Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Battle of Breakfasts on Marathon Day

This past Sunday I successfully completed my first half marathon! I’d been training since April and was rewarded with a better-than-expected finish time and the jubilation that comes with completing a challenge that you may have had doubts you could accomplish at some points along the way. While following John Stanton’s training program (from his book ‘Running), I also committed myself to eating a very healthy diet in the four months leading up to the marathon – this meant abstaining from alcohol and sweets, focusing more on my protein intake and generally eating for energy only. Well, over the four months, I had varying degrees of success with my commitment to eating well and not drinking – there were successive weeks where I drank not a sip of wine or ate any candy, but there were also a few weeks where I boozed it up big time and indulged in chocolate.

Right, well, in any case, as per the subject of this blog, by the time the BIG day finally arrived, I’d spent enough time studying nutrition books and reading advice from running books to know, with pretty high confidence, the answer to that burning question - ‘what should I have for breakfast?’ I was surprised, therefore, when I discovered what my newly minted friend, Tarek, planned to eat for breakfast before he ran the full marathon, given that this was to be his third time running 42 kms. So here’s an account of what each of us ate and our rationale for doing so. Let us know what you think.

A big thank you to Tarek, my first ever guest blogger!!!


The night before I was going to run a marathon my friend asked me what I was going to have for breakfast. After I told her she gave me a look of shock and mild disgust.
“Why not some oatmeal or porridge, or something healthy” she barked. Apparently she had issues with my store brand Nutrigain bars and cheese and crackers, and once she found it was Cheese N’ Crackers, not crackers and real cheese, I thought she might actually get up at 6am and make me a breakfast!

I’m actually thankful she didn’t. I would love to have someone make breakfast for me any other day but not on race day, plus I wasn’t a fan of anything she suggested. Runners are always told not do anything different around race day, so I did what I normally do, have a few beer before bed. In the mornings I rarely eat breakfast so eating anything, and eating anything that early is more than enough change for me. I like to keep it simple; easy to digest carbs and by the time the gun goes off I am ready to run and every 10km I took a GU (pronounced Goo) Gel.

For some reason Shannon didn’t say anything about my gels, maybe she felt she shouldn’t since she had criticized my breakfast already, or maybe she thought that since I was the experienced runner I knew what I was doing. To be honest, I have no idea why I take these gels. No one has ever told me I should, for some I reason I felt like I should, and during all 3 of my marathons I’ve done the same thing, taken one every 10km and chased it down with water. I’ll probably eat the same thing for breakfast next year too. It’s not like I eat Nutrigain bars or Cheese N’ Crackers often, the last time was probably last year before the 2008 marathon. I’m preparing to run 42km and burn over 3500 calories. I think my body handle whatever I put into it that morning, even if it is “crap” (ok she may not have called it that but I’m sure she was thinking it).

Let’s take a look at what was in my breakfast:
Two Our Compliments version of a Nutrigain bar (I’m actually using what’s in a Nutrigain bar, I’m assuming that they’re both pretty much the same):
• 130 calories per bar
• 3 grams of fat per bar
• 24 grams of carbohydrates (12g being sugar, 2g being fiber)
• 100 mg of sodium
• 2 grams of protein

It also contains:
• whole grain rolled oats
• enriched flour
• modified corn starch
• high fructose corn syrup
• Niacinamide (???)
• Guar Gum (???)

Two servings of Kraft Handi-Snacks Cheese N’ Crackers (a serving is on package of 4 or 5 crackers and a small ‘pocket’ of “cheese”):
• 100 calories
• 6 grams of fat per serving
• 11 grams of carbohydrates (3g being sugar, and no fiber)
• 360 mg of sodium
• 2 grams of protein

It also contains
• modified milk ingredients
• whey powder
• soybean oil
• hydrogenated cottonseed oil
• papain (???)
• TBHQ (that can’t even be a word, there are no vowels in it and that’s how it’s listed on the ingredients)

I’m not sure what was in the gel and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t recognize many of the ingredients. I barely recognized any from the cereal bar and cheese and crackers.

So after running for 3hrs 30mins and 24secs I crossed the finish line and went on to have chocolate cake (made by Shannon from scratch, including the frosting), beer, wine, whiskey, deep fried appetizers and probably some other stuff. Do I feel bad about eating and drinking all that? Not in the slightest. I just ran a marathon I can eat whatever I want, for a day.


