For an effective workout and optimal racing experience, what you eat for breakfast can set the tone for success or failure. We reached out to professional cyclists for their time-tested breakfast tips and their go-to, race-morning meal. Heed their advice and make your mornings healthier.
OATS FOR SLOW-BURNING ENERGY
Race day breakfast: I eat thick-rolled oats with a spoonful of chia seeds, flax seeds or walnuts, a chopped apple and a banana. I choose oats because of their slow-burning energy. The chia, flax and walnuts are extremely anti-inflammatory — key for athletes! If it’s race day, I am sure to eat it three hours before my event so there is ample time to digest.
Tip: I avoid animal protein since it lowers performance by causing inflammation, toxicity and dehydration. It also zaps our energy as it can be difficult to digest, taking up to 72 hours, in comparison to plant sources.
— Christine Vardaros, professional cyclist, international public speaker on sports nutrition
PUT AN EGG ON TOP
Race day breakfast: It’s hard to go wrong with oatmeal. You have a blank slate of one of the healthiest foods on the planet with which to fuel your day. Add dried or fresh fruit, nuts, seeds and a scoop of yogurt or spoonful of almond butter for protein. You can go sweet or savory — plus it’ll stick to your bones. It’s nutrition for the long haul.
Tip: Add an egg to your bowl of oatmeal. It works well with a stovetop or microwave, just crack it open and drop it in, stir it up or let it poach. In as little as a minute, you’ve added protein, omega fatty acids and an incredible flavor and texture profile, which is almost that of custard.
— Ted King, cycling pro until 2015
TWO BREAKFASTS ON RACE DAY
Race day breakfast: Before Tour of Gila, a five-day stage race in New Mexico, I ate oatmeal with fresh fruit on top for breakfast each day. Don’t forget fruit has carbohydrates, too. I find mixtures, especially with fresh fruit, make most things easier to stomach.
Tip: Eat enough. Bike races can last up to five hours, and riders typically burn between 600–800 calories an hour. Try eating a first breakfast three hours before a long race and a second breakfast an hour and a half before. It’ll eliminate the need to carbo-load the night before and therefore help you maintain race weight.
— Jackie Crowell, professional cycling coach, former pro
KEEP IT SIMPLE
Race day breakfast: I’ll eat an egg omelet on rice cakes for my protein; oats boiled in hot water, and I’ll add some crunchy peanut butter for taste — these are my carbs. I’ll add leftover vegetables and fruits in a blender for a smoothie.
Tip: Food that is easy to prepare in the morning and doesn’t take a lot of time means I’ll be ready to go hit some trails.
— Manny Fumic, German mountain bike racer, three-time Olympian
EAT IT BECAUSE YOU LIKE IT
Race day breakfast: My absolute favorite breakfast is eggs, avocado and toast. I always drink a good cup of coffee with some milk. If this is not available during the travel, I eat oats with yogurt and some nuts.
Tip: My tip is to eat organic food and eat what feels good for you. If you like your food, you will get the best out of it, and this is what counts.
— Helen Grobert, German cross-country cyclist, competed in 2016 Summer Olympics
PORTION CONTROL AND MACROS
Race day breakfast: Early in my career I used to stuff myself with pancakes before an event, especially the longer ones. Our belief in those days was you needed the fuel. Believe it or not, when I turned pro I started finding that I didn’t like arriving to the events feeling sluggish, heavy, slow and sloshy. Throughout the years, my breakfasts started getting smaller. Additionally, they started to become more balanced with protein and carbs. So, I would eat things like a homemade egg sandwich, or something I was surprised I liked was rice and scrambled eggs with a bit of salsa. If pancakes were the only option, I’d just have one and balance it with an egg or animal protein. I found this helped me to feel lighter and quicker at races with a morning start.
Tip: Eating lighter makes you lighter at races.
— Ainslie MacEachran, former elite/pro cyclist, professional cycling coach and personal trainer at Gemini Training Systems
GO EASY ON THE SUGAR
Race day breakfast: Ham (two or three slices) with butter and bread (gluten-free and brown) or two eggs (boiled, scrambled or an omelet). Cottage cheese or plain yogurt with oats and dried fruits, nuts and seeds (almonds, cashews, cranberry, goji, chia). Two slices of bread (gluten-free and brown) with almond, peanut or other nut butter (100% natural with no sugar or additional oil inside). Fruits and green tea. The main goal is to fuel the body without any extra sugar. I keep the blood sugar level very low. I eat a big part of fat in the morning; it’s the right time for it.
Tip: Keep your blood-sugar level low. Each food has a glycemic index. For example, orange juice has a very high index because you don’t have the fiber. So it’s better to eat an orange.
— Maxime Marotte, French mountain bike racer, competed in 2016 Summer Olympics
READ MORE > 18 WAYS TO FUEL FOR A 6AM WORKOUT
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Race day breakfast: I start with four eggs scrambled with kale or spinach and half an avocado. If I’m riding more than two hours, I add a serving of oatmeal or grits. If I’m riding more than four hours, I add another carb, like toast.
Tip: Don’t go crazy. Fueling for a workout starts the night before and continues during the ride. Pound too much and it just sits in your gut and weighs you down.
— Phil Gaimon, former pro cyclist, writer, entrepreneur
BE CONSISTENT AND PLAN AHEAD
Race day breakfast: Homemade muesli or granola with a banana, berries and Greek yogurt. (I pack a bag and take it with me on the road when I compete so I have the same breakfast every day.)
Tip: Eat a little protein to slow down the muscle catabolic process early in the day and carbs for fuel for the intensity to come.
— Nan Alexander Doyal, competitive road and gravel endurance racer, author