Question: What’s your prescribed low glycemic race day breakfast for events lasting less than an hour? I have to be careful about my blood sugar and what I eat.
Alicia Shay: Racing in the morning soon after you wake up presents a challenge because your body is dehydrated and very low on readily available fuel resources. But there isn’t much time for you to correct this before start the race and you also don’t want to spike your blood sugar by eating something extremely high glycemic.
To combat this problem, ideally you want to drink at least 16-20 ounces of water (to aid digestion) and take in as many calories as soon as possible without spiking your blood sugar too much. The more difficult aspect is finding a way to fuel in a short amount of time before your you start the race without upsetting your stomach. The closer that you eat to the beginning of your race, the more careful you want to be about what and how much you eat. So your best bet is to wake up early so that you can make sure to eat a balanced breakfast.
Below are my suggestions. As always, find what works best for you and doesn’t upset your stomach. Practice is the best way to ensure that the foods you eat before a race will fuel you to a good performance, so make sure to try your pre-race meal several times before workouts to make sure that it sits well in your stomach and provides enough energy. An optimal breakfast would leave your blood sugar levels stable and be eaten somewhere between 3-4 hours before your race. It should include a combination of:
- A healthy fat source, some protein, some whole grain carbohydrate, and some fruit
- healthy fat: a handful of nuts on cereal or nut butters (peanut, almond, etc) with jam on toast, ground flax seeds sprinkled on cereal, flax seed oil in smoothies, etc.
- protein: yogurt (without too much sugar), milk (regular or soy), eggs, (there is a smaller amount of protein from nuts or nut butters), protein powders in smoothies etc.
- whole grain carbohydrate: oatmeal (old fashioned preferable or steel cut), whole wheat or whole grain toast, English muffins and bagels, whole grain cereal (with less than 6 grams of sugar and more than 4 grams of fiber per serving)
- fruit: fresh (preferable) or a small amount of dried (without added sugars) -sometimes fruit can upset runners stomach when eaten too soon before a race, so make sure that you practice what you will eat prior to your race. Most people are usually ok with bananas and berries.
Even for a shorter race, it is extremely important that you eat a well balanced breakfast so that your body has enough energy when you toe the starting line. By including the above components you should be well fueled leading up to the start and have stable blood sugar levels. However, some people with higher metabolisms, in addition to their breakfast, need to also include a bar or small snack about an hour before their race or a gel 30 minutes before the start.
My typical pre-race breakfast includes:
- big bowl of oatmeal with nuts, berries and a little protein powder
- or whole grain English muffin with almond butter, a piece of fruit and Greek yogurt
- or whole grain cereal (less than 6 grams of sugar and at least 4 grams fiber), milk or yogurt, nuts or seeds, fruit
Then I have a bar an hour before the race.Alicia Shay is a private coach for The Run SMART Project and former NCAA record holder in the 10k. She currently lives and trains in Flagstaff, AZ.