I wasn’t really worried about what I was going to eat for breakfast the day of the half marathon. I knew from the literature that the meals you ate the day before the marathon were more important. I’d made an effort to include protein in my lunch and dinner, and to minimize my intake of any wheat or dairy products. Dinner the night before was a salmon steak (grilled), a baked potato and garden salad - a pretty clean dinner. When I saw Tarek drinking beer, I decided I could treat myself to a few candies that I’d picked up at the Bulk Barn for the post-race celebrations. I tried to keep hydrated with lots of water that evening as well.

After dinner, talk turned to the marathon, of course, and I nonchalantly asked Tarek what he was planning to eat the next morning (actually I think I asked him earlier in the afternoon, but for the story’s sake we’ll pretend I asked after dinner). When he told me he was having Nutri-grain bars and cheese & crackers I cringed. Processed, wheat heavy foods along with dairy - precisely the things my holistic nutritionist had suggested I cut out of my diet complete a few months prior. I just didn’t see how these foods, which I presumed would be high in sugars and high on the Glycemic Index, would get him through 42 kilometres and not cause his stomach a bit of grief. And yes, yes I did think he was feeding his body ‘crap’. I made no comments re: his gel plan because I have no clue whatsoever about gels and would therefore not be inclined to dish out advice about something that I have no clue about. I only give out advice on things I think I know something about (think being the key word!)

I asked (maybe I demanded) an explanation for this choice. His lame-o response was that he doesn’t usually eat breakfast, and didn’t want to have anything oily. OK, OK, I can agree with not having eggs and bacon, but just because you don’t have breakfast regularly isn’t reason to feed your body poorly on the day you want it to perform at its peak. Clearly Tarek’s business schooling had taught him a different incentives method than mine - the stick versus the carrot (no pun intended)! His second line of defense was that his chosen breakfast was convenient – my protestations that a bowl of cereal and a banana would be just as quick fell on deaf ears. Personally I think he just wanted to relive some childhood attachment to that cheese and cracker combo. I mean who doesn’t love to spread cheese with a little red, plastic stick?

My breakfast choice, I surmised, was much better and just as convenient as his. In line with what I’d been reading about the Glycemic Index and the advice of my nutritionist, I opted to start my morning off with a bowl of oatmeal. I’d discovered that instant oatmeal is a high GI food (processing will do that!), so had the large flake oats. This low GI food would take a long time to digest, the sugars would be released slowly and it would keep me satiated for the entire race. I added some homemade raspberry jam (mom’s) and pecans to the oatmeal. To give me a bit more energy, I had an almond milk smoothie. I made sure to have the unsweetened vanilla almond milk and added half a banana and a scoop of frozen blueberries. Yum!

My breakfast was pretty quick. All in all, my oatmeal took 1min40secs (you can still nuke the large flakes) and my shake took about a minute to prepare and blend.

Here are the basic nutrient facts of my breakfast

Robin Hood Oatmeal (1/3 cup)

Calories – 150
Fat – 2.5g
Sodium – 4mg
Fibre – 4g
Sugars – 1g

Ingredients – 100% prairie grown oats

Raspberry Jam (1 TBSP)

PEI raspberries, jam

Pecans (1 TBSP)

Approx. 100 cals for jam and pecans

Almond Milk

Calories – 40
Fat – 3g
Sodium - 180 mg
Sugars – 0g
Protein – 1g

Ingredients – Purified water, almonds, tapioca starch, natural vanilla flavor, calcium carbonate, sea salt, potassium citrate and soy lechtin

½ Banana

50 cals

Scoop of Blueberries

50 cals

And that is what I had on the day of my half marathon. As close to the source as possible, as low in sugar as possible, and very, very much in line with what I have every other day of the week. In fact, it’s exactly what I eat every other morning of the week! Sometimes I don’t have the shake until after I’ve gone for a jog, but that’s the only difference.

Yes, after the race we all gorged on carbs and beer and more carbs. I made a chocolate cake – I’d rather know what ingredients are in something than take a guess at what the store bought version has. Plus, my cakes always taste better!

I can’t argue with Tarek that AFTER the race we deserved some indulgence, but I do think that eating a healthy breakfast every day is important and especially so on a day when you are going to be challenging your body physically. A healthy breakfast is important and it doesn’t have to take long to prepare or eat. Plus, I reckon my breakfast tasted better than Tarek’s.

In the picture below, Tarek (left), myself and another runner (Devin) have our cake and eat it too!!


Jen said...

What a fantastic breakfast!

next time you should melange your brekkies and make a smoothie of:
nutri-grain bars, and, my own addition, gummy bears.

Unknown said...

Regarded you as that carpenter, anticipate about your house, you beating into the nails, add the Links of London Necklaces bricks, or put up the walls everyday. To body your abode anxiously uses your wisdom. Your activity is the alone conception of your activity and can not be smoothed and reconstruction.