If you’re running for 30 minutes or less, you don’t need to eat before your morning run. Running at a moderate effort in a fasted state for this length of time has several health benefits, including blood sugar regulation and fat loss. This is supported by research from both Western science, as well as traditional Eastern medicine (specifically Ayurvedic).
Once you increase your running time to the one-hour mark, however, you’ll likely need to start adding some fuel. That’s where things get tricky. Your digestion system is drastically reduced while running, so you need to be careful about the quality and quantity of food you eat beforehand.
In order to remain in fat-burning mode and provide steady energy for a long period of time, you need to eat some fat. This might seem counterintuitive, but fats don’t make you fat. To the contrary, they are broken down more slowly than carbohydrates and therefore provide fuel for longer periods of time (ideal for your long run!). This is not to say that carbs are evil, however. Although it is not necessary to “carb load” before an hour-long run, a little bit of carb and fat can work fine together. Make sure you’re choosing more complex carbohydrates (like the ones I’ve listed below) than simple ones (like fruits and sweeteners like honey).
Below are some of my go-to pre-run fueling strategies. You’ll notice that I need coffee before I run 😉 Experiment and see what works best for you!
- 1 tablespoon of raw cream* or MCT oil in my coffee (Optional, add 1 scoop of cinnamon UCAN superstarch): ~70-150 calories
*Why “raw cream” you ask? Read this. I can tolerate this small amount of dairy beforehand, but dairy doesn’t agree with everyone. You can always substitute with coconut cream, but make sure it’s just cream and nothing with added sugar and other weird ingredients. You just want the pure fatty goodness!
- 1 spoonful of almond butter: ~90 calories
- 1 scoop of orange UCAN Superstarch mixed with 1 cup of water and this pre-workout formula from Onnit (it’s pricey, but chock-full of beneficial nutrients and super tasty, so I splurge on it when I need an extra kick): ~95 calories
- 1 egg + ½ small leftover sweet potato : ~175 calories
- 1 egg + ½ avocado on 1 thin slice homemade sourdough bread*: ~200 calories
*Be careful with bread, as gluten and fiber upset many people’s stomachs while running. My husband is a sourdough baker and does a long fermentation process, which breaks down the gluten and adds beneficial probiotics and B vitamins to the bread. See if there is a sourdough vendor at your local Farmer’s Market. If not, I’d recommend avoiding conventional bread, unless you find a low fiber gluten free one that doesn’t taste like cardboard.
- 1/3 cup oatmeal (prepare w/ 3/4-1C water) + 1 Tbsp of MCT oil + cinnamon (No sweetener! Sugars will make you crash and burn in 30-40 minutes): ~200 calories
All of these snacks are between 70 and 200 calories… not too much! I eat on the higher end if I wake up hungry or have a particularly long session ahead (longer than an hour and a half). Even if I’m not hungry, I’ll still have a little fat (some cream or MCT oil in the coffee, or a nibble of almond butter) to avoid a sudden crash in energy later. Women, especially, can risk dysregulating their hormones if they repeatedly engage in long fasted exercise, so be conscientious, ladies! If you notice changes to your regular menstrual cycle, you MUST eat more.
Comment below with questions or suggestions with your pre-run eating ritual.