It turns out that when it comes to running, your mother was right.  Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Yet, in my work with runners I all too often hear a myriad of reasons why this meal goes overlooked.  I am too tired, I am running late, a hungry dog runs faster (yes I really heard that), it makes my stomach hurt, and on the list goes.

So, let’s talk a little sports nutrition 101.  Whether you’re a marathon runner or training for your first 5K breakfast is important for many reasons:

  • Fueling up before a run will top off your glycogen stores in your muscles and liver giving you a full tank to start out on.
  • Runners who time their meals properly, in relationship to their training, have more muscle and maintain an ideal weight for performance.
  • A pre-run meal is key to improved concentration and the mental boost you need to keep your head in the race.

I will never forget the story one of my runners told me on his first ever 20-mile run.  He was not a big breakfast eater and this day was no exception. Eighteen miles into his run, he dropped his water bottle and “thought” he was too tired to pick it up.  He ended his 20-mile run tired, dehydrated, and irritable.  Chances are pretty good that had he eaten his breakfast before heading out the door he would have made a different decision and has a better run.

When planning your breakfast here are some things to think about:

  • Liquids will empty from your stomach within about an hour. If you worry that solids will sit in your stomach for too long, make sure you have a pretty big dinner the night before and top it off in am with a non-dairy smoothie. My favorite is soy milk, a frozen banana, and a pinch of natural peanut butter.
  • Fat, fiber, and protein are slow to digest. Try an easy to break down meal such as a waffle or two (hold the syrup and the butter) with a few berries.
  • In a hurry? A whole foods bar such as a Lara Bar might just do the trick. Add an energy gel 10 minutes before your run if you are heading out for more than 8 miles. Energy gels need fluid for absorption so add 4 ounces of water.
  • My all-time favorite pre run fuel is baked oatmeal. This is a make a head dish that is high in complex carbs and has a pinch of protein. For daily eating, I dress it up with some nuts, berries, and flaxseeds, but for a pre-run meal I eat it reheated with a little almond milk or water.  Here is the recipe:

Kim’s Baked Oatmeal

  • 6 cups oats
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ cups canola or coconut oil
  • 2 cups milk (dairy, almond or soy)
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • 1 ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 ½ tsp. baking powder
  • 1 ½ tsp. cinnamon
  1. Mix altogether in a bowl
  2. Transfer to a greased baking pan
  3. Bake for 45 minutes at 350º.  Cool.  Reheat individual portions as desired.
  4. To reheat, cut 2” square, top with milk, microwave for 1 minute.
  5. Top with nuts or fruit as desired.
  6. Top with ground chia and flaxseed.

Keep in mind changes to your fueling will take your body a little time to get used to. Your digestive system is muscle that needs training just like every other muscle of your body. Take some time to experiment with the pre-run fueling that is right for you and don’t wait until race day to figure it out!

Kimberly Evans, RD, is a clinical nutritionist at the UVM Medical Center. Read her additional blog posts about preparing for a marathon by eating right, including “What to Eat the Week Before a Marathon.”

Kim Evans, RD, is a clinical dietitian for UVM Medical Center's Cardiac Rehabilitation and Prevention Program.

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