What to Eat on Race Day to Cross the Finish Line
There are mornings for pumpkin Os or soldiering through a few hours of intermittent fasting, but race day morning isn’t one of them. For immediate and long-lasting energy to start strong and power you through, you need a good mix of nutrients like carbs, protein, and fat — in the right ratio — to boost satiety and endurance. In order to know what to eat on race day, here are five breakfast flops to avoid so you can cross the finish line.
Breakfast Mistake #1: Breakfasting on Something Brand New
The most important sports nutrition rule is that you don't try anything new on race day. “Even if it's a meal your friend eats or you read an athlete eats it, that doesn't mean it will sit well with your body and help you perform your best,” says Kelly Jones MS, RD, CSSD, LDN. Everyone is different, so test-drive the meal before one of your harder training workouts to see how your body responds. Then you can enjoy or pass on it on those mornings that matter!
Related: These 4 Race-Day Rituals Work
Breakfast Mistake #2: Going Low-Carb and Too High in Protein
Protein is important for recovery, but eating too much of it for breakfast on race day won't help you much. In fact, “it may sit in your stomach and convert to usable energy very slowly during the race,” Jones says.
Carbohydrates are the quickest and most efficient source of fuel for the muscles, especially at high intensities, and they will support your central nervous system while racing. So when thinking of what to eat on race day, add protein if you want (think yogurt or something small) but don’t feast on steak and eggs.
Breakfast Mistake #3: Eating Lots of Fat
Like protein, fat shouldn’t be your go-to fuel on race day morning. “Fat digests slowly and may linger in the stomach, increasing chances of GI upset,” Jones says. “While some fat is okay (such as fat from nut butter or avocado with oatmeal or toast), high amounts or saturated fats in bacon and cheese are less likely to sit well,” she says. Save the sausage and cheese omelet for post-finish--with a beer or mimosa, FTW.
Breakfast Mistake #4: Picking High-Fiber Foods
“Fiber is something I encourage any time of day except immediately before or during exercise. It's essential for gut health and all of its associated functions, but will sit in the stomach and other areas of the digestive tract, which can make you feel full and even lethargic,” she says.
Stick to just a smidge, such as the fiber in oats, toast, and nut butter, but skip anything bean or lentil-based or made of seeds, like chia, hemp, or flax.
Breakfast Mistake #5: Skipping It All Together
We get it. You’re not a breakfast eater. But on race day, that hardly matters. Guaranteed, you’re gonna need the fuel. “When you wake up, your muscle energy stores are depleted, which means you'll start feeding off of blood glucose sooner while competing,” Jones says. Not big on breakfast? “You still want to top off your energy stores with some carbs, even if it's as small as a banana a half hour before, or a tablespoon of honey 5 minutes prior to the race start,” she says. Again, just be sure to test-drive it.