What Should You Eat Before a Race?

The day before her first triathlon, my friend Natalie called me to ask “What should I eat tomorrow morning before the race?” Indeed, this is a question that gives many cyclists and triathletes the jitters, whether it is their first race or their fiftieth. Even though a lot of us, at some point or another, have had the experience of eating too little, or having heartburn from the wrong food, or having to take an unwelcome bathroom break during a race, it is actually not that complicated once you know what to pay attention to. Here are the few tried and true rules for the best breakfasts to fuel the best performances.

  • Choose an easy-to-digest breakfast, consisting mostly of carbohydrates, with a little fat and protein to keep you going longer.
  • Aim for 250-500 calories, depending on your weight, as well as the length and the time of the race. In general, the longer the race and the later in the day it starts, the more calories you want to consume.

And the most important rule of all:

  • Eat something that you are used to eating.

That means you should not try something new on race morning, just because your friend suggested it to you the day before. It also means that you should train your body to have whatever breakfast you will choose for your race during your training, before your rides and workouts, at least for several weeks leading up to the race. That way you will know if it agrees well with your stomach and keeps you sustained for a long enough period. Plus, the more you practice eating a particular food, the higher the chances that you will be able to consume it before your race, when race jitters tend to suppress your appetite.

The list below is by no means a comprehensive one but they are some of our favorites. Try these (well before a race!) or add some of your favorites to it, keeping to the guidelines above. Don’t forget to hydrate as well: 8-16 ounces of water or sports drink up to an hour before. Caffeine has been shown to boost performance, so as long as you are used to your morning cup o’ joe, feel free to indulge (with milk is fine as long as you regularly do that).

Winner Pre-race Foods

- Two slices of toast with a thin spreading of almond butter and jam, a piece of fruit

- Oatmeal topped with sprinkle of brown sugar, chopped pecans, and dried fruit

- A couple of pancakes (made with eggs) with maple syrup and a banana

- Bagel with peanut butter and a few slices of apple

Speaking of bananas, they really are the perfect pre-race food: easy to digest, easy to transport, full of potassium and carbs. They serve as a great top-up an hour or so before the race. This is especially helpful when you have to travel to the race start and end up eating your breakfast at wee hours of the morning, several hours before the start. Just throw a banana into your race bag and you’re good to go!


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