If you’re the kind of person who enjoys nothing more than to pound the pavement for hours at a time, then you also know that your body needs the proper fuel before you ask it to take on such a monumental feat. But if running is the big party, then breakfast is the pregame, and you need to make it count. “Get a few runners chatting and soon one of them will mention their favorite part of the sport—the eating,” jokes Kathleen Lisson, a personal trainer and certified running coach based in San Diego. And when it comes to peak performance, not all breakfasts are created equal. We asked Lisson and Meghan Ryan, an Eating Psychology and movement coach, Equinox trainer, and founder of Shine On Running for tips for the perfect start to your run, whether you’re a casual jogger or a mega-marathoner.
For a short run: Keep the balance
For all runs, you want to balance monounsaturated fats, protein, and carbs to keep your energy up. But if you’re just doing a quick jog around the block (let’s say around 30-45 minutes), you’ll want something fairly light but packed with protein.
Ryan suggests a small but mighty breakfast of Ezekiel toast (because sprouted bread has a lower sugar content and is easier to digest) with a nut butter (peanut, almond, or coconut works fine), with half a sliced banana and a little cinnamon sprinkled on top. Why cinnamon, besides the fact that it’s insanely delicious with a PB+B? “It actually helps fight inflammation,” Ryan says.
She also recommends eating at least an hour before your run so your stomach has time to digest everything first. (Plus, no one in the history of running has ever said, “Why yes, I quite love running with my tummy uncomfortably full!”)
Lisson suggests a slight twist on that. “Why not try ‘The Elvis,’” she says, “and enjoy a peanut butter and banana sandwich just the way the King of Rock and Roll liked.” Next step: queue up Mr. Presley on your Spotify and get “all shook up.”
For a medium-to-long run: Invest in some fat
“Leaning more toward including a higher ratio of fats than carbs in your meals can stimulate your body's usage of fats for energy in your runs versus carbs only,” Ryan says. The result? “You feel stronger, have more stamina, and you’re building leaner body mass over time and lowering inflammation.”
For a run of around an hour (and some change), she suggests a half avocado, sliced and put on sprouted bread, with a hard-boiled egg on the side. That gives you some carbs for immediate energy, with the high-fat content of the avocado and egg helping you go the (mid) distance.
For a crazy-long run: Smoothies all the way
There are marathon runners, and then there are the people who run 50 or even 100 miles in a go. For these ultrarunners, a bowl of oatmeal just won’t cut it.
“Ultrarunners have to focus on getting enough calories and giving their stomach easily digestible food,” LIsson says. That means something simple and uncomplicated like a smoothie. Ryan likes a “greens and blues” smoothie of frozen spinach, blueberries and/or açai, half a banana, a tablespoon of coconut oil or butter and a tablespoon of chia seeds. For extra protein, Ryan adds a powder (she likes ALOHA’s vegan vanilla for a longer-burning energy).
No matter if you’re taking a jog around the block or preparing for a marathon, Lisson says it’s important to take your time eating by practicing mindfulness. “Don’t wolf it down in a few quick bites,” she says. Instead, “envision a relaxing, effortless workout as you slowly chew (or sip) and savor your meal and feel the effect that mindful eating has on your digestion and your morning run. Then put on those obnoxious neon running shoes and have some fun!”