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morning workout fuel suggestions?

i start a new job in roughly a month, which will significantly shuffle my workout schedule. i would like to run before i go to work, but such an endeavor inevitably requires you to have a good amount of energy quickly after you wake up.

so what i need are suggestions from you chowhounders: what do you eat to quickly have something on your stomach, refuel your body's energy, and get going in the morning? i'm planning on waking up at roughly 6am, and will only have an hour or so for whatever i eat to settle and give me some energy to burn.

my morning runs are intense--usually 1-1.5 hours, sometimes with some lifting--and so it will need to be quite a special breakfast (quick, easy on the stomach, energy-providing).

any help?

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  1. Egg whites, a banana or a Tablespoon of peanut butter?
    Everyone I talk to says you don't need to eat before your workouts, it's more important to eat after them.

    2 Replies
    1. re: rabaja

      i wake up pretty hungry, and i definitely need the energy pre-workout. i have also read that the post workout snack is really important, but if i didn't put something on my stomach first thing in the morning before a 1.5 hour run i don't think i'd be able to finish.

      1. re: beelzebozo

        I agree that it would be hard to eat a huge breakfast BEFORE a run but I do understand needing something. Maybe a bowl of cereal and some fruit (something light that won't feel heavy when you run). Then after the run, bring in all the rest of the components.

        Greek yogurt also sounds like a good idea.

    2. How about some greek yogurt (high in protein) with fruit and granola or nuts? Or a smoothie with protein powder in it?

      Homemade power bars? You can also make steel-cut oatmeal overnight. I do it in a slow cooker but have seen people describe other ways..I make a big batch once a week at eat leftovers on other mornings (it's even good cold in warm weather...add fruit, nuts, whatever you like).

      1. I'm in the same boat. A banana, plain bagel, English muffin, fruit shake with juice and a bit of yogurt, chestnuts, leftover pasta, an orange, or jook/congee. I'm in it more for quick digestion and lightness than taste (gasp).

        1. I don't usually eat before I run, but I understand that a 90-min. run might require some fuel. My runs w/o breakfast are typically <=45 min. But I do a long run on the weekends and will sometimes eat an apple or half a bagel before (and take a sports drink-water mixture along too--that makes a world of difference for me!) I'd go for the carbs. Maybe a smoothie that's heavy on the fruit and lighter on the protein?

          1. I'm a cyclist, not a runner, but have pretty much the same pre-work out meal needs. I nuke a potato and top it with butter and cheese, to get some protein and some fat, which slows absorption. Butter and salt also contribute salt. Post work out food is a combo of carbs and protein, to re-stock glycogen stores and re-build muscle.

            Also, check out yesterday's NY Times for a recipe for home made rice bars that elite-level cyclists eat. Oddly enough, it's in the style section, not the sports section.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Erika L

              i like this potato idea very much. i think my body craves carbohydrates before i run, and your tips about the butter and cheese are also choice.

              does anyone have any experience with energy bars of any kind? not speaking specifically about store bought ones, per se--homemade recommendations also welcome

            2. Mollie Katzen's "Sunlight Cafe" has some great options. Her recipes can be made with variations to bump up the protein. She's got all kinds of recipes for savory recipes, eggs, breads, etc...I am a big fan of this book.

              Here is one for bars:

              And...not exactly a protein "bar", but close!
              Banana protein bread:

              1. My husband really likes smoothies. For great energy a good one is a banana, tbsp cashew/almond/peanut butter, yogurt, and frozen fruit, blueberries are great.

                1. Pb on ww toast or waffle. But, if you're running intensely right after, it can cause GI issues to eat so closely to runs. I'll sometimes have a banana w/pb; luna bar or clif bar. You could also rehydrate w/ gatorade or another sports drink for energy.

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: chowser

                    the high fat content of the PB can sometimes be the culprit of that gastric upset. fat is digested very slowly, so best not to eat too much of it right before a workout - it also slows down the absorption of those critical glucose molecules from the carb portion of the meal.

