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The Best Breakfast For Runners: 6 Healthy Fueling Options

The most important meal of the day: here's how to win at it.

As a certified running coach, two of the most common questions that I get asked by my athletes are: What should I eat for breakfast before running?” and “What should I eat for breakfast after running?“

Ultimately, the best breakfast for runners will help you fuel for your run and recover after your run while sticking to your diet, nutrition, and weight goals.

In this guide, we will discuss what foods you should eat for breakfast before and after running, helping you decide what the best breakfasts for runners are and whether you eat breakfast before or after running.

A person running in the morning.

What Is the Best Breakfast For Runners?

As with just about everything related to nutrition, there isn’t a single best breakfast for runners.

Different runners will have different preferences in terms of foods that settle well while running, different nutritional needs in a breakfast before or after running, and different dietary goals that will affect what constitutes the “best breakfast for runners.“

For example, some runners look for hearty breakfasts who want to gain weight or refuel after a long run, whereas other runners want healthy breakfast options that will provide enough energy for a good run while helping them lose weight.

Additionally, many runners train first thing in the morning, so they may want the best breakfast for running that is super light and quick, like a low-calorie breakfast snack to give you just enough energy to get through your morning run without causing digestive problems.

Then, you might have a more nutritious, energy-dense post-run breakfast when you are back.

A person running in the morning.

Other runners do a fasted run on an empty stomach without eating any breakfast beforehand and then want the best post-workout breakfast recipe ideas that will replenish the glycogen stores burned during the run and support muscle recovery.

For this reason, we can’t provide a single best pre-run breakfast for runners, but we have put together some of the best breakfast ideas to help fuel your run if you eat breakfast before running or to help you recover and refuel if you eat breakfast after running.

Everyone’s digestive system and caloric needs are different.

Therefore, we haven’t split up the running breakfast ideas by pre-run and post-run breakfast ideas.

You can pick and choose the foods that will either settle well and work as a breakfast before running or on race day, or that will refuel your body if you eat breakfast after running.

That said, generally, a good breakfast before running is going to be high in carbs but low in fiber, fat, and protein and generally light overall so that it settles well.

The best breakfast after running will provide your body with calories, glycogen, and protein to recover.

Oatmeal, blueberries and almonds.

What Should I Eat for Breakfast Before And After Running?

Here are some breakfast ideas for runners:

#1: Oatmeal

Oatmeal is arguably the most classic breakfast for runners.

It is versatile, a good source of complex carbs, and can be “dressed up“ or “dressed down” based on how many calories you want in your running breakfast and/or if you are eating breakfast before or after running.

Essentially, as the name implies, one of the benefits of oatmeal before a workout is that it can be prepared extremely quickly, allowing you to head out the door for your workout without any delay.

Plus, quick oats oatmeal is one of the best breakfasts for runners to eat when you have limited time to digest your breakfast before running. Quick oats are low in fiber and have faster-digesting carbs to give you energy for your run.

Making oatmeal from rolled oats or steel-cut oats can take quite a bit of time (20 minutes or so). Because these latter types of oatmeal retain the oats in their more intact state, there is more fiber and longer polysaccharide molecules to break down. 

Oatmeal fruit and nuts.

While this is better for improving satiety and decreasing the blood sugar response, because whole-grain oatmeal is a lower glycemic food, it will take longer for the glucose to be available for your muscles to take up for fuel. 

In cases where your workout is not going to be extremely vigorous, and you have enough time to digest your pre-workout oatmeal before you begin exercising, you can add a scoop of protein powder or other protein-rich ingredients such as chia seeds, flaxseeds, nuts, and milk to improve the nutritional profile of your pre-workout oatmeal breakfast.

Additionally, by adding protein and healthy fats, you can increase the satiety1Paddon-Jones, D., Westman, E., Mattes, R. D., Wolfe, R. R., Astrup, A., & Westerterp-Plantenga, M. (2008). Protein, weight management, and satiety. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition87(5), 1558S1561S. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/87.5.1558s that you will get from the oatmeal.

You can stir in a scoop of plain or vanilla protein powder whether you are having overnight oats or making hot oatmeal.

Using vanilla protein powder or something like PB2 Peanut Butter Protein Powder will impart a nice flavor while adding upwards of 20 to 25 grams of protein to your oatmeal. 

