Pre-Ironman Fuel: Rock Your Race-Day Meal

August 9, 2020 – 12:18 am

breakfastAsk a dozen triathletes what they like to eat on the morning of an Ironman and you'll get a baker's dozen of different answers. There are easy and convenient options, like a bagel and banana with peanut butter, a liquid meal replacement for a nervous belly, or a bowl of oatmeal and eggs, compliments of a kitchenette. Washed down with a sports drink and coffee, most ultra-distance athletes swear by one of these early morning menus.

But with so many unique needs, there are a few atypical breakfasts for thought out there. For example, have you ever considered a baked potato with fish, white rice with figs and honey, or apple sauce with protein powder? Passing on the caffeine jolt, how about a cup of hot water to get the system going or kombucha tea for a happier gut?

For over a decade, research consistently shows that the perfect pre-race meal includes most the following:

  • 100 to 200 grams of carbs (400 to 800 calories) plus a little protein
  • 12 to 20 ounces water
  • Low glycemic, low fat, low fiber (liquid or solid consistency)
  • Consumed three to four hours prior to the start of the endurance event

As experienced Ironman triathletes know all too well, after eight hours of racing the gut and taste buds become turned off of gels and sport drinks. Because the depletion of glycogen in the muscles and liver affect the body's ability to maintain adequate blood glucose concentrations for muscle and brain fuel, the goal of the ultra-distance athlete is to slow down the least possible on that day. Therefore, the complexity of sport nutrition to support a body in motion for 140.6 miles is much more than what you consumed at 3:30 a.m. race day morning.

Here's an example of my Ironman pre-race meal:
4 WASA crackers
Peanut butter
Maple syrup or honey
Large glass of water
Cup of coffee

Marni Sumbal, MS, RD, LD/N is the owner of Trimarni Coaching and Nutrition, LLC and works as a clinical dietitian at Baptist Medical Center Beaches. Marni holds a master of science in exercise physiology, is a USA Triathlon Certified Coach and a seven-time Ironman finisher. She enjoys public speaking, writing, plant-strong cooking and traveling. She recently finished her third Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, with a PR of 10:37:10. Learn more at

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.


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