by Coach Lisa Menninger

One of the most frequently asked questions I get from the folks I coach is concerning breakfast and what to eat before a run. The answer should to take into account what is going on physiologically for the body and its needs when you run.

I will answer two things then:

1) When did I eat last?

2) What is the best thing to fuel myself with for the impending run?

Let’s answer the first question.

Remember if you are running in the morning, you are probably just getting up from several hours of sleep. You probably haven’t eaten since dinner last night and meaning it’s been between 8 and 12 hours since you last fueled.  If you head out the door before you re-fuel, particularly if you have any kind of quality or endurance workout to do, chances are your energy will tank or at the very least you won’t be adequately fueled to reach your goals during the run.

It’s important to eat before you workout in the morning.

How long before varies person to person, but 60 minutes is a good rule of thumb. What you eat will also determine how long you need to digest.

Which brings us to the second question.  What is the best thing to eat?

It’s most important to get a digestible, but longer-burning fuel in.  This allows you to go for a while before you need a gel or some kind of nutritional supplement. It is also important because if you take in a short-acting fuel, you will find your body’s response to it isn’t in your best interest for the run.

Here is what I mean.  When you eat a bunch of fast-burning, simple fuel before a run (like a bowl of sugared cereal), it puts sugar in the bloodstream.  The pancreas makes insulin, which when blood sugar rises, is released to help your body use that sugar.  It acts as a key that unlocks the body’s cells so that glucose (sugar) can get inside and be used for energy.

So if you flood your system with a simple sugar, your body will release that insulin to deal with it.  It’s an inexact science for the body – to a degree.  So if the fuel source is strictly simple and you are not as of yet, engaged in activity, then there can be a great deal of insulin released, actually reducing the blood sugar to such a degree you find yourself a bit low on energy, hungry and craving a simple sugar. This happens a short time after a breakfast of a sugary cereal — and it’s not how we want to feel as we head to run of any distance.

So what are the best options?

Addressing the above concerns, you need to ingest longer-burning fuels, like lean protein and fiber-rich foods.

Good options for a pre-run breakfast include whole grain bread with natural peanut butter and jelly + a banana for potassium.

A bowl of oatmeal.  Not the kind that is loaded in sugar and comes in single-serving packets, but either a plain version of an instant or a make-your-own-in-one-minute kind.  You can add fresh fruit and a bit of brown sugar and cinnamon and it will taste better than the sugary instant one and have much less simple sugars to cause issues.

If you must do a cereal, consider something like a Special K Protein. You won’t crash the same way you will on the sugary cereal alone.

An egg white on an english muffin and a piece of fruit is great, too.

What to avoid is a lot of fat-based items.  These are hard to digest and will sit in your stomach for hours, making you bloated and nauseous on the run. Bacon and an omelette or several scrambled eggs.  Too heavy.  Too much fat.

Stick to the things that are long-burning fuels that will sustain you without causing either a huge insulin response from the body or will sit in the stomach like a rock. There are plenty of choices that follow these guidelines.  Choose what works for you and notice how great you feel when you eat a proper breakfast!!

Enjoy your miles!

Coach Lisa Menninger


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