What To Eat Before Running In The Morning (And What Not To Eat!)

Our top tips to fuel properly before heading out on your runs.

It’s a perennial question for morning runners: what to eat before running in the morning?

Whether you’re squeezing in those pre-work miles or simply a morning person, pumping those endorphins is a great way to start the day. 

The early bird catches the worm!

Knowing what foods fuel your body best will make those early runs all the more enjoyable, leaving you feeling energized and ready for the day.

In this guide to what to eat before running in the morning, we’ll discuss how to fuel the night before a run and the morning of so those glycogen stores are topped off for race day or any training session you have ahead of you. (We’ll also share what not to eat).

Toast and jelly.

What To Eat The Night Before a Morning Run

Carb loading has become synonymous with running, and for good reason. No marathon or half marathon experience, or any long-distance run for that matter, is complete without a carb-rich meal the night before the big day. 

The best way to fuel up for a big morning running session is to eat a good dinner the night before. You want to choose a meal that is rich in both carbohydrates and protein.

It doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, most of your regular home-cooked dinners will fit the bill.

Some example dinners could be:

  • Spaghetti bolognese
  • Chili con carne loaded onto a baked potato
  • Tofu and veggie stir-fried noodles
  • Chicken and rice

You obviously want to eat until you are satiated, but watch out for overeating! Eating yourself into a food coma can compromise your sleep quality, meaning that you might wake up in a slump and in no mood to run. 

what to eat before running in the morning

Is Eating Before a Morning Run Even Necessary? 

Short answer- NO!

Long answer – it depends on how long and intense your run will be. 

Most runners can run for up to an hour on an empty stomach without their energy levels flagging- particularly if they’ve eaten a good dinner the night before.

Although this does, of course, vary from runner to runner. 

Some runners may need a pre-run snack or pre-run meal to power up, while other runners can run just fine without it due to their efficient running economy

How Much to Eat and When

If you do choose to eat before a morning run, you want to digest your food just right. 

You don’t want to be starved or stuffed; you want your stomach to feel settled, and to have enough energy to make the most of your run. 

This balancing act may seem like an art form, but it is fairly simple if you follow these general rules:

  • Timing-wise, aim to eat a snack 30-45 minutes before a run or a small meal 90 – 120 minutes prior.
  • And as for the amount- keep it light. A small meal or a snack that is made up of simple carbs is likely to sit best.

Some examples of the best foods for a pre-run snack or breakfast could be a bagel and jelly, oatmeal topped with blueberries, or toast with nut butter.

what to eat before running in the morning

Does a Morning Coffee Help or Hinder?

With most people drinking coffee and the majority (83%!)1Coffee drinking consumers in the U.S. by time of day 2020. (n.d.). Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/323438/coffee-drinking-consumers-in-the-us-by-time-of-day/ of those coffee drinkers enjoying a cup in the morning, coffee is a cornerstone of many of our mornings.

So, let’s break down the facts. 

For those of you who can’t even comprehend getting up for a morning run without a cup of coffee- we have some good news!

Aside from its all-around deliciousness, coffee is a stimulant drug,2Alcohol and Drug Foundation. (2023, June 20). Caffeine. ADF – Alcohol & Drug Foundation. https://adf.org.au/drug-facts/caffeine/ meaning that it speeds up the rate at which signals fire from the brain to the body. 

This leads to the release of adrenaline- the stress hormone that gives you that coveted caffeinated buzz. 

coffee = caffeine = adrenaline release = ready for action!

Coffee has also been found to decrease your rate of perceived exertion, meaning that your workout feels easier, and therefore, you can go harder.

what to eat before running in the morning

When Is The Perfect Time To Enjoy A Pre-Run Brew? 

One study found that 45 minutes before your run is your perfect window to caffeinate.3Caffeine Has Greater Effect On Men, And Starts Only Ten Minutes After Consumption. (2019). ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081222113526.htm

How Much Coffee Is The Right Amount? 

Amber O’Brian,4Mango Clinic – Health & Wellness Clinic. (n.d.). Mango Clinic. Retrieved February 15, 2024, from https://mangoclinic.com/ a medical doctor at Mango Clinic, says that much may not be necessary. “A single cup of coffee is enough to make you ready for a productive run. Just one cup of coffee will boost your speed and endurance that is needed for running, along with minimal or no side effects.”

But beware! If you are sensitive to the effects of caffeine, a morning cup of joe can give you the jitters, or worse- gastrointestinal issues.

What To Eat Before Running In The Morning

Now on to the food…

Eating something small and simple is the way to go for a pre-run breakfast.

