Whether you run in the morning or later in the day, breakfast sets the tone for your day and workout. These ideas for breakfast for runners can help your recovery after your run or prepare you for your upcoming workout.
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As a dietitian who works with runners, I can’t stress the importance of breakfast enough.
While not every single morning run warrants a breakfast beforehand (sometimes a snack will do), once you get into longer runs and half marathon and full marathon training, you should be eating something substantial beforehand.
Knowing what to eat before a long run can make a difference, and these runners breakfast ideas should become a normal part of your pre-run routine.
And if not beforehand, definitely after. This is where a good breakfast for runners can come into play!
What Makes a Good Breakfast for Runners?
A healthy breakfast is vital for your performance and energy for the workout, but also for the day in general.
Any sample meal plan for marathon training will emphasize breakfast – it’s a must. And whether you’re carnivore, vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, plant-based, etc., you need a plan for regular eating.
A good breakfast pre-run should emphasize carbohydrates, since they are the main fuel source for running.
Small amounts of protein and fat are helpful, though if you have a sensitive stomach, you may want to start slow, or monitor these macronutrients more.
If you are eating breakfast after a run, a balanced plate approach is best. Make about half of your plate carbohydrates, 1/4 protein and 1/4 fat.
- Protein – Athlete protein needs are high, aim for 20-40 grams of protein per meal. Make sure you’re optimizing protein at breakfast!
- Fats, especially omega 3 fatty acids, are also helpful for reducing inflammation post-run.
This post on the athlete’s plate helps describe what that can look like visually, and how to scale up on longer days.
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How Much Should a Runner Eat for Breakfast?
Breakfasts for runners can and should look different, since they are dependent on each indivdual and many other things.
For example, your breakfast may look different on an off day vs. a long run day.
Sports nutrition recommendations recommend 1-4 grams of carbohydrate per kg of body weight 1-4 hours before exercise.
- If you’re eating 1 hour before exercise, aim for 1 gram of carbohydrate per kg of body weight.
- If you’re up early planning your long run in 2-3 hours, you can have a bigger breakfast, and aim for 2-3 grams of carbs per kg of body weight, respectively.
While a sample distance runner diet plans can be helpful, there’s no one right way to eat or one perfect meal for everyone.
Instead, it’s important to get into a routine of eating breakfast daily and consistently so the body can use nutrients.
There are many factors that may determine how much a runner should eat for breakfast, such as:
- What time of day your workout is – If you’re running first thing and you’ve had water, maybe a small snack will help. However, if you’re running under an hour, you can likely get by without a big breakfast, and save that for after your run.
- How long you are running – If you’re running under an hour, a runner breakfast may be better suited for after your run, rather than cramming it in beforehand. However, if you are running over an hour, you may feel and perform better with eating something before your run.
- When is the last time you ate? Did you eat an early dinner the night before, and it’s been over 12 hours since you last ate? Did you eat sufficient carbs last night, like pasta? Or did you have a small, low-carb dinner, and maybe you do need to eat something before your run.
- Will you be taking fuel during your workout? – If you plan on taking energy gels for running or running chews at regular intervals, there’s less stress on getting plenty of carbs beforehand.
- Are you sick or injured? This may affect what you choose to eat for breakfast, as well as how much you need. For instance, protein needs increase during injuries.
After you consider each of these scenarios, you may better be prepared to answer what the best breakfast before your run will be.
Benefits To Breakfast
There are many benefits to breakfast. Here are a few.
- Improved Endurance – Having a balanced breakfast can help with your endurance during your harder efforts. It can also help preserve muscular health and minimize protein breakdown. So, whether you’re eating before or after your workout, a high protein breakfast can help build muscle.
- More Nutrients and Antioxidants– The only way to get more nutrients for performance is through food. The harder you train, the more nutrients you need to consume. Adding colorful foods in, like bananas, blueberries, mango and more, can give you carbohydrates and tons of phytonutrients.
- Better Performance – Breakfast omission can impede performance, both in the morning and even later in the day. One 2015 study found that athletic performance later in the day was stunted, compared to those who ate breakfast.
- Better Memory and Cognition – There are also many cognitive benefits to eating breakfast, as mentioned in this study.
What if I Want to Lose Weight?
Even if you want to lose weight, the importance of breakfast doesn’t change.
In fact, we have research showing that if you skip breakfast, you may be more inclined to eat more and overeat later in the day.
A breakfast for runners losing weight will still have carbohydrates present, and be balanced with adequate protein and fat, perhaps more of the latter macronutrients.
Fiber, fruits and vegetables are also important for satiety.
