend the evening before a race hunting down bagels in strange cities, rather than go without!"
We try to eat about 2-3 hours before the race. If race logistics mean that it'll be a bit longer than that, we'll take a banana in our bag, and eat a few bites of that near the start line. Then make sure that we've thrown the peel away properly!
My go-to race-day breakfast is a couple of potato waffles. I don't generally eat breakfast so I have to get up early to give myself enough time to feel like eating something that substantial, so I give myself an hour before eating them (I heat them up in the oven while I'm getting ready) about an hour before the race starts.
My go-to pre-race breakfast is peanut butter toast on wheat bread or a 1/2 peanut butter + honey sandwich on wheat bread. If I feel extra hungry, I will add a banana. The peanut butter/toast combination is easy on my stomach and provides an amount of carbs and fat that works well for me.
For me personally:
Egg sandwich (whole wheat toast, fried egg, cheddar cheese), English breakfast tea (with milk and sugar) - 2.5-3 hours before the race (plus water with UCAN hydrate electrolytes if I feel I need more hydration)
UCAN drink - 45-60 minutes before the race.
My go-to breakfast for long races like the half or marathon is a bowl of oatmeal with whole milk about 3-4 hours before the gun. Then I like a banana and a cup of coffee 1-2 hours before the start to make sure I'm well fueled and properly caffeinated!
Sometimes, I'll eat an energy bar with the oatmeal if it's a marathon and I'm hungry. As long as you have the time to digest, a bigger breakfast is a smart idea.
Before an endurance event, I typically eat plain steel cut oats that I've flavored with peanut butter powder and topped with honey and sliced bananas. If it's an out-of-town race, I'll swap the steel cut oats for instant and put my uncooked portion in a travel mug along with peanut butter powder and chopped dates or other dried fruit.
In the morning, I just need to add hot water from the hotel coffee maker and stir. In the starting chute, I also will eat an approximate 150 - 200 calorie snack like a few dates (great source of concentrated natural sugars for quick energy) or even those salty peanut butter crackers if it's a hot day and I want the extra sodium!
I aim to eat the main portion of my breakfast about 3 hours before a race, along with a tall glass of water (so that I have plenty of time to visit the restroom). Then, I have my pre race snack mentioned above about 15 to 20 minutes before the race starts, along with a little more water.
Before a race of 13.1 miles or longer, I consume an everything bagel, a hard-boiled egg that is heavily salted and a handful of fruit — typically berries (strawberries/blackberries/blueberries/raspberries). I consume this with about 12 ounces of water. You can see all my personal nutrition preferences and strategies here.
2.5-3 hours before a race, even if that means I wake up, eat and go back to sleep for a little while longer.
My go-to race day breakfast is a bagel with peanut butter, a banana, and a glass of 1% milk. This is an excellent combination of high carb, moderate protein, low fat.
I typically consume my pre-race meal 1.5-2 hour before the race. After that, I drink some water to make sure I'm well hydrated for the race and depending on the length of the race, will begin fueling during the race around mile 5. Fuel early and often is my motto!
I love an English muffin with a little cream cheese and a lot of strawberry jam. If I can't get my hands on an English muffin or cream cheese, then I'll have a bagel or toast or whatever I can find with just a touch of butter and jam. If the race has a later start, I might have two egg whites or one scrambled egg, too, and then bring a second English muffin to eat later. I have acid reflux, so I've had to really fine tune this over the years. Peanut butter and nut butters, which my husband loves before races, are terrible for my stomach. I just drink water on race morning - no coffee or anything else.
I like to eat my final meal 2 hours before the start. Any earlier and I get hungry, any later and my stomach can get upset. So for a late starting race like Boston Marathon, I'll eat when I get up and then again on the way to the start, depending on the timing so that I'm eating right around that 2-hour mark.
My go-to race breakfast is simple, carb-rich, and portable. The portability is important - I want to be able to eat the same thing whether or not I am racing local or away. I don't like to race hungry, so I've found that eating a substantial yet easily digestible meal works best for me.
I eat a plain bagel with peanut butter, honey, and a banana with a cup of black coffee before a marathon or half marathon. The bagel provides easily digestible carbohydrates for energy, while the peanut butter helps me stay full throughout a longer race.
I'm a huge fan of bananas before a run because of the potassium they provide. The caffeine is an amazing performance enhancer and it's part of my daily routine. If it's a 10K or 5K, I'll probably just have a banana and half a bagel or a slice of toast with peanut butter.
I usually give myself about two to two and half hours to digest before my race.
If I have a big time goal before a race, I will drink a shot of Red Ace Organic Beet Juice. Research supports the performance benefits of beet juice - it doesn't replace training, but it can help me fully reach my training potential on race day.
My go-to pre-race meal depends on the distance. For ten miles or less, I eat a banana with peanut butter and sometimes a piece of toast, usually about 1.5-2 hours before the race.