                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                      I think it depends on the person. My friend eats a tablespoon of pb before a run because she found that carbs upset her stomach. She's fine on the pb. I just saw pb and honey packs at the running store. I've thought of giving them a try since I hate gu and too much sugar can give me problems. The reason I add pb or some fat/protein w/ the quick carbs before a run is to slow down the rise in the blood sugar and provide energy throughout a long run. If I were a sprinter or running shorter distances, I'd have a different strategy.

                      1. re: chowser

                        all this stuff depends on the person - nutrition is extremely individualized.

                        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                          But, what is the "standard" number of calories for the prerun meal? ;-)

                          1. re: chowser

                            lol! i know, i had that one coming.

                            actually, unless you're unusually large or small, you really should be fine with 100-150 calories as a pre-workout nosh, particularly if you're eating it less than 2 hours before your run. the post-workout meal is much more important in terms of nutrient balance and density.

                            but you already knew that ;)

                            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                              LOL, I couldn't resist. I've also found it's changed for me since I've gotten older. I used to get sick if I ate before a workout but now if I don't eat in the morning, I have no energy. I read some advice that some long distance runners get up a couple of hours before their run, to eat, and then go back to bed. That's not going to happen for me!

                              1. re: chowser

                                interestingly, chowser, i've actually done (and consistently do) the rise early, eat, and back to bed for a couple of hours routine. when i do, usually a big bowl of go lean crunch or some other hearty cereal can give me the energy to get through a run. it's a habit i'm trying to break, though, as i feel like i'm giving away my breakfast, if that makes any sense.

                                1. re: chowser

                                  i don't know how anyone does that...i can't go to bed immediately after eating.

                                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                    i've read the phrase "carb coma" elsewhere, and i think it applies in this instance. it just knocks me out.

                    2. I'm a runner, and I run in the mornings, and I'm the opposite - I can't eat before I run. However, my trainer was always suggesting I try and eat a little sweet potato before I ran and/or lifted (as I most often do them back to back). If you feel like you need a little protein, I'd sip a little Isopure with it as well, just because it so quickly empties from your stomach and gets into your system.

                      1. I alternate running and heavy lifting. I make heavy, concentrated coffee and store in the ref. Add cold milk and some sugar. It may be "psychological" since one can't really digest and put to use energy consumed immediately prior to workouts.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                          I used to go to 2-hour 6:30A kung-fu classes which were pretty intense. I found out that my performance was a lot worse eating before working out. It seemed that my body would divert energy to digesting the food rather than giving me the energy to make it through the class. I would just have some tea in the morning and eat breakfast after the class.

                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                            This is about 6 months late but I just wanted to note that your body switches from using mostly fat energy stores (which it does at rest) to using carbs immediately after ingesting them. It's not necessarily those same carbs you ingested, per say, but your body does become aware of the availability and switches to burning glucose as that glucose is replaced. So essentially it will immediately "unlock" some energy for use.

                          2. i've found it easier for me to carb-load the night before a nice long distance run. a hearty dinner of pasta and breads, and then in the morning a cup of juice and maybe a banana or two, and i'm good to go!

                            1. I need something before a morning run.

                              I love toasted Ezekiel bread with honey and sliced, dried figs.

                              1 Reply
                              1. Chocolate milk, scrambled egg sandwich on a bagel, a large banana and a cup of yogurt.

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  ipse...you can really eat all that *before* a run?

                                  i just can't do a workout on a full stomach. even when i was an avid cyclist and did centuries pretty much every weekend, i could never get used to eating a big breakfast before hitting the road. i would force myself to eat a small bowl of oatmeal with some protein powder in it about an hour before the ride.

                                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet


                                    I misread the post. That's what I would eat AFTER a run/workout.

                                    I don't eat anything before a run/workout.

                                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                      You need to ask him how he refuels during a marathon...;-)

                                      1. re: chowser

                                        Flat diet Mountain Dew and a Twinkie!

                                        It's actually for century rides ... it's just water during a long run.


                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                          Oh...I thought it was for marathon training. At least, that's what I told my friends when we were training, during a gu break. We decided you must be young for your system to handle that. Oops, I got deleted before and now this is an odd lying thread.

                                          1. re: chowser


                                            I actually find gu much harder on my digestive tracts. Maybe it's a genetic defect on my part ...

                                            A guy I used to ride with would constantly suck on Now & Later candies and chase them down with Orange Fanta soda ... I'm not sure I could stomach that ...

