Breakfast on Race Day

Race day is fast approaching for me.  I am racing the Toyota US Open Championships (goals coming out on Friday) on Sunday and then the last triathlon of the season at 70.3 Austin on October 23, 2012.

Making sure that you are properly fueled for race day, regardless of distance, is extremely important.  I treat every training day as if it were a race day because I don’t want to wake my body up at 3am that day for the first time.  I believe that if I can train my body to understand that food is coming at 3a-330a than on race day it is just like any other day.

My typical morning starts with the alarm going off around 2:50am and going to brush my teeth and heading toward the kitchen.  Previously I had been eating rice cakes with nut butter, sliced banana, honey and some pumpkin spice.  After writing a post about a month ago about sleep one of the comments I received was that I should consume liquid calories if I was going to get up that early.  The comment was meant to help save me some sleep time, but I treated it as a way to still get up early, consume my smoothie and allow my body to not only process the food but to also allow it to use the energy that was created from that food.


I drink a smoothie every morning that is Strawberry-Banana

Today my breakfast is a smoothie made with Herbalife 24 Formula 1 Sport, 1 banana, 2 strawberries, crushed ice and water.  I sometimes make this the night before so I don’t wake the entire house and also because I know that it is going to be a long night because of football (so Sunday night and Monday night this happens.)  I also have 6-8 oz of coffee and 8-16oz of water.  I am then able to go out around 5am and start training.

This change to liquid breakfasts has had a very good effect on my body and energy levels.  Since I began this process I have trimmed down about 5 pounds and have been able to hold my body weight at a steady 140 lbs, which I had previously believed to be a good racing weight.  I also have much more energy during my training sessions that I have not witnessed before.  My speed has improved quite a bit and I believe it is because my body is not trying to process food while simultaneously putting for energy to complete the session.

Last Friday I was reading a favorite blog of mine, Charisa Wernick, and the title of her post that day was Ironman Race Day Nutrition.  It completely caught my eye and had me engrossed from the beginning but what truly grabbed me was the portion about breakfast.  I am going to put Charisa’s words in this post, but be sure to click on the link above to read the entire post and then make sure you follow her as well.

Here are Charisa’s words:


Cherisa eats oatmeal on Ironman 140.6 Race Day

I typically eat breakfast 3 hours before the race starts. This usually means an ungodly hour to wake up, but I like my breakfast to be digested before I set out sprinting in the water when the gun fires. Breakfast consisted of oatmeal, a banana and one piece of bread with butter. I never drink coffee before I ride at home, so I don’t drink it before I race.

Notice that Charisa is eating her breakfast 3 hours before the start of the race.  I will clarify this by saying 3 hours before the start of your race.  In other words if you wave is starting at 7:40a then breakfast should be consumed at 4:40a.  Charisa eats real food and for an Ironman race this makes sense since you will need these calories over the course of a longer time frame than an Olympic or Half-Ironman distance race.
If you spend any amount of time in the endurance sports world you will come across the name Matt Fitzgerald.  Mr Fitzgerald wrote the book Racing Weight, and is considered an expert in the nutrition for endurance events world.  He recently wrote an article titled Breakfast at 4?  Tips for the Pre-Triathlon Meal.  Since I cannot get enough of this topic I dove right in and read the piece twice while trying to comprehend everything.

The first item that I want to point out to you is in regards to the jobs that Mr Fitzgerald points out the early morning breakfast has to do.  Matt points out the jobs in the following manner:   The pre-triathlon meal is important. It has a couple of important jobs to do. The first job is bringing your liver glycogen stores and blood glucose concentration up to top levels. During the night your body’s precious carbohydrate fuel stores are reduced by your nervous system, which runs on glucose. Therefore when you wake up after the overnight fast your liver glycogen stores and blood glucose concentration have been brought down to levels that are less than optimal for finishing a triathlon. But a high-carbohydrate meal can restore those fuel reserves in a jiffy.When you wake up in the morning your body is also not in the ideal hormonal state for racing. In Hardwired for Fitness, authors Robert Portman and John Ivy point out that, first thing in the morning, before breakfast, large amounts of the stress hormone cortisol are flowing through the body. A high-carbohydrate meal brings cortisol levels down and releases insulin, the fuel-injection hormone that delivers carbs to working muscles during a triathlon.

As the piece goes on there is a point about waking up to eat then going back to sleep after eating, but that some athletes have pre-race stress and can not fall back asleep.  I can say I have never had this problem as this is the exact strategy that I employ.  I believe that I am capable of falling back asleep on race day is because I do exactly that during training.  Again, I don’t want to do something new on race day so practice all of these items and on race day it will be nothing more than another day.  I am also confident in my abilities, in my coaches training plan and thus I have no reason to stay awake.  I tell anybody who races that if they trained they don’t need luck.  Luck is for those who have not put in the countless hours of training.  Since I have trained hard then I don’t need to be awake worrying about whether or not I can hit my goal times or complete the distance.

Breakfast, as your mother said, is the most important meal of the day but especially true if you are an endurance athlete.

When do you eat breakfast?
What do you eat for breakfast during training and on race day?



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  1. BDD says:

    I do a smoothie, a piece of fruit, maybe add an yougurt if I am really hungry.

    Have you read racing weight yet? I have it, you want to borrow it?

    Google my future Autriallian wife (she doesnt know it yet) Pip Taylor, another nutritionist and she is a racer as well, we fell in love (we talked, probably doesnt even remember me) at a race in Columbus, she was so smitten by me, she came and visited me at the Roll bike tent (really, her mechanic just needed a tool for her bike) and she winked at me as she left (so what if the sun was in her eyes)
    BDD recently posted..FailureMy Profile

    • CTER says:

      I do have Racing Weight and need to crack the binding.

