The perfect breakfast – for training or race day

In your quest to run better, faster, stronger, how much time and consideration do you give to fuelling your body with the perfect race-day breakfast?

If you’ve been training for a race for weeks, even months, it seems strange to dedicate little time to how you are going to fuel that race to ensure optimum performance, but some people treat their race-day breakfast just like any other. Not me! I prepare my race-day breakfast the night before, so my porridge is made up waiting for me in the fridge, I have one hard boiled egg ready to eat after that, and a selection of nuts and fruit, mostly banana and raisins, ready to snack on. If you want your body to perform at its best, It’s pretty important that it’s running on the right fuel.

This was the Jamaica Half Marathon, which started at 5am; I had breakfast at 3am that day!

This was the Jamaica Half Marathon, which started at 5am; I had breakfast at 3am that day!

We all know we should carbo-load the night before a race, but what, ideally, should we be eating on the morning of the big day? “Breakfast is especially important for runners,” says Emma Patel from North Norfolk Nutrition. “Whether you’re a morning, noon, or evening runner, breakfast can provide you with important nutrients and the energy you need for a strong workout. A nutritious, well-balanced breakfast can make you burst with energy and helps your body cope with the demands of the race/run that you have coming up.”

Emma stresses that your breakfast menu needs to include foods that are quick to make and easy to digest but also give you sustained energy. Breakfast foods that work for one runner – rice cakes with nut butters and black coffee – may not sit well with another. “Most runners need to experiment to find out which foods work best for them,” says Emma. “The American College of Sports Medicine recommends eating a high-carbohydrate, 400- to 500-calorie meal two or three hours before exercise.” A mini meal or snack of 100 to 300 calories is plenty for runs of up to an hour at a moderate pace.

These legs don't run anywhere unless they get their porridge

These legs don’t run anywhere unless they get their porridge

Whatever calorie count you’re aiming for, the best breakfast foods are those rich in complex and simple carbohydrates and high-quality protein, with smaller amounts of healthy fats. This combination of nutrients will set you up for better running no matter what time of day you head out. “Try to avoid foods that can cause stomach cramps and stitches such as too much milky products or hard fruits such as apples and pears and dried fruits such as figs, prunes and mixed seeds,” she says.

Keep it simple for breakfast as the goal is to fill the stomach up without taking any risks before the race! “You may want to prepare breakfast the day before in case the hotel you are staying at does not have the ‘right’ runners diet.” If there is one day of your life to bring your own food to the table it is race day! Also, don’t forget to hydrate with a good amount of water prior to the race/run and a black coffee. “Although caffeine will not transform a poorly prepared runner into a better one, two-thirds of studies with trained runners show significant benefits of caffeine on performance or physiological responses or both.”

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Emma suggests these options (all of which can be accompanied by a black coffee):
Granola: most granola contains some sort of oil but you can use fruit juice, agave nectar or manuka honey to give your oats moisture.

Quinoa and fruit: make sure that you limit the amount of fibre and avoid fibrous fruits like figs, prunes and apricots which may leave you feeling bloated and put you at risk of GI distress during the race.

Teff porridge or wholegrain rice porridge: leftover wholegrain rice makes a fast quick breakfast. Add some nut butters for added protein for example almond, cashew or brazil nut butters.

Rye bread with egg whites/scrambled eggs: this is a good low Gl meal that will provide sustained energy throughout your race/run.

Oat groats with hemp protein powder: to provide good amounts of slow release carbohydrate and protein for sustained energy to reduce spikes in blood sugar before the race. Raw oat groats need to be soaked before eating to soften them. They are the whole oat kernel that includes the bran layer which makes them even healthier than rolled oats or steel-cut oats. As they are rather fibrous they need to be tested out in training first.

Spelt or millet cereal, banana and peanut butter.

Don’t forget recovery post-run snacks:
Sweet potato cakes: perfect for brunch post race/run. When you have time, make a double batch and stock up the freezer.

Fig and honey rice cakes with nut butters: this is a gluten free recipe that can work best as a snack following a run or as a quick pre-run snack. Warning: avoid too many figs!

Buckwheat pancakes with kefir yoghurt and mixed berries. This post workout breakfast is a good mix of carbohydrate, protein, healthy fats and antioxidants to replenish your stores after a hard race/run.

Focus on easily digestible carbohydrate as they ‘store’ very easily, such as bagels, oatmeal with water, honey, banana and rice cakes.

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