                                  2. When I trained for a long walk, (yes, I needed training for a Walk! but it was 3 consecutive days of walking several hours and I am not a jock), for convenience we ate Clif bars. Nothing to fall in love with but they did the trick and are definitely grab and go.

                                    At home I liked peanut butter toast and a little bit of plain yogurt with fruit, sometimes a little V-8 to drink. The key was to eat a very small amount of each so I still felt light, so maybe just one or even a half slice of toast. I agree that a workout as intense as yours would require something in the belly so your system has something to draw on. I could not do it on a totally empty stomach.

                                    I like the idea of yogurt smoothies, too. seems like it'd digest quickly and easily. And a cheesy potato? now that sounds good.

                                    I am so impressed by all you runners/lifters/cyclists!

                                    1. A Milky Way and a cup of coffee does it for me.

                                      1. I didn't like to eat before workout. Used to mix two tablespoons of freeze dried coffee into a glass of water to increase amount of fat in the bloodstream during workout. An hour and a half is a long run and its good to get your muscles used to burning fat.
                                        Sometimes I would freeze a juice box and leave it along my training route on the way out to be consumed later in the course of the run. The cold juice would be a refreshing and cooling pick up for the last couple of miles. It is well advised to avoid anything but liquids until your exercise is finished. Also important is what pace you are running. General rule is 100 calories per mile. 1.5 hours can be 5 or 15 miles.
                                        Don't forget to stretch after and wait a half hour before eating.
                                        I would eat oatmeal cooked with apricots before a marathon. That would be at least 2 1/2 hours before the race.

                                        1. Egg Beaters has a new product that adds a small amount of yolks to the whites. There is 1.5 grams of fat in a 1/4 cup serving but let me tell ya, it improves the taste dramaticly. They cook up so fast. Have a serving of Egg Beaters w/ yolk, a piece of whole wheat toast w/ peanut butter and a banana. Switch up the egg w/ yogurt on other days.

                                          To not eat before would be foolish. You've got to put something in your system, especially before a 1.5 hr run. Low blood sugar can do ugly stuff to your system. My PT says she often sees folks go down b/c they don't fuel up before a workout.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: lynnlato

                                            I agree low blood sugar is a problem, but I just cannot eat before a long run

                                            My solution is to fuel up the night before (usu. only run in the early mornings). I make sure to have a nice big dinner with good amounts of carbs and fat.

                                            If I have a good dinner, and my glycogen stores are replenished, I have no problems with a 1.5+ hour run.

                                          2. Ultimately, beelzebozo, you just need to listen to your own body. From the responses, I think you can see just how varied and diverse the "eating before the workout" thing is. Why don't you just try a few things (eating, not eating, eating carbs, eating protein) and see what works best for you? Human bodies differ and you just need to pay attention to yours!

                                            1. We've run a half-dozen marathons and countless half-marathons between us, and we're pretty regular morning runners (except when we've got a pressing deadline). Our breakfast of choice before a run is a half whole wheat English muffin with natural peanut butter and (if we have any in the house) a bit of Bonne Maman Four Fruits preserves.

                                              1. When I used to run I never wanted anything before the run, except maybe water. Now that I've switched over to rowing (at an absurdly early time of the morning) I always have a yogurt smoothie or kefir before the workout. I still get hungry before the end of the practice, but it's not as bad as it would be without anything. Drinkable yogurt is quick, digestible, and provides protein as well as quick carb energy (since I get the fruit-flavored, sweetened ones) for that early-morning get-going.

                                                1. i always have a spoonful of cottage cheese and then just eat a greek yogurt and an apple after. i find that my morning workouts are more comfortable when i only have a tiny bit of food in my stomach. the greek yogurt is a fantastic way to get some protein after without having to cook, and of course it's extremely portable too so i can eat it on the go.

                                                  1. I run every morning as well and I like to get my run started ASAP. I usually do the banana and peanut butter on wasa bread, or a handful of nuts and rasins, through trial and error, I found these kinds of food to give me energy and also not give u that feeling when your running that food is bouncing around in your stomach. Afterwards I do the greek yogurt and cereal and if I am in a protien mood, hardboiled eggs.