Last year I got out the door early to run and did so on an empty stomach or just a bit of sports drink. But this year I decided I wanted to eat breakfast before I head out for my morning run. It doesn’t seem like it should work so well… After all, you need to allow time for food to properly digest before you head out the door for a run, right?
So what to do… Should you eat your breakfast before or after your morning run?
The answer to this question depends on three factors:
- The type of run are you going to be completing;
- What kind of food you plan on eating; and
1. Type of Run
Generally speaking, if your run is going to be long (over an hour) or hard (tempo, hills, intervals), eating beforehand is pretty much a must. I’ve walked out the door for a long run in the past without eating, and I’ve worked with clients who’ve done the same. I can tell you in every case we run better and stronger when we eat first.
However, if you’ve got an easy run that will take about an hour or less to complete, you may wish to do so on an empty stomach – especially if your morning run is one of those super early ones! This is termed a “carb-depleted” run. If employed properly, it can help your body learn to burn fat as fuel more efficiently, thereby preserving your glycogen stores. This can be helpful to marathon runners as it may help to prevent ‘bonking’.
If you’re not in marathon training, I’d suggest having a little something before heading out for even an easy run.
2. Food Choice
Some foods are easier to digest and provide better fuel than other foods. Because your body will be looking for glycogen (energy), it logically follows that you’ll want to eat foods containing carbohydrates (which will be broken down and stored as blood glucose and muscle glycogen).
For your weekend long runs (typically first thing on Saturday or Sunday) and any pace workouts, you’ll want to fuel up with any of the following: oatmeal, rice porridge, buckwheat or quinoa porridge, granola, other cereals, toast, bun, bagel, or a smoothie. Krista DuChene reportedly ate a bun with honey and a coffee the morning she won the Vancouver Scotiabank half marathon in 1:10:52 a few weekends ago.
For the shorter, easy runs I’d suggest grabbing at least a light snack before heading out the door – such as a banana dipped in chia seeds, a half a bowl of oatmeal, half a bagel with a touch of nut butter and jam, or a sports drink.
Yes, it all comes down to you. While I might be able to eat and then fly out the door within half an hour for my morning run – it doesn’t mean everyone can or should. And for the record, when it comes to my Saturday long runs, I eat more and wait longer before running (1-2 hours). You need to experiment to find out what works best for you.
Additionally, your body will adapt. So if you start eating before your run and don’t feel it worked so well the first time, give it another few tries to allow your body the opportunity to adapt to this new routine.
Are you a morning runner? Do you eat before your run or do you wait until after you’re done to eat? Let me know in the comments below!
Happy running 🙂
Sarah J Cuff, RHN
PS. Check out this week’s Runner of the Week here. Well, it’s actually runners (plural) of the week – a couples profile! Catherine and Mike spill the beans on how they eat to run and why they love it. Click here to read more…
Really good post Sarah, great advice.
I’m a real early morning runner and I can’t eat before I run or I pay for it. I head out the door within an hour of waking up.
Hi Jackie! I hear you… I think that ‘real early’ part has something to do with it. I used to run (last year) at 5am and couldn’t stomach anything more than vega pre-workout energizer beforehand (or otherwise pay for it like you mention!), but now that I run at 7am I can wake up, eat and then head out the door no problem. Yesterday though, I ran at 5am and there was no way I could think of eating anything beforehand. Interesting…
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