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What Are The Best Breakfasts For Runners?

BY: Mark Dredge
28 June 2024

Do you go for oats? A bagel with peanut butter? Or have you found another breakfast that works best for you? Either way, we all know the saying that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and that’s especially true for morning runners, so here we’ve got some of the best snacks or breakfasts to have before you run.

WHY SHOULD YOU EAT BEFORE A RUN?

Food gives us energy which helps us to perform better – think of it like fuel. You want to consume the right food and drink to give you the energy you need for the run you have planned, whether it’s a 15-minute jog or a 50km ultramarathon. 

Research has shown that eating before a run delays fatigue and generally decreases the exertion that you feel. In other words: if we eat right, then running feels better!

While it’s sometimes ok to get up and run without a breakfast or snack on short runs, it’s not advisable to do this for all your runs, especially longer runs of 60 mins or more. 

One important warning: long term under-fuelling can lead to significant health problems, like RED-s. Even if you’re running as part of a weight-loss programme, it’s still important that you have enough energy to be able to safely complete your run. 

WHAT TYPES OF FOOD SHOULD YOU EAT BEFORE A MORNING RUN?

The main source of energy for exercise comes from carbohydrates (fat and protein can provide energy, but the body is most efficient at using carbs). Ingested carbs are stored in the body as glycogen, which is the body’s preferred source of energy. 

In the morning you’ll want simple carbs which are quick to digest, like white bread, bagels, oats, white rice and fruit, or even energy gels, chews and drink. 

Adding some fat, protein and salt can help you to feel more sated than just eating simple carbs on their own. Try eggs, avocado, whole fat natural yogurt and nut butter as some good options. 

As well as food, always make sure you have water before a run to make sure you’re hydrated. You might also want to carry water (or energy drink) with you for a run. 

And avoid very high fibre foods before a run as these can cause stomach distress on a run.

HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU EAT BEFORE A MORNING RUN? 

That all depends on how far you’re running and how much time you’ve got. 

For a short run (up to 60 minutes), a snack of 100-200 calories (20g-50g carbs) may be enough for you and you can eat this 30-60 minutes before running. 

If you’re running for more than an hour (including races like half marathons or marathons), or have a hard workout planned, then you may want to have a larger breakfast of 300-500 calories (50g-125g carbs), which you’ll eat 1-4 hours before running. If it’s not practical for you to wait hours before running then you could have a snack and then carry a gel or energy drink with you. 

Your individual tolerance for running after eating will determine whether you need more or less time for your food to digest before running. Running on a full stomach can lead to stomach discomfort or distress in some people. 

WHAT TO EAT BEFORE A RACE?

All the suggestions below work for training and racing. In general, you’ll want a smaller breakfast for a 5k or 10km compared to a marathon or ultramarathon (you’ll also want to eat earlier for a marathon, and you’ll want to make sure you’ve carb loaded). And you’ll want to practise this food ahead of the race to make sure it’s something that you’re able to digest. You might begin to get bored of eating the same thing before every longer run you do, so make sure it’s something that you really enjoy eating! 

WHAT ABOUT CAFFEINE IN THE MORNING?

For many runners, having caffeine feels more important than having a snack before a morning run. The caffeine makes you feel more awake and ready to run, and may speed up a morning poop – which is definitely better to happen before you start running!

BREAKFAST IDEAS FOR RUNNERS

What you eat will depend on the foods you enjoy to eat, and what you find works best for you before a run. Below are the main carbohydrates, and you can top them however you prefer. Some popular toppings include: nut butter, banana, berries, avocado, jam or marmalade, honey or maple syrup, nuts or dried fruit. 

Small breakfasts and snacks: 100-200 calories (20g-50g carbs), 30-60 minutes before you run

  • Banana
  • Rice cakes
  • Large handful of dried fruit and nuts 
  • Small slice of toast
  • A crumpet 
  • Small bowl of cereal, muesli or granola
  • Malt loaf
  • Fruit or veg smoothie
  • Energy bar
  • Energy gel or chews

Large breakfasts: 300-500 calories (50g-125g), 1-4 hours before you run

  • Bowl of oatmeal
  • Overnight oats 
  • 1-2 bagels
  • 2-3 slices of toast
  • 2-3 crumpets
  • Bowl of plain rice
  • Large bowl of cereal, muesli or granola

WHAT TO EAT AFTER A RUN?

You’ve finished your run and it’s time to refuel. This is really important to help you recover from your workout, and to give you energy for the rest of your day. 

You can eat any of the pre-run foods, but make sure you also add in a large portion of quality protein (around 30-50g). You can add yogurt, eggs, protein powder, tofu, meat or fish. And you can add some fruit and vegetables as well. If you’re in a hurry then a post-run protein smoothie is a good choice.

AND DON’T FORGET TO HYDRATE!

Even if it’s cold outside you still sweat during a run, and the more you sweat, the more dehydrated you become. Make sure you begin your run well-hydrated (with water, cordial, watered-down fruit juice) and then drink plenty of water when you’re finished. If you’re a heavy or salty sweater, or if it’s a hot day, then be sure to add electrolytes to your drink. 

***

What’s your go-to pre-run snack and pre-run breakfast?

Image Ella Olsson

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