Ask any seasoned runner what they eat on race day, and you will likely get a very detailed answer. It’s almost like a ritual, like a good luck charm, for a runner to eat the same breakfast before every race. Because through much trial and error, they’ve arrived at something that works for them, that helps keep up their energy throughout the race without upsetting their stomach. This also differs from person to person – a bowl of oatmeal, or a bagel and peanut butter, or a 2 egg omelet with cheese (that last one is me!). If you are a new runner, you may be wondering what will work best for you. No one can tell you for sure, so you will need to experiment a bit, but here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Start experimenting now, while you are training. Try a different breakfast or snack item before each run and note how it makes you feel. Did a little extra protein help your legs feel stronger? Did that energy bar make your tummy cramp up? There are a lot of factors that make one run better than another so it can be hard to determine, but in time you will figure out what’s working.
- Timing is important. Some people like to eat a full breakfast several hours before the race and nothing else. Others like to eat a small snack 15 to 30 minutes before, to top up their energy. Play with the timing of your meals and snacks to see what feels good to you.
- Consider your current diet. Your body is used to fuel coming in certain forms, so don’t suddenly make a change in the days leading up to your race. Even if it’s a healthy change, you don’t know how it will affect your stomach when you are exercising strenuously. Experiment now, and stick to what your body knows on race day. You want to be running across the finish line, not running for the bathroom!
- Don’t skip breakfast on race day. If you’ve never run a road race before, you may be nervous and not feeling very hungry. But skipping breakfast, or at least a light snack, will leave you feeling tired during your run. A pre-race meal helps keep up your energy and steady your blood sugar during exercise. If you need to, get up a bit earlier than normal to eat and give your stomach time to digest before the start.
- Hydrate, but don’t over-hydrate. Loading up on tons of water just before the race can cause stomach upset and dilute your electrolytes. Stay hydrated in the days before the race, and then drink an extra glass or two a few hours prior to give your body time to process the fluids. Before the starting gun, drink only a cup or two more. I personally like to stop drinking water at least an hour and a half in advance, so I don’t need to pee! Then I carry water with me, even in short races, to keep my mouth from feeling dry.
Good nutrition is a key component to running a race and being able to cross that finish line. But what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. If you aren’t sure what works for you, now is the time to try different approaches and test out new things. On race day, stick with what worked best while you were training. In time, you will find you have your ritual breakfast or snack that fuels you across that finish line.