When you are making hot oatmeal with protein powder, add the protein powder to the liquid and dissolve it first, and then add the liquid to the oatmeal. 

This will prevent any clumping and will help make a nice, smooth, and creamy porridge.

If your run is not for a few hours and you are eating an early breakfast, or your digestive system isn’t particularly sensitive, you can also add almonds, regular nut butter, blueberries, sliced bananas, honey, coconut flakes, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, or other ingredients.

Of course, any of these add-ins will work well in an oatmeal breakfast for after running as well. Learn more about oats for runners here.

Banana and peanut butter on toast.

#2: Fruit and Nut Butter

One of the best breakfasts for runners who only have an hour or less to digest breakfast before running is to have a banana or half a banana with a tablespoon of nut butter.

You will get the simple carbs from the fruit and a little bit of fat and protein to keep you satiated without weighing down your stomach, causing bloating while running.

#3: Egg Sandwich

Eggs alone generally aren’t a sufficient breakfast for half-marathon, marathon runners or long distance runners who are putting in a lot of mileage because they do not provide any carbohydrates.

However, a post-run breakfast that contains eggs can provide you with the muscle reparative protein that you need.

You can make an omelet with a bunch of veggies, cheese, and lean meat if you want, but make sure you have it alongside whole-grain bread, half a bagel, some fruit, or some hash browns so that you get some carb loading in to replenish muscle glycogen.

Alternatively, you could make an egg sandwich with whole-grain bread, a fried egg (or egg salad), a slice of tomato, and some lettuce for a well-balanced breakfast for runners.

Yogurt, granola and berries.

#4: Yogurt or Cottage Cheese

One of the best breakfasts for runners is a parfait made with yogurt or low-sodium cottage cheese.

If you aren’t sensitive to dairy, these are great breakfast foods for runners because they are high in protein but also contain some carbs.

You can then add berries, nuts, seeds, muesli, or low-sugar granola, depending on your caloric needs, dietary preferences, and if you are looking for what to eat for breakfast before running or what to eat for breakfast after running.

You can even add protein powder for a high-protein breakfast for runners. 

I also recommend adding hemp seeds, flax seeds, or other superfoods to help reduce inflammation after running.

A protein shake with protein powder around it.

#5: Smoothie or Protein Shake

Smoothies made with fresh or frozen fruit, vegetables, Greek yogurt, some protein powder, almond milk, and some nut butter or seed butter, if you need more calories, can be one of the best breakfasts for runners.

Especially if you are running in the summer, having a smoothie for breakfast after running is a great way to get the nutrients you need when you may lack an appetite; plus, drinking a post-run breakfast smoothie or protein shake will help you start rehydrating as well.

#6: High-Protein Cereal

Eating cereal for breakfast gets a bad rap as low-carb diets are all the rage these days, and many breakfast cereals are packed with high fructose corn syrup or added sugars.

However, there are some healthy, whole-grain cereals for runners, and the truth is that runners need carbohydrates in breakfasts to fuel muscles for longer runs and intense workouts.

A bowl of cereal.

Plus, there are some great, high-protein breakfast cereals that strike a good balance between providing carbs for runners along with more protein for satiety and repairing muscles after workouts.

We love Magic Spoon cereal for breakfast for runners because it is high in protein and healthy fat, which helps keep you satiated while being deliciously reminiscent of your sweet childhood favorite sweet cereals. 

One full cup serving of this high-protein cereal has just 140 calories but packs in 14 grams of protein (there are also 7 grams of fat, 13 grams of carbs, 1 gram of fiber and 20mg of calcium).

If you have a lot of trouble eating anything before a run, but need to get something in your system, you can also looking hydration that contains not just electrolytes, but carbs as well. Or, you could take an energy gel before your run and eat a complete breakfast afterward.

Meeting with a nutritionist can be very helpful in putting togther a personlized plan for you and your goals whether it be weight loss, weight gain, or athletic performance.

For even more ideas for what to eat before running, check out this next guide:

References

  • 1
    Paddon-Jones, D., Westman, E., Mattes, R. D., Wolfe, R. R., Astrup, A., & Westerterp-Plantenga, M. (2008). Protein, weight management, and satiety. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition87(5), 1558S1561S. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/87.5.1558s
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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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