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5 Ideas for a Race Day Breakfast

Struggling with what to eat for race day breakfast? This post has 5 ideas for different situations of eating before a morning run and will explain how to modify them to fit your needs when eating the morning of a race.

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You’ve probably wondered, should I eat before running in the morning?

The answer is yes (most of the time), especially if you’re planning on running long.

Knowing what to eat the morning of a marathon or the morning of a race is a big challenge. Eating before a morning run in general can be troublesome for some people.

If you aren’t eating the “correct” foods, or eating enough or too much, you may suffer from runners gut, or have adverse symptoms during your run.

So, of course, what you eat the morning before a race matters!

Benefits of Eating Before a Morning Run

There are several benefits to eating before a morning run.

  • Carbohydrates provide quick and sustained energy to use in that run
  • Enhance glycogen storage (that can benefit you during those longer runs and efforts)
  • Prevent low blood sugar
  • Prevent feelings of physical hunger during a run
  • Enhance performance
  • Energy for the brain and cognitive function
  • Avoid an empty stomach, which can sometimes propagate runners gut symptoms
  • Help provide adequate energy to make up for expended energy to avoid relative energy deficiency (RED-S)
C&O Gravel Trail in December

What Should I Eat Before Running in the Morning?

Before running in the morning, you should eat something with mostly carbohydrates and a little protein. Here are some more examples of what to eat before running in the morning.

How much to eat will depend on how hungry you are, how much time you have to digest food, and how long you are running.

If you are going for a run under 45-60 minutes, you don’t need to eat anything, though you may feel better if you eat something, even if it’s something small, like a gel or chew.

Here are some of our favorite chews for running.

Spreading just a little peanut butter or butter can add a little more “staying power” to your pre run meal or snack, but too much may cause GI distress for some people.

stack of pieces of bread with peanut butter on white plate

When deciding what to eat before running in the morning, something with 15-30 grams of carbohydrates should suffice.

This can look like:

  • a piece of toast or half a bagel with nut butter
  • a banana
  • 1/2 cup oatmeal
  • a glass of juice
  • a couple handfuls of cereal or granola
  • half of a fig newton bar
  • running gel or chew

If you plan on running over an hour, you should aim for 30-60 grams of carbohydrates before eating, and then 30-60 grams of carbs for each hour of exercise.

Don’t forget about hydration. Recommendations are to drink 8 ounces 15-30 minutes before running, and 16 ounces a few hours before.

We’ve broken down hydration tips for summer running as well as tips for your winter hydration plan, too.

woman after exercise feeling warm and needing homemade electrolyte drink

What To Eat the Morning of a Race

On the morning of a race, you’ll want to eat a combination of carbohydrates and protein, It’s very similar to practicing what you eat before a long run.

The reason you want carbs and protein together in your breakfast on race day is to help stabilize blood sugar and provide sustained energy through the first part of the race.

In other words, what you eat in the morning before a race should fuel you well through the first hour.

Subsequently, the success of the race will then come down to fueling after the first hour and ultimately, fueling for the marathon, which you can read more about in this marathon race day nutrition post.

Figuring out the best race day breakfast should be easy if you’ve trained properly and practiced eating before your morning runs. We also broke down how to make a marathon nutrition plan.

Many of our clients have realized that eating more does sustain them for longer and help their legs feel fresher and able to maintain a harder pace for longer.

This is why carbs are king – I don’t recommend a low carb diet for running if you’re looking to run a high intensity, PR or race pace.

oatmeal in white bowl topped with frozen berries, peanut butter and yogurt

What if I Have Stomach Issues When Running?

  1. Give yourself time to digest – On the morning of a race, you do want to give yourself a few hours to digest before the race, so you can plan to eat a larger meal with sufficient carbohydrates. This can even look like splitting higher carbohydrate needs into smaller blocks. For example, eating 40-60g rams of carbohydrates 2.5-3 hours before the race, and then adding 15-30 grams 30-45 minutes before race time.
  2. Eat something low residue – Even if you’re someone who doesn’t like to eat early or run with something in your stomach, it will benefit you to eat something for those longer distance races. In fact, having nothing in your stomach could be exasperating the runners gut symptoms.

Instead, choose something low fiber and low residue. Some switches could be:

  • white toast instead of whole wheat
  • stroop waffle instead of whole grain waffle
  • low fiber cereal
  • white rice instead of brown rice
  • juice or a liquid nutrition option – I recommend UCAN, Skratch or Tailwind
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How Many Carbohydrates Do I Need?

The amount of carbohydrates you need in your morning breakfast before your race based on your weight and how much time you have.

For example:

  • 1 hour before running = 1 g of carbs/kg of body weight
  • 2 hours before running = 2 g of carbs/kg of body weight
  • 3 hours before running = 3 g of carbs/kg of body weight

So, if your race is in two hours, and you weigh 60 kg, then your goal would be 120 grams of carbs. Now, there is some wiggle room in there, especially if you have been carb loading.

Which if you are running a long distance race, yes, you should carb load. Read more about carb loading for runners.

I generally recommend 60 grams and up of carbs before a race. that may look like a bagel with juice, or toast with a banana and fruit, or 3/4 cup oatmeal with a banana or some milk/yogurt.

bagel with butter and banana on white plate

Here are some more breakfast ideas and recipes with higher carbohydrates that you can make ahead of time.

Race Day Breakfast Ideas

For those of you who want recipes for a race day breakfast and wondering specifically what to eat the morning of a race, here are some ideas you can try.

Topping of Glycogen Stores

You may also want to “top” off your glycogen stores with a carb-rich snack shortly before the race.

This can help provide a quick burst of carbohydrates that you’ll use early on to help power you through the first hour of running so you don’t have to dig into your glycogen stores early, and avoid hitting the wall in a marathon.

An energy gel (I love huma gels), clif blocks, a sports drink, fruit bars or crackers can be great for this. You also want to make sure you’re taking in about 8 ounces of water alongside 20-30 minutes before the race.

fig bars on a white plate

Should You Drink Caffeine Before a Race?

Caffeine before running can provide some performance benefits if taken in the correct dosing.

Research studies conclude that 3-6mg/kg body weight of caffeine ingested 60 minutes before a workout is recommended.

For more information, I’ll point you towards this extensive post on whether coffee before running is recommended.

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