What To Eat Before Running In The Morning

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 you’re simply a morning person, getting those endorphins pumping 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 energised and ready for the day.

In this article, we’ll dive into…

  • How to properly fuel the night before a run,
  • whether you should eat before a run,
  • what to eat for a breakfast before a run,
  • whether a pre-run coffee is a good idea,
  • and what not to eat before a run!

Are you ready to find out how to become a well-fuelled morning runner?!

Let’s jump in!

what to eat before running in the morning

What To Eat The Night Before a Morning Run

Carb loading has become synonymous with running, and for good reason. 

No marathon experience is complete without a carb-rich meal the night before the big day. 

Often, the best way to fuel up for a big morning running session is to eat a good dinner the night before. 

You are going to want to choose a meal that is rich in both protein and carbohydrates.

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:

  • Chili con carne loaded onto a baked potato,
  • tofu and veggie stir-fried noodles,
  • spaghetti bolognese,
  • bean burritos or tacos.

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 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 how intense your run is going to 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 some pre-run fuel to power up, while other elite runners can clock up longer times for fasted workouts due to their efficient running economy

Related: Pre-Run Routine: What To Do Before A Run + 10 Activation Exercises

How Much to Eat and When

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

You don’t want to be starved or stuffed, you want your stomach to feel settled, and you want 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 basic 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 is likely to sit better.
what to eat before running in the morning

Does a Morning Coffee Help or Hinder?

With most people drinking coffee, and the majority (83%!) 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, 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 perceived exertion, meaning that your workout feels easier, and therefore, you can go harder.

Related: Here’s The 6 Worst Things To Do Before A Run

what to eat before running in the morning

But 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. 

And how much coffee is the right amount? 

Amber O’Brian, 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 prioritise foods that are easy to digest- no one wants to wake up hours before a morning run just to sit around digesting your breakfast. 

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Mackenzie Burgess suggests eating “a snack that’s high in carbohydrates, low in fibre, and low in fat. This will be easiest on the stomach and allow for quicker digestion before training.”

Related: Here’s How Long To Wait After Eating To Run + 4 Helpful Tips

what to eat before running in the morning

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

  • A small bowl of oatmeal
  • 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. 

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 compared to 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 that lasts less than an hour, then feel free to go for it on an empty stomach. 

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

High Fibre Foods

Fibre is a component of many carbohydrate-rich foods that can’t be digested by our body.

It is great at keeping our intestinal tract healthy, but high fibre foods are notoriously hard to digest. 

This means that if you eat a high-fibre breakfast before running you may feel bloated, heavy, and just generally uncomfortable. 

Because of this, it is common for runners to dial down the fibre in the days leading up to a big race.

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

  • Fruit packed smoothies or juices,
  • beans! No pre-run beans on toast for you Brits I’m afraid,
  • brown bread topped with peanut butter and banana,
  • high fibre cereals- such as muesli or bran flakes.
what to eat before running in the morning

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

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 sandwich,
  • and a big oily fry up is possibly the worst thing to eat pre-run. 

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 to eat before running in the morning

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 10 sugars in your coffee. 

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

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

To summarise, 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 are looking 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 coffee 45 minutes before your run to make the most of this performance-enhancing booster!
  • Avoid high fibre, high fat, and high sugar breakfast foods. Save these for after your run, or for your rest day!

Still looking for more inspiration? Take a look at this easy and cheap Energy Balls recipe for an ideal pre-morning run snack!

Photo of author
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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