You’ve put in so much time. You’ve dialed in your training (you even hired a coach!). You’ve dialed in your race day “on course” nutrition. You’ve got your equipment fitted, tuned, and ready to go. You’ve traveled to your race and spent money on transportation, lodging, and everything else that goes along with it. But come race morning, you are completely rolling the dice with your pre-race breakfast. Why on earth would you do such a thing?
If you are an endurance athlete, you know the mantra “don’t try anything new on race day.” You also know that the most important time to take in your final fueling to get you ready for your event is in the pre-race hours (up to 24 hours or so and as close as your last meal 2-4 hours before the gun goes off). Yet when it comes to your pre-race breakfast, you are scrounging around for some toast or oatmeal, maybe a banana or two, and hoping for the best. Well hopefully this article will help convince you that for quite a few reasons, a personalized smoothie should make up your pre-race breakfast, setting you up for success. Here’s why:
1. It’s easy on the stomach. The last thing any endurance athlete wants when running a marathon or triathlon, or any other endurance event is stomach trouble. There are oh so many reasons why stomach upset may occur on race day, from bad fueling strategies, to changes in your diet leading up to your target event, to nerves, to just bad luck (traveling abroad and eating that questionable airport sushi…). But one thing we have observed to be true for many endurance athletes in many places – liquid nutrition (ie blended) is easier on the stomach than a big, heavy meal.
The last thing you want when walking to the start line is a big lump of solid food that hasn’t quite yet digested. Maybe you miscalculated the amount of time you’d have before your race and didn’t get to eat as far out as you had planned, or maybe something is just a bit off with your digestive system that day (see: nerves), but a lite smoothie with complete nutrition, low fiber, and plenty of carbohydrates blended and consumed a few hours before the gun goes off will ALMOST ALWAYS sit well. It’s a great way to get all the nutrition you need in a tidy little package, and won’t turn your stomach upside down.
2. Have 100% control on what goes into it. When you make a plate of solid food, it can be tricky to track exactly how much you are consuming as there are often a bunch of different separate components and there can be a tendency to just “throw stuff on your plate.” When you make a smoothie, everything gets combined in one place and consumed together, and the act of adding it to your blender forces you to think about it. All that you consume is exactly what you add to the smoothie. Nothing more, nothing less. This allows you a high degree of customization and precision.
Need a little extra carbohydrate…add in an extra ½ banana. Need a little extra protein to help keep your hunger down, add an extra scoop of Primo. If you are traveling for a race and eating at a hotel breakfast for example, let’s say you grab a few strawberries to add to your smoothie. You know exactly what is in those strawberries. Instead, let’s say you grab some eggs and toast. Do you know exactly what’s in that toast – how many grams of fiber, how many grams of carbs, sugar, etc? Not likely. What about the eggs? Were they cooked in oil, butter? Did the chef add whipping cream to make them fluffier? Who knows!
When you make a pre-race smoothie – you know exactly what is in the base, and exactly what you are adding to it – period. This allows you to dial your fuel and nutrition down to the calorie, and know exactly how your body will respond.
3. Portability. Smoothies travel well. Worst case scenario, you have to bring a small, travel size magic bullet. But you can toss a few sample packs of Primo in your bag and take it with you anywhere, simply adding a little water, almond milk, or milk and fruit, and you are good to go – no matter where you are.
4. Reliability. This is similar to having 100% control, but in a more long term, day to day sort of way. When you make a smoothie, especially on race day, you want to know what is going into it and EXACTLY how your body will respond. You can test this in training every weekend (or every day, for that matter), and know that when you prepare your smoothie on race morning the same you do when you’re training or in race prep, if you add X, your body will respond with Y. Period. This eliminates the stress and anxiety that can come along with making breakfast on race day. Am I doing the right thing? How will my body respond? Take the worry out and do what works!
5. It’s quick and convenient. The last thing you need to do in the hours before your triathlon, marathon, or any other competition is introduce anything that is remotely complicated. You will already be dealing with nerves, you have to get all your equipment together, get yourself to the start line on time, warm up etc etc. Making a smoothie is quick and convenient. Throw a bunch of stuff in a blender, blend for 30 seconds, pour it in a cup, and drink it while you’re getting everything else squared away! You’ll have your smoothie halfway down before your toast would even be crispy!
6. Smoothies aid in hydration. Showing up to the start line of any competition fully hydrated is key. If you’re not hydrated, you are already compromising your performance. Realistically, your hydration strategy should start at least a day or two out from any big event, but everything you eat and drink leading up to the event should be taken into account. Although it might seem more like “food,” a smoothie will actually help with hydration in the final hours leading up to your competition. This can be particularly helpful if you have also been consuming caffeine, which is diuretic and thus offsets any hydration efforts.
7. You can “dial it in” in training. A lot of athletes will have “special” pre-race breakfasts – things that they would never (or hardly) eat in their day to day training. Along the lines of the “don’t try anything new on race day” thinking – why on earth would you do this…even if you are consuming foods that are completely benign? But if you’ve got the opportunity try dial in your race day breakfast 6 days a week while training, why not take the opportunity? You may make some slight tweaks from training to race day (adding or decreasing macronutrients etc), but if the overall composition is in the same ballpark, your body will be accustomed to what you are fueling it with, and the opportunity for a shock to your system will be greatly reduced.
8. You can drink a smoothie daily. In the same vein, even if you are not making your “pre-race smoothie” every day before you train, you can make some version of a smoothie daily, getting your body very used to consuming that combination of nutrients in that delivery format. Familiarity is a good thing.
9. Developed for athletes. When it comes to our Primo Smoothie – this is a product that is actually developed for athletes, to be used on a daily basis, with macro and micronutrient profiles that will in fact help performance (or at the very least, will not throw anything out of whack). The concept of a liquid diet for your pre-race breakfast is not new – athletes have been using products like Slim Fast, Boost, Ensure and other “shakes” for a long time. But why use these products that are clearly not made for this purpose when you can use something that very much is? Sometimes as people, and athletes in particular, we engage in magical thinking by believing that if we find some secret product that has some other intended use and use it for our specific needs, we’ll get some sort of special edge or boost. For a community that is so focused (obsessed) with data, performance, numbers etc…this one certainly eludes us! But hey, if it works for you…that’s great!
At the end of the day, our goal is to help people be healthy and help athletes get the most out of their performance. Maybe a pre-race smoothie or race day liquid diet is not for you, and you’d rather go for the toast with peanut butter and / or oatmeal approach. That’s all good.
But if you want to give it a try, here is a smoothie recipe used by Field Work Nutrition Co. athlete Rachel McBride who has been on a lot of podiums of late…she uses this before all her Ironman and Ironman 70.3 races. Rachel has struggled with GI issues quite a bit over the years, and found this to work very well for her:
2 scoops Primo Smoothie
1 not-so-ripe banana
2 T strawberry jam
1.5-2 cups papaya
1.5-2 cups almond milk
Water (to thin as needed)
Blend and go crush it!