What’s one of the best parts of endurance running? The increased caloric demands definitely makes the top of the list of for me. Now, I am not someone that subscribes to the “earn your meals” mentality, but I am someone who wants to fuel enough to train efficiently. And for me, that means eating a pretty solid amount. If you know me in real life, you know that breakfast is hands down my favorite meal of the day, so I don’t hate talking about what to eat before running.
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I don’t eat before every single run by any means, but I always make it a point to fuel before a long run. While there are some people who do just fine going out fasted for 12 miles, I am not one of them. I need a little something before anything over ten miles, for sure. And not just for fueling purposes, but also to keep me from turning into a cranky jerk later in the day.
I’ve had so many questions from clients about what to eat before a long run that I actually created a really detailed PDF that breaks down 4 different long run distances, general caloric needs to shoot for, and what kinds of breakfast options meet those demands. I have it up on my fridge, and it helps me from eating the same overnight oats 4 weeks in a row. If you’d like a free copy for yourself, just click here and I’ll be more than happy to send it to your inbox.
A few helpful hints about breakfast options:
Try Out a Few Staples
When race day comes around, it’s nice to know you’ve got a few options that have historically worked well for you. Especially if you’re traveling, you might not have easy access to bagels or oatmeal or whatever your breakfast of choice might be. Having a few decent options can keep you from going into a panic.
Remember Everyone’s Stomach is Different
My stomach has zero issue with refined sugars, and they are a low volume source of carbs. So for really long runs, I love a small portion of some sort of baked good like banana break or a muffin. But refined sugars can really bother some people. Just because it works for me doesn’t mean it will work well for you. That’s part of the reason it’s so important to try out multiple options.
Use Long Runs as Race Practice
Even if you don’t feel like you need to eat something before a 12 mile run, it’s still a great opportunity to practice fueling. Because I can tell you from multiple experiences, there aren’t very many things that can detour a race faster than a port-a-potty emergency. And just your legs need to train to run 10 or 13 or 26 miles, your stomach needs to train to eat and then be able to run that far as well.
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Give Yourself an Hour Before Running
I have several reasons for this recommendation, and most of them revolve around the fact that you don’t want to get 2 miles into a run and realize you need to go to the bathroom. On long run mornings, I recommend waking up, drinking a little water, having a small cup of coffee, and eating as soon as possible. Then get to all the fun things like stretching, packing, sunscreening, and getting dressed. Giving yourself some time between breakfast and heading out the door gives your stomach (and your coffee) time to work. So you aren’t rudely interrupted at the beginning of your run. Poop happens. It’s much better if it happens at home.
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Figure Out Breakfast the Night Before
Most long runs need to happen at precisely the crack of dawn. Most of do not do a great job of making pancakes at precisely the crack of dawn. Long run mornings can be tricky enough, making sure that you remember to sunscreen, stretch, and get anti-chafe on every chafe-able surface. Don’t add to the stress by trying to figure out what to eat. Have a meal planned out beforehand, and if possible get that sucker premade. My best long runs happen when I can just throw a bagel into the toaster while my coffee brews.
Almost Anything Can be Improved With Peanut Butter
I know there’s plenty of poor souls out there with allergies, but I stand by statement. It’s got a good amount of calories without taking up too much room in your stomach, it can go on just above anything, and it’s freaking delicious. When in doubt, just add peanut butter.
Now that you know all the ins and outs of the long run breakfast commandments, here are some of my absolute favorite things to eat before running. I’m always looking to add a few staples to my list, so if there’s anything you’ve had good luck with, please let me know in the comment below.
What to Eat Before Running
You don’t need anything too crazy before a 10-15 miler. About 30-50 grams of carbs and little fat will go a long way. Focus on a small meal that you can digest quickly, and easily.
English muffin with jelly – raspberry is superior, but I won’t judge you if you prefer strawberry or grape.
Peanut butter and banana on toast – The original fancy toast, popular way before avocados even thought about bread
Peanut butter and jelly on toast – Steal a sandwich from your kid, they won’t be able to catch you!
Homemade waffle – You might only need a half waffle if you throw some honey/syrup and some peanut butter
Kodiak cake pancakes – The almond poppyseed flavor is the winner in my family
Baked oatmeal – Hit up Pinterest, and you can quickly find a recipe for any flavor you might be interested in. Blueberry, cranberry, banana bread, or event coconut. Plus, your family will probably have a few servings to nosh on after you leave.
15 – 22 miles
You’ll probably need a few more calories to sustain you on a run longer than 15 miles. Look for options that don’t feel too heavy, but give you a decent amount of carbs and energy.
Healthy-ish muffins – These chocolate chip banana muffins are my personal favorite, but there’s tons of options. You can certainly grab one from your favorite bakery if you’re short on time.
Clif bar – These can be a little heavy for me, personally, so I make sure I have a little extra time to digest if I want a Cliff bar breakfast. But the chocolate brownie flavor (heated up in the microwave for 15 seconds) is worth the extra time.
Overnight oats with honey – Make a serving with whatever milk you prefer, toss in some honey for flavor and easy carbs, and add a very few berries or slices of banana.
Oat meal “energy” balls – My only caution here with these guys, it can be really hard to limit yourself to 1-2, but eat more and you may have some GI issues to deal with later on.
Kodiak cake muffin – These guys are billed as healthy alternatives to traditional baked goods, but they’re delicious and easy to digest, and those are my main criteria for long run breakfasts.
Bagel with cream cheese – Lord knows I LOVE a french toast bagel from Einsteins or Panera, but go easy on the cream cheese, especially if you’re sensitive to dairy.
Premade oatmeal cup – Once again, Pinterest is your best friend here. Most recipes involve honey, berries, an egg, and some banana. They’re an easy way to get a good amount of carbs in a single serving.
Are these the only breakfast options that will work? Definitely not. There’s truly endless possibilities depending on what your stomach will tolerate. Try out a few things, and then rotate what works. Most importantly, make sure you are fueling appropriately. No one wants you to come home crankier than when you left.
And never forget second breakfast when you get back after your run. Welcome to hobbit life!