      So Pip to you is like Andy Potts to my wife. He high-fived her at Cali and is racing this week on the same course as me. She even tweeted him about getting a pic together.

  2. Christina says:

    Your math is a smidge off. To eat three hours before a 7:40 AM wave start, you need to eat at 4:40 – not 3:40. Personally, I daily struggle with eating anything very early. Since becoming self-employed a year ago, I pretty regularly wait until the kid are off to school and I’m settling in to check emails and such before eating. On early training and race days, I make myself choke something down – even if just a small granola bar or half pb sandwich – but only because I know I have to. We make strawberry banana smoothies a little differently – fat free yogurt, frozen strawberries and frozen bananas and a little skim milk – comes out super thick and no gritty powder ick. Haven’t made one in a while – might have to pick up some ingredients.

    • CTER says:

      Did I mis-type the time? Sorry about that.

      I am not sure what powder you were using but I have no grittyness in mine at all. Adding frozen strawberries or crushed cubes get me the thickness when I want that texture.

    • CTER says:

      I went and corrected the time to 4:40a. Must have been thinking of my own time and thank you for pointing that out.

  3. Bob says:

    I get your jist on having a routine during training and racing so your body doesn’t think anything is different come race day… but 3am? Every day? Not this boy.

    Race day is simple… Up at 4am… oatmeal, a couple salt tabs, caffeine pill, coffee and drink water to the point of needing to pee (6:30 pee would be great timing).. about 6am 300 calories of Infinit… good to go..

    Now I must say, this should be practiced a few times in training to make sure tummy agrees…. but 3am? Everyday? Really??
    Bob recently posted..PUKIEMy Profile

    • CTER says:

      The only day I don’t is Friday b/c its rest day. Or like tomorrow during taper the workout is less than an hour so I only need water.

      It is great practice but also because I want to be home at the end of the night with my family (5yr old boy)

  4. Jon says:

    3 bowls of cinnamon toast crunch.

    Yep, thats it.
    Jon recently posted..This Commercial Makes Me ANGRY!!!!!My Profile

    • CTER says:

      I remember that from your Ironman training. I tried a cereal but I just could not stomach it.

      It is awesome when you find what works for you.

  5. katie says:

    I eat a performance power bar every hour that I am awake before race start. so if the race starts at 8, i’ll eat one at 6 and 7. it’s a perfect balance of protein/carbs/NO FIBER. :)
    katie recently posted..wordless wednesdayMy Profile

  6. Marlene says:

    I have never been one for liquid breakfasts… I just don’t feel satisfied without heavier carbs, even though I know it’s not idea before a workout. I may have to experiment further. Thanks for your insights as always!

    Hey, guess what, I’M GOING TO BOSTON!!!!!!!!! Pinch me!
    Marlene recently posted..Oakville Half Marathon Race ReportMy Profile

  7. Great post!
    I’ve actually started making overnight oats the night before, so when I get up, it’s done and super easy and yummy to eat! I’m going to post some recipes on my blog soon!
    Aimee (I Tri To Be Me) recently posted..A Handful is all you need!My Profile

  8. I actually have a question for you – what time do you go to bed?
    Patrick Mahoney recently posted..How Can I Resist?My Profile

    • CTER says:

      I am typically on my couch doing nothing at 8pm and I start falling asleep around 9pm. I have a DVR so if something is that important I will tape it and watch it the next morning, but I have learned that there really is nothing on TV I have to watch.

      The only days that I get to bed later than that are Sunday Night and Monday Night during football season. I love football and tend to stay up too late on those nights but then again if the game is not interesting I go to bed.

  9. B.o.B. says:

    For the marathon I usually have some sort of bar ahead of time, but super duper early cause of all the GI issues I have. I may need to try the smoothie route though. Good idea.

  10. Jill says:

    I actually have that book, Racing Weight, and love it, but I cannot wake up and eat 3-hours before a race, I just can’t. I have had absolutely no problems eating an hour before and for a lot of my middle distance runs, I eat as little as 20 minutes before. My favorite long run pre-breakfast is Oatmeal with honey and PB on it and a banana But for my medium runs, I have a piece of whole grain toast with Simply Fruit jelly and half a banana. One of my still-standing 1/2 Marathon PR’s is when the coffee maker in my hotel wasn’t working and I had to frantically run around the hotel trying to find something to heat my pre-race oatmeal. I finally had to swallow half of my oatmeal, uncooked, 5 minutes before race time. I felt fantastic during the entire race!
    Jill recently posted..The Bear Chase Trail 1/2 MarathonMy Profile

  11. Chuck says:

    I thought Matt’s article was really good. But I loved the last sentence- “do you want to be like Dave Scott or Mark Allen?” I was like shiiiitt, I’d be like either! Lol
    Chuck recently posted..Welcome to AugustaMy Profile

  12. Nathaniel says:

    Before a race I eat applesauce and then some sort of smoothie 3 hrs before a race. For normal training I don’t eat anything. I am up at 5am and out the door at 5:15am. Sleep is more important for recovery to me than getting up early to eat. I have not had any issue with being hungry or not having enough energy by not eating first even during a hard FTP workout. Sometimes if I have an hour before working out then I will have some applesauce to replenish my carb glycogen stores before working out. It empty’s from the stomach really fast.

    • CTER says:

      I like the idea of applesauce and never thought of it. I will say that I have a texture problem with applesauce but because of its liquidity it resembles the idea of a smoothie just the same.

  13. MIke says:

    After 12 years of competing I’m still struggling with the choice of breakfast on the race day…recently I’m hooked on smoothies with a lil bit of protein inside and 16ounces of beetroot juice!

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