10 Ideas for the Best Breakfasts for Runners
If you’re looking for a breakfast for runners on race day, or even just to recover from that hard workout, these are some great options for a healthy breakfast for runners.
Whether you like a hot bowl of oats, high protein overnight oats, or even baked oatmeal, oatmeal is a great pre- and post fueling option for your run.
Many runners, myself included, prefer oatmeal as the best breakfast before a marathon. It’s easy to include anything on a blank canvas, like fruits for athletes, nuts, seeds, dairy, etc.
Here are some favorites.
- Strawberry Baked Oatmeal
- Cookie Dough Overnight Oats
- How to Meal Prep Oatmeal
- Chocolate Baked Oatmeal
- Leftover Oatmeal Cookies
- Lemon Blueberry Overnight Oats
2. Chia Pudding
Chia seeds for runners are a nutrition powerhouse. Hence, chia pudding is another healthy breakfast idea for runners.
It can be made in advance (like the night before), and you can add in your favorite fruits, nuts and add-in’s, making it highly personalized.
Adding oats can help increase the carbohydrate content, and adding protein powder can give it a big protein boost.
3. Eggs and Toast
While the protein isn’t necessarily fueling your run, the toast provides the carbohydrates that are.
Plus, we know eggs for runners are great because they are so high in nutrients, and protein that will help after your run for your recovery.
Egg muffins can also be great for out-the-door breakfasts, or even to keep in your car after you finish your long run.
Add some veggies for phytonutrients and antioxidants.
4. Bagel or Frozen Waffles
Bagels are carbohydrate superstars and always an easy-to-digest breakfast option for runners.
Not a bagel fan? Try an english muffin or a couple of frozen waffles.
For some protein/fat, pair with yogurt or cream cheese, a hard boiled egg.
5. Breakfast Hash
A breakfast hash can be a great, flavorful way to enjoy breakfast before or after a run.
Toss in your favorite veggies, eggs, beans, spices and more. This vegan sweetpotato kale hash is great for inspiration – but adding eggs and taking away veggies may be your hash of choice.
6. Greek Yogurt
If you can stomach high-protein greek yogurt before a run, adding some cereal, granola and/or fruit can be a great vehicle to get in those carbohydrates.
Opt for a low fat version to reduce risk of GI problems and discomfort.
A bowl of cereal is a no-prep, easy breakfast before a run. While dairy, soy or pea milk will give you protein, using any milk that you like and tolerate is still a good option.
8. Breakfast Tacos
Breakfast tacos on tortillas are a great savory breakfast choice with a balance of carbs, protein and fat.
Load up extra on the carbs with tortillas, potatoes or sweetpotatoes.
If you have a sensitive stomach, omit spices and high-fat options, like high fat meats, bacon, avocado, cheeses. Or, save them for recovery for after your run.
If you’re into quickbreads, like banana bread, that can be a great option for breakfast before a run. Pair it with some peanut butter or yogurt for protein, and a fruit on the side!
Personally, I love this sweetpotato chocolate chip bread because you’re getting some veggies in there, but also plenty of antioxidants.
If you’re someone who can’t stomach solid foods in the morning before a run, relying on liquids can be a great way to get in carbohydrates, calories, electrolytes and fluids.
Greek yogurt smoothies may work well for some, and may be too heavy for others.
You can also simply blend milk or juice, frozen fruits, oats, and/or a protein powder to personalize your needs.
What If I Have No Appetite In the Morning?
If you have no appetite in the morning, eating breakfast before a run may be something you need to train yourself on.
Some people are morning people, others aren’t. If you aren’t used to eating in the morning, it may take some time to train your stomach and metabolism.
First off, drinking water first thing to rehydrate is always a good idea to get things moving, and also to prevent dehydration on your run.
You can start with something small, like half of a banana.
See how that sits before your run, and you can slowly work your way up to a whole banana, and then a banana with toast and peanut butter.
If you still choose to run on an empty stomach, it’s important to refuel immediately after your run to refill your glycogen stores.
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- Clayton DJ, Barutcu A, Machin C, Stensel DJ, James LJ. Effect of Breakfast Omission on Energy Intake and Evening Exercise Performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2015 Dec;47(12):2645-52. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000702. PMID: 25970668.
- Pollitt E, Mathews R. Breakfast and cognition: an integrative summary. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998 Apr;67(4):804S-813S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/67.4.804S. PMID: 9537633.
- Thomas DT, Erdman KA, Burke LM. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016 Mar;116(3):501-528. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2015.12.006. Erratum in: J Acad Nutr Diet. 2017 Jan;117(1):146. PMID: 26920240.