A blog by runners. For runners.

Early morning runs: what and when to eat

pre run breakfast for runnersMy alarm goes off at 5 a.m. on days that I run. I have a very strict routine until the moment I head out the door, and don’t have a minute to spare. I don’t have enough time to make a hearty breakfast, and certainly don’t have ample time to digest it.

Most other early morning runners are in the same boat. Is it OK to run on an empty stomach or is eating beforehand a nutrition must?

Do I need to eat before my morning run?
If you have a short, easy run on the docket – 4 miles or less – you may not need to eat before your run. Your glycogen stores should be enough to fuel your workout. But keep in mind pre-run nutrition needs are personal and there are no set rules. For instance, it’s not uncommon to need something in your stomach before a run no matter how short the distance.

When you run for longer than 30-45 minutes or do an intense workout, you need to take in calories to power your run. If you don’t fuel adequately, you’ll likely feel sluggish, tired, dizzy, and/ or nauseated during your run, and your may not be able to complete your workout.

When do I eat?
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to scarf down breakfast before you lace up your running shoes. Some of us can handle a bowl of oatmeal or a banana right before we hit the road, but others need hours to digest solid foods. If you have a sensitive gastrointestinal (GI) system, it’s OK to wait to fuel – with gels, chews, and sports drinks – until you’re 2-3 miles into your run.

What do I eat?
It’s best to eat simple, easy-to-digest foods that are primarily carbohydrates. Avoid foods high in fat and protein because they’ll weigh you down. Most people need to steer clear of high fiber foods because they take longer to digest and can cause stomach upset. If you have a long or tough workout planned, aim to take in several hundred calories before or during the run.

However, figuring out exactly what and how much to eat will take some trial and error. One runner’s go-to pre-run meal can be a nightmare for another runner’s GI system. Try these light, runner-friendly breakfast ideas:

  • One toaster waffle with jam
  • One slice of toast with almond butter
  • Banana with peanut butter
  • Squeeze pouch of applesauce
  • Small box of raisins
  • Half of a muffin
  • A couple of handfuls of Cheerios or other light cereal
  • Granola bar

After your run, eat a full breakfast that’s a good balance of carbs and protein, such as scrambled eggs and whole grain toast or a Greek yogurt parfait with fruit, nuts, and granola. It’s crucial to eat within a 30 minute window of completing your run so your body can use the calories to replenish glycogen stores and rebuild muscles.

Early a.m. runners: when and what do you eat?

Written by Jen Matz / Photo Creative Commons image

RELATED pre-race meal planning | 10 simple power-packed breakfasts