For a half marathon, I have two pieces of toast with nut butter and banana two hours before the race. For the full marathon, I again stick with my nut butter and banana but include a plain bagel and an electrolyte drink. Because this is a larger meal, I try to get closer to 3 hours between eating and the start of the race.
I don't tend to eat at all before daily morning workouts, but on race day for a longer distance, I try to eat 200-400 calories to provide an initial burst of fuel. Since I'm usually traveling for a race rather than waking up at home, it's usually as simple as a bar of some kind. Lately, I really like Rx Bars, because they're made with wholesome ingredients. If I'm at a hotel with a breakfast buffet, I may swap that for either a toasted bagel (I love Asiago cheese bagels!) or basic toast spread with peanut butter and honey.
Ideally, I'll try to eat about 60-90 minutes before the race - that usually works with where I physically am (just before I leave the hotel to head to the start line) and also gives me enough time for the food to settle and digest.
On race day I usually eat an hour before the race and will have a piece of toast or a Honey Stinger waffle, with peanut butter and a banana. If it's a marathon I will probably have a Honey Stinger gel at the start as well.
On race day for marathons I'll be eating a little bit earlier, depending on the race logistics Before training runs I eat a smaller portion or maybe just the waffle and eat it 30 minutes before my run.
I'm a lady who loves her sleep so for most training runs I have everything laid out the night before so my alarm isn't any earlier than it needs to be!"
My go-to race day breakfast is typically a mix of protein and carbs with some hydration of course:
- Water or sports drink
- Half a bagel with almond butter
If I'm running a full marathon I'll add a hard boiled egg to that.
I like to have my fueling done 90 minutes before the race. I'll take a gel about 10 minutes before the start though.
My go-to race day breakfast is oatmeal with half a banana and some almond butter.
I usually eat my pre-race meal an hour to an hour and a half before the race. I like giving it time to digest but not so much time that I'm hungry when I start running.
My ideal race breakfast is the same breakfast I always eat - a mix of rice krispies, flax seed and raisins, with soya yogurt, rather than milk, plus a glass of water and a glass or orange juice.
I would usually eat it at around 6am, possibly slightly earlier depending on what time the race starts and how far I have to travel. As an IBS sufferer, it is particularly important to me that I have plenty of time to digest it before I run.
Aside from coffee, I tend to avoid the pre-race breakfast. As long as my nutrition has been on-point in the week leading up to an event, I don't feel the need to take in calories the morning of the race. However, I will sip on a 200 calorie bottle of Tailwind Nutrition in the final couple of hours - just enough to quench my thirst and top off electrolyte levels before racing.
I like to eat an early dinner the night before a big race, usually around 6 or 7pm. No creamy, stodgy pasta for me - a plain hamburger, fries and a beer typically does the trick!
I love sweet potato and almond butter. It sits well in my stomach and tastes amazing. The only downside is the strange looks I get while eating it early in the morning.
I eat my meal 3 hours before, enough time to digest a bigger meal, but not long enough for me to get hungry.
My pre-race breakfast is pretty consistent with my pre-run breakfast for morning runs and workouts. I aim to eat a bowl of oatmeal with banana, peanut butter and a little greek yogurt. I need some protein from the yogurt and peanut butter to keep me satiated, and I thrive on the slow acting and quick acting carbohydrates from the oatmeal and banana.
I'll aim to eat 2-2.5 hours before a race. If it's a longer race, I'll also add something small as a snack before the race, like some dry cereal or gummy bears.
When my run takes place early in the morning and I want to get energized, focused and full for hours but I don’t necessarily feel like eating a meal, I always make myself a cup of bulletproof coffee. This is one of the best drinks that keeps me going for hours and never left me feeling uncomfortable.
The full bulletproof coffee recipe can be found on my Run Agness Run blog, but long story short - it is basically the blended up mix of 1 cup of upgraded coffee, 1 tbsp of brain octane oil and 1 tbsp of unsalted ghee butter.
You will love its creamy taste and the healthy fats will give you a lot of energy to smash your race and beat your previous score! (:
Final tips for our runners
- The real fueling needs to be done in the week leading up to the race.
- Knowing what to eat on race day is key and the majority of our experienced runners warn against going into a run
with your fuel tank on empty, no matter the distance.
- Even if you don’t generally eat breakfast, wake up early to give yourself enough time to feel like eating (like Cathy White does).
- Make sure to give your stomach enough time to digest and settle, but not so much time for you to get hungry
- Hydration, hydration, hydration. Dyhadration is one of the biggest causes of poor performance.
- It’s a lot easier to come back from a nutritional low sugar bonk than it is to come back from being dehydrated.
- Make sure you fuel during the run.
If you've learned something new today, please share this expert roundup on social media using the buttons above. This way we will help more runners:
- know what to eat on race day,
- know what time to eat that,
- know that race-day fueling is as important as pre race-day fueling.
And if you have anything else to share, please let us know in the comments section below.
Happy running ...