The Endurance Dietitian: Do I Need To Eat Breakfast Before My AM Run?

By Kim McDevitt, MPH RD on February 11, 2015 , categorized in Endurance, Strength + Conditioning

eat before running

Welcome to The Endurance Dietitian! If you’re like me, and define a large portion of your life with training plans, run clubs, “long-run-Sundays,” and chasing PRs, you’re in the right place. It seems daily we’re reading about the next best ingredient or trend we should be including into our running lifestyle. I’m here to share my passion for sports nutrition by breaking down the technical jargon of the current trends, weeding through the research and explaining what you need to know. Think of this as our runner girl talk (don’t worry—boys can still eavesdrop

About 98% of my runs happen in the AM. It’s when I have the time to devote to them, it’s the time I feel the best, and it helps me start my day with a quiet mind and a clear head. But with the early runs comes the post-run, pre-work, rushed stretching routine, shake-and-go smoothie option, and a bed that’s never made. While I don’t leave myself a ton of wiggle room to get it all accomplished, it usually gets done, and I make fueling a priority along the way.

Eating and running is always top question and concern for us runners. And, one of the most frequent questions I get asked is what I eat before I run.

I consider this to be an incredibly loaded question. There are so many variables that go into how we fuel before a workout, primarily timing.

My rule of thumb: The time you give yourself between your run and getting out of bed should dictate what and how much you eat.

Below are my fuel suggestions for every morning runner:

The roll out of bed and run runner

If you’re the type of person who sleeps in their running shorts, literally rolling out of bed and hitting the pavement, eating beforehand is obviously not an option. Perhaps it’s a time thing (sleep as long as possible to fit in your run and still get to work on time) or maybe it’s easier to not process what you’re about to do until you’re out there doing it. If this is you I suggest that on these days you consider intensity. Keep these to your recovery/slow run days. These are not the runs you should be trying to tempo or conquer your farthest distance to date. Why not? Your body needs a certain level of fuel for energy. If there’s no readily available energy you will start to break down muscle tissue, meaning all that hard work of building up muscle is going to waste.

Try: A pre-workout sports drink prepared and set by your bed the night before.

The long-distance early morning runner

I do all my runs in the morning. Which means tempo runs, hill repeats, speed workouts 10+ milers are all happening usually before 8AM. While I know that my body needs energy to perform at high intensity, a lot of these runs happen before work. This means that unless I’m waking up at 4AM I’m usually not giving myself much time to eat and digest food. For these instances I’m looking for a quick and easy source of energy that I’ll eat 15 to 30 minutes before heading out the door.

Try: 1 to 2 dates or an energy gel mid-run (depending on distance/time/intensity)

The leisurely couple hours to wake up on the weekend before I run runner

When we push our body hard we need to remember to give it some extra TLC too. For me that means taking Epsom salt baths, practicing yin yoga and sleeping in on the weekends. I love a cozy Sunday morning cuddled up on the couch in PJs, a soft blanket, warm tea and the Food Network on. For mornings like this my runs happen, just a little later.

When you’re planning to wait 1 to 2 hours before your run, it is appropriate to have a small meal. I like to think of it as two chances for breakfast (one before and 1oneafter your run!). Pre-run you want to aim for something carbohydrate rich with a bit of protein and fat.

Try: 1 packet plain instant oats cooked with 1 teaspoon coconut oil and blueberries, topped with almond butter. Or, 1 slice sprouted whole grain bread topped with coconut oil and jam.

The not hungry (or sensitive  stomach) runner

I get it. There are a lot of reasons why we might not want to eat before we run. We’re trying to avoid the haul into the woods for a bathroom pit stop, we feel “sluggish” or get a cramp with food in our stomachs… and the list goes on.

Here’s what I have to say to you folks. Try. If you’re looking to boost your athletic performance, get that PR, conquer that first race, etc., you should seriously consider eating before you run. After fasting all night, your glycogen (stored carbohydrates) stores are low and glycogen is the fuel the body will burn first for energy. When our glycogen is low and we’re expending energy, the body holds onto fat and breaks down your muscle instead. This is a hormonal response we’re wired to do to be prepared for famine. So while famine is obviously not happening, your body doesn’t know that, and wants to make sure you’re prepared!

The good news is you don’t need much. A simple 100 calorie food will do the trick.

Try: Endurance gel, a pre-workout energy drink, two dates or a small banana.

What do you eat before your early morning runs? 

Tagged with
energy nutrient timing pre-workout sports nutrition

Kim McDevitt, MPH RD

Kim McDevitt works at Vega as a National Educator. A runner, cooking enthusiast, plant-focused flexitarian, Kim has passionately built her career in nutrition. Noticing that her running performances were closely tied to what she was eating, Kim decided to study nutrition and pursue advanced degrees in Dietetics and Public Health, to better understand the power of food in performance. Today, Kim specializes in sports nutrition to enhance athletic performance and focuses on realistic and approachable ways for improving health through educated dietary choices within an active lifestyle.

Top