Breakfast, so they say, is the most important meal of the day. But what should you eat before a run? And how long should you leave between eating breakfast and heading out the door?
‘Ahead of a run or any workout in the morning, it’s important to consume breakfast in order to fuel the body with energy and increase your glycogen stores,’ explains Lily Chapman, performance coach, and sport and exercise nutritionist at P3RFORM.
In fact, studies have shown that eating easily digestible carbohydrates in the hour before exercise generally enables athletes to work out longer. Eating carbohydrates ‘has been shown to delay fatigue onset, reduce the rate of perceived exertion (how hard you feel your body is working), and increase exercise capacity,’ she adds.
‘You should aim to consume a high-carb snack/meal 1-4 hours before. Opting for foods with minimal fat, fibre, and protein has been shown to suit most, as these have been shown to slow digestion and absorption, leading to gastrointestinal issues.’
Of course, there are no absolutes in what you should and shouldn’t eat – or if you should eat at all – except that you’ll probably want to eat something if you’re going to run for a long time, and that something should be easy on the stomach.
‘Liquid carbohydrates may be a good option for those who struggle with consuming whole food before a training run,’ says Lily. ‘Everyone should incorporate an individual approach to what specific foods they should be consuming, as both preference and tolerance vary.’
The only way to really figure out what works for you? Trial and error. ‘Pre-planning is super important to help with adaptation and optimal performance, too,’ she adds.
If, however, you’re in need of a little inspiration, here are eight delicious – and incredibly simple – breakfast ideas, designed with runners in mind…
Best pre-running breakfast
The unofficial king of the race day breakfast, oats are healthy, filling and 70 per cent carbohydrate – perfect for running. Stir through honey, maple syrup or fruit compote for a dose of fast-acting sugar, or add raisins or dried fruit – blueberries and cranberries are delicious. Adding sliced banana before heating makes for a sweet, healthy and heartier pre-run breakfast.
Bagels are often the go-to breakfast choice for runners. Why? They’re rich in carbohydrates (so they’ll fuel your run by topping up your glycogen stores), they’re super easy to digest – and don’t sit heavily in your stomach – and they’re great for eating on the go. Our personal favourite topping? Peanut butter or Lotus Biscoff spread. Yum.
Muesli and Granola
Muesli is a great long-run fuel. It’s whole grains and fruits are packed with slow-burning energy. Take a trip to a health food store to pick out the fruit, nuts and grains you like to make your own personal muesli mix. Bran, barley and oats are especially good wholegrain carbs so be sure to sprinkle some in your bowl.
Or take things to another level with homemade granola. The slow-release grains will keep you feeling full all morning, and the baked-in honey or maple syrup offers fast-release sugar, making granola an excellent breakfast option. Roll 500g of grains, nuts and seeds in two tablespoons each of honey, vegetable oil, and maple or golden syrup. Spread the mixture over baking sheets and bake at low heat (150ºC/gas mark 2) for 15 minutes. If you fancy dried fruit, add it to the granola before baking for a further 15 minutes.
Cakes and Bakes
A little time spent baking makes a much healthier breakfast than grabbing a sugar-packed muffin in a coffee shop.
Banana bread is a great combination of fast-burning carbs for quick energy and –if you use wholemeal flour – slow-burning carbs that’ll fill you up. Line a loaf tin and preheat a medium oven (180ºC/gas mark 4). Mash 4 ripe bananas and mix with 225g self-raising flour, 100g butter, 150g caster sugar, two eggs and a pinch of salt. Bake for 1-1½ hours until the bread is golden on top and a skewer comes out clean.
Fresh muffins are also a great idea. Use wholemeal flour and add some fruit for fast-burning sugar – blueberries, banana and rhubarb are all good sources of energy.
With a little planning, pancakes can be a quick, hot and healthy breakfast. Swap refined white flour for buckwheat to get all of the taste but a more nutritious meal. Make up a simple batter the night before – mix 100g flour, 300 ml milk, two eggs and 1 tbsp vegetable or sunflower oil – and store covered in the fridge in a large jug. Forget sprinkling refined sugar – blueberries and sliced banana are the perfect mix of sweet and healthy.
This bright, tasty breakfast is packed with veggies and makes the perfect decadent weekend breakfast – before or after a long run. Sweetcorn is 86 per cent carbohydrate, low in fat and packed with vitamin C.
For 12 fritters, sift 300g self-raising flour and 1 tsp baking powder into a bowl, season and make a well in the middle. Mix two eggs, 400g sweetcorn kernels, a handful of coriander or parsley, and a generous glug of sweet chilli sauce plus the same amount of water. Put this mixture into the middle of the bowl of flour and combine (make it up the night before and leave it in the fridge). Heat a knob of butter in a frying pan and add 2-3 tbsp of the mixture. Once bubbles begin to form on top of the corn cake, flip it over and cook for a further two minutes.
If you fancy a really indulgent start to the day, serve with bacon, sliced avocado and sour cream.
If you’re too busy to eat a proper breakfast, it’s important not to miss out altogether. Your metabolism is at its most active at the start of the day and just after a run, so make sure you fuel it with some high-quality carbs.
Whip up a stock of homemade energy bars and store in a Tupperware for a stock of quick on-the-run breakfasts that’ll fuel your running. With oats, muesli and dried fruit, you’ll get a fast-acting sweet hit without the refined sugar. Combine 175g oats with 85g muesli in a bowl. Warm 3 tbsp of honey in a small saucepan until it becomes runny, then add it to the oat mix. Stir in 150g dried fruit (raisins, dates, apricots, figs, apple, pineapple etc), two egg whites and 175ml apple juice. Press the mixture into a lightly oiled 18x28cm baking tin. Bake at 180ºC for 20-25 minutes until golden. Allow to cool slightly, then cut into bars.
Eating properly to promote recovery after a run is essential. The first hour after a workout is crucial – during this time, your body replenishes glycogen at three times its normal rate – so try to make time for breakfast straight after a session. The best recovery meals tend to have a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates and protein that’ll restock your energy stores and help your muscles recover.
The recipe for a healthy and satisfying liquid breakfast is easy – just pop some fruit in the blender.
Make the perfect recovery shake with a mixture of bananas – which weigh in at a whopping 93 per cent carbs – and peanut butter. Peanut butter has the right blend of protein and carbs for that magic 4:1 recovery ratio. Calcium-packed natural yoghurt also makes a substantial shake.
Get inventive with what’s in season, or think ahead and stock up on summer fruits when they’re fresh and cheaper. Freeze berries and chopped fruit (they won’t lose much nutritional value) ready to tip into your blender for a little summer sunshine – and vitamin C – on a dark winter morning.