A good start: Pre-race breakfasts

Pre-marathon fuelling doesn’t end with pasta. Here’s what you should have for breakfast on race day.



If you’re like most runners, you spend the final days before your marathon feasting on high-carbohydrate foods. But a good nutrition plan doesn’t end with that last plate of pasta the night before your race. Your pre-race breakfast is just as important, as it helps restock the liver glycogen (or stored energy) that got depleted overnight. ‘Liver glycogen keeps your blood-sugar level steady during exercise,’ says Jackie Berning, sports nutrition and metabolism professor at the University of Colorado, US. Your morning meal provides fuel for your brain, helping to sustain motivation and concentration during a long race. But just how much should you eat on race morning to optimise your performance? Probably more than you think. Here’s how to choose the ideal amount and combination of foods and fluids to power you through to a strong finish. Practise with different options before a warm-up race so that by the time race day comes around, you’ll have confidence in your fuel plan.

Your morning menu

The best pre-race breakfast consists mainly of carbohydrates, since they’re digested most rapidly and are your body’s preferred fuel source, says Penny Wilson, a registered dietitian who works with endurance athletes. Small amounts of protein will help stave off hunger during the later miles. Limit or avoid fat and fibre; the former takes too long to digest, while the latter can cause bloating and gastro-intestinal (GI) problems. ‘I recommend foods like a bagel and peanut butter, porridge with milk and dried fruit, or yoghurt and toast,’ says Wilson. Other good options include a banana and high-carb energy bar, a waffle with syrup and strawberries, or even a bowl of rice.

For runners who tend to feel queasy on race morning, sticking with liquid carbs can help prevent GI problems while still providing energy and hydration. Smoothies, juices and sports drinks all pack quickly digesting carbohydrates that empty easily from your stomach, says Wilson.

A big breakfast?

While your usual bagel and banana might power you through a morning of meetings, it’s not enough to fuel you through a marathon. Research shows that consuming 1.5-1.8g of carbohydrate per pound of body weight is ideal for improving performance, says Berning. For a 10st 10lb runner, that translates to 225-270g of carbohydrate – or about 1,000kcal, which may sound like a lot just before a hard effort. The key is to get that meal in early – three to four hours pre-race to be exact, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. That gives you enough time to digest so your stomach will be fairly empty and your muscles and liver totally fuelled.

If you’re not sure you can stomach 1,000kcal at once, you can divide them up into two smaller meals, says Berning. In that case, eat 200-400kcal four hours before the start, along with 350-600ml of water or sports drink (giving you plenty of time to hit the portable toilet). Between 90 minutes and two hours before the start, eat most of the remaining carbs – again, choosing easy-to-digest options.Because many races start at 9am or earlier, you’ll have to set your alarm for a very early wake-up to hit that four-hour window. If that’s not realistic, you may choose to eat your entire pre-race meal just two hours before the start. But because you’ll have less time to digest, eat only one gram of carbohydrate per pound of body
weight (150g, or 600kcal, for a 10st 10lb runner) – and stick with foods and liquids you know are easy on your stomach. As you’re consuming less, you do risk running out of liver glycogen, which will cause your blood sugar to drop and may mean you hit the wall. So be vigilant about fuelling early in the race (consuming 30-60g of carbs per hour) to keep your energy levels high.

Have your last 20-30g of carbs 30-60 minutes prior to the start. This could be a gel or 500ml of sports drink. ‘This provides the last shot of fuel to hold you over until you get into the rhythm of fuelling mid-race,’ says Berning.Berning also stresses that every runner has different food and fluid tolerances, which means a plan that works for one runner might spell GI disaster for another. That’s why it’s key that you practise your pre-race meal strategy during training. ‘The stomach and gut need to be trained to handle food before a long run,’ says Berning. She suggests trying various different combinations to find the one that works best for you. And, once you find it, stick with it. ‘Eat the exact same meal on race morning that you practised with in training,’ says Wilson, ‘and you’ll be set.’


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Discuss this article

I am training for the Greater Manchester Marathon on 28th April. This will be my first ever Marathon and have only raced 10k's in the past. I am following the training plan and am up to 15-16 miles on my long run. I tend to do my long run very early in the mornings and sometimes run 15 miles to work at 5 a.m. I just wondered if you could suggest what (if anything) and when I should eat before? Have you any tips on keeping up energy levels in the last 2-3 miles?
Posted: 25/02/2013 at 14:06

I am training for the Greater Manchester Marathon on 28th April. This will be my first ever Marathon and have only raced 10k's in the past. I am following the training plan and am up to 15-16 miles on my long run. I tend to do my long run very early in the mornings and sometimes run 15 miles to work at 5 a.m. I just wondered if you could suggest what (if anything) and when I should eat before? Have you any tips on keeping up energy levels in the last 2-3 miles?
Posted: 25/02/2013 at 14:07

Hiya! I am doing the manchester marathon on the 28th too! Only up to 11 miles so far but doing my first 16 this weekend and dedicating the next too months of weekends to make up for it! it is my first time too
Posted: 26/02/2013 at 20:43

Just take it real slow and don't worry about time. It will get tough after 11 miles but just stay positive drink lots on the run and take some jelly babies for a boost. It worked for me and you will feel tired but great afterwards.
Posted: 26/02/2013 at 23:16

Hey all i am also running my first marathon (manchester) have ran the last 4 or 5 bupa manchester 10k runs my quickest time was 41 min I.started training properly for the marathon in december,completed a half marathon about 2 weeks ago but am running about 25 to 30 miles a week,although my last 3 runs since friday have totalled around 25 miles,i try to eat lots of pasta and porridge,toast for breakfast.really looking foward to the Manchester Marathon,I was really focused on pushing myself but after talking to others who have run Marathons some have told me to get as many long runs in as possible at a slow pace.


Posted: 27/02/2013 at 12:07

Steven, I have also done the last 3 manchester 10k runs too and my best time is 50 minutes so it sounds like your much faster than me. I must say though that I am doing similar weekly mileage to you at 25-30 miles but have stopped focussing on times. I think it depends how you feel each day and so I try to just increase the length of my long run every week or so by a couple of miles. I ran 15.2 miles into work from Bolton to Manchester last Friday and felt great (but tired) when I had done it. I am doing it again this Friday but will just try to enjoy it rather than beat myself up on time as if I do that I feel less pressure and I would be disappointed if I didnt beat my last time. I have read that trying to push for pace can result in injuries and that is the last thing that I want now we are so close after all the training. I just want to get to the start line and if I do in a fit state, I am pretty sure nothing will stop me from finishing.


Posted: 27/02/2013 at 13:28

Yeah once we are out running, i will get through it, have done quite a bit lately had 1 rest day in the last 2 weeks. I did a little warm.down today as the weather was good but my legs were in agony so think a day or 2 rest might help as don't want to burn myself out, get a little obsessed though
Posted: 27/02/2013 at 20:07

Try not to overtrain though or else you will get injured. Rest days are good for recovery.
Posted: 28/02/2013 at 23:37

just had 2 days off so going down to my local club tonight to do some speed sessions.

 


Posted: 04/03/2013 at 12:01

Hi, I am running my first Marathon in the first ever PlusNet Yorkshire Marathon on the 20th October and can`t wait. Just over 2 weeks to go, however Is it too late to start experimenting with Gels?

 


Posted: 03/10/2013 at 23:07

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