Piling on the food can leave you feeling heavy and uncomfortable- so think snack, not a full meal. 

You should prioritize foods that are easy to digest- no one wants to wake up hours before a morning run to sit around digesting your breakfast. 

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Mackenzie Burgess suggests eating “a snack high in carbohydrates, low in fiber, and low in fat. This will be easiest on the stomach and allow for quicker digestion before training.”5Cheerful Choices – Customizable Recipes with Ingredients of Your Choice – Cheerful Choices. (2022, October 16). Cheerfulchoices.com. https://cheerfulchoices.com/

what to eat before running in the morning

So, with that in mind, here are some great pre-workout run snack ideas:

  • A small bowl of oatmeal topped with berries
  • Toast with jam or honey
  • A muffin
  • Energy balls or bars

And for those runners who really struggle to get food down in the morning, a sports drink, or an energy gel are great options for an easy pre-run boost. 

Make sure the sports drink also contains carbohydrates and isn’t “calorie-free” if you are using it for fuel and not just hydration and to consume electrolytes.

Different Morning Workouts Require Different Fuel

Slower, easy miles with a low Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) require less energy and are much easier to do on an empty stomach than higher RPE hill sprints or long runs, for example. 

It is critical to match your fuel input to your type of workout.

If your morning run is a light jog lasting less than an hour, feel free to go for it on an empty stomach or just a small snack. 

But if you want to push yourself on your morning run, it is important to fuel up. Consider any of the breakfast or snack options outlined above. 

what to eat before running in the morning

What NOT To Eat Before a Morning Run

#1: High Fiber Foods

Fiber is a component of many carbohydrate-rich foods that can’t be digested by our bodies easily. It is great at keeping our intestinal tract healthy, but high-fiber foods are notoriously hard to digest. 

This means that if you eat a high-fiber breakfast before running, you may experience bloating or feel heavy and just generally uncomfortable. 

Because of this, it is common for runners to dial down the fiber in the days leading up to a big race.6Marathon week nutrition affects performance. (2020, August 21). Sanford Health News. https://news.sanfordhealth.org/sports-medicine/marathon-week-nutrition/

‌Ditching a high-fiber breakfast pre-run means avoiding foods such as:

  • Fruit-packed smoothies or juices
  • Beans of any kind!
  • Whole grain bread topped
  • High-fiber cereals- such as muesli or bran flakes

But, of course, if any of these foods work well for you- great! Consider yourself a fiber munching monster and keep doing what you’re doing!

what to eat before running in the morning

#2: High Fat Foods 

Fat is an essential macronutrient, and it is important to eat enough of it. 

But pre-run, consider lowering your fat intake. 

Fat takes a while to digest and can end up sitting in your stomach for much longer than carb-rich foods, making you feel heavy and uncomfortable.

Avoid these foods before a morning run:

  • Eggs and avocado on toast
  • Cheese on toast
  • A sausage and egg or bacon and egg sandwich

#3: Too Many Carbs and Too Much Sugary Stuff

Carbs are a great pre-run fuel source, but too much sugar can cause a blood sugar spike, followed by a carb crash

Think of a sugar rush followed by a big lull in energy. 

What this means is don’t stuff your face with sugary treats pre-run. It’s not a good idea to eat four glazed doughnuts, six chocolate chip cookies, or to put ten packets of sugar in your coffee. 

Save the sugary indulgence for after running, or gorge yourself on a rest day.

what to eat before running in the morning

The Rules- What to Eat Before a Morning Run- A Summary

To summarize, here are some rules to keep in mind when planning your pre-morning run fuel.

  • Eat a carb and protein-rich dinner the night before a morning run. Aim for things like pasta, rice, potatoes, plus a source of protein. 
  • You can train for up to one hour on an empty stomach. However, if you want to do a high-intensity session or a long run-  get some fuel in. 
  • Eat a snack 30-45 minutes before a run, or a small meal 90 – 120 minutes prior. You want your food to have digested, your stomach to be settled, and to have energy. 
  • Keep your breakfast light, and full of easily digestible carbs. Things like toast, oatmeal, and energy bars. 
  • Drink one cup of coffee 45 minutes before your run to make the most of this performance-enhancing booster!
  • Avoid high fiber, high fat, and high sugar breakfast foods. Save these for post-run, or for your rest day!

For a complete guide to carbloading, check out this next article:

References

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Maria Andrews is a runner, adventure lover, and UESCA certified Ultramarathon Coach. When she's not running around the woods or plotting adventures, she's spending time with her nearest and dearest, cooking up a storm, or working on Marathon Handbook's sister website, yogajala.com :)

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