Runners drinking coffee

What to eat before a morning run?

Training hard requires fueling hard!

The food we eat can have a huge effect on our running.  Not only does proper nutrition help fuel hard workouts, it also supports training by aiding in recovery. Many runners wonder what they should eat before a training run or a race. Because no two runners are exactly alike, there is no one-size-fits all formula for ideal fueling. While the exact foods you choose to eat may vary, the basics are the same for all of us.

Because no two runners are exactly alike, there is no one-size-fits all formula for ideal fueling.

Energy basics

Carbohydrates are our bodies main source of energy. Food sources of carbohydrates include bread, pasta, cereal, fruit, and potatoes. All the carbs that we eat are broken down by the body into glucose, which is then used as energy for various bodily functions. Glucose from the food we eat is also stored in our muscles and liver in the form of glycogen, which is then used as we go throughout the day. A longer race or run (lasting longer than 60 minutes) will deplete these glycogen stores in our muscles. When muscle energy stores are depleted, they are less resistant to fatigue.

Studies have shown that endurance athletes who ate a carbohydrate-rich meal before exercising performed better than those who ran the same distance on an empty stomach. A small pre-workout meal improves performance and supports muscle energy. But giving your body enough time to digest before a run is important too. As a general recommendation, try eating a small, easy to digest meal 1-2 hours before your race or run.

Studies have shown that endurance athletes who ate a carbohydrate-rich meal before exercising performed better than those who ran the same distance on an empty stomach.

Practice makes perfect

Every runner’s body is different, so it’s a good idea to experiment and practice different pre-run meals and snacks to find what works best for you. Pay attention to what you eat and drink the night before and morning of a run. Once race day comes around, you’ll know what works best for your body. Choose foods that offer mostly carbohydrates with some protein. Avoid foods that are high in fat (fried foods, sausage, pastries) and high in fibre (beans, raw veg, wholemeal bread), as these foods are more difficult to digest and can cause an upset stomach. Race day isn’t the time to experiment – stick to what you know works for you!

Breakfast of champions

Proper fueling is important, even for us early morning run-lovers. Setting out for a long run on an empty stomach means that our muscle energy stores are low before we even begin running. It’s a good idea to eat a light, easy to digest meal before a long run.

Pre-run protein options Pre-Run carbohydrate options
Scrambled or boiled egg Plain bagel/toast/crumpet
Nut butter Berries/banana
Greek yoghurt Sports drink
Plant-based protein bar Pancake

Avoid foods that are high in fat (fried foods, sausage, pastries) and high in fibre (beans, raw veg, wholemeal bread).

Below are two quick and easy breakfast ideas that provide a nutritious balance of carbohydrates and protein, perfect to fuel your next run!

  1.  Try a slice of white toast, spread with peanut or almond butter, and topped with ½ a sliced banana. This is a quick vegetarian/vegan friendly meal that provides protein and carbohydrates- perfect for a pre-run breakfast!
  2. 1 pot of Greek yoghurt (whatever flavour you like) topped with a handful of cereal and 4 diced strawberries. This is a tasty breakfast packed with protein to aid recovery and carbohydrates to fuel your morning run.

For further advice on running nutrition and what consume before, during and after a run, read our Develop a running nutrition strategy that works for you! article next.

Sources:
Ormsbee, M. Pre-Exercise Nutrition: The Role of Macronutrients, Modified Starches and Supplements on Metabolism and Endurance Performance. 2014.
British Dietetic Association. Food Fact Sheet: Sports. 2017