Q: What to Eat Before You Run?

Hi Lauren!!!

I’m a sophomore in high school in my first year of running. When you have morning practice, how much can you eat? At what time from practice, and what can you eat?

Thanks Lauren!!

-Duduzile Ndhlove


My morning workout breakfast in a pinch. Breakfast sandwich and coffee from Starbucks. (Photo courtesy of Alicia Shay this morning!)

Hey Duduzile-

That’s a popular question! You might be surprised to know that the specifics of what you eat aren’t as important as the timing! Traveling the pro circuit around the world, I’ve seen world class athletes eat everything from pickled fish to sushi for breakfast before a workout or race. In my experience, there are three main options to pick from when deciding how to get your munch on in the morning.

  1. Get up 2-3 hours before the run and eat something “real” like a couple eggs and toast, or some oatmeal with some nuts, or 1 cup of good quality yogurt with berries and cereal, or other meal options with some protein and fat. Protein takes time to digest, but if you have the time, eating a breakfast like this leaves you well fueled for a tough morning session or race. I’d keep the total calories under 600.
  2. Eat something easy to digest 30-90 minutes before, like a piece of toast with a little butter (or a small amount of peanut butter) and jam. This is my favorite option because I like to sleep in. Calorie estimate is between 150-350 depending on how much time you have.
  3. If you are a roll-out-of-bedder, suck down a Powergel or an all natural Liquid Gold 5-15 minutes before you run with a little water. I do this when I have a basic endurance run, but never before a tough workout.

When I have less time, I go for a Picky Bar.

You can mix and match depending on your schedule through the week. Just remember to drink 16 oz of water the minute you wake up in the morning (8oz if you are going immediately out the door within 15 minutes). Sleep is dehydrating, and you need the fluid for your muscles to fire properly, to get your morning dookie, and to help your breakfast get absorbed. Without the water, breakfast might leave you with a cramp on your run.

You might need to practice pre-run nutrition.  A lot of people are afraid to eat beforehand because of a bad experience in the past. You have to train your gut to get used to it, and its well worth it because having morning fuel raises your workout performance, which raises your confidence, your fitness, and your race performances.

This is for the last-minute types, or for fuel on the run itself.

You can get more specific nutritional advice from a professional, either in person or through a legit online service like the Run Smart Project. My friend Alicia Shay does consultations for things just like this.  Best of luck to you!

Anyone had a pre-run food disaster or success story?  Please share your food no-no’s and recommendations below!  I’d love to get some ideas for run-friendly breakfast recipes to mix things up a little.