One of the questions I’m asked the most often as a marathon runner is what I eat before all my morning long runs. We’ve all had those runs (no pun intended) where our stomach starts churning and the car or home is miles away. The key is to find the right foods that fuel you with energy, but keep your stomach feeling good. Let’s keep you on track by talking about what to eat before a morning long run.
The best foods to eat before a morning long run are ones that are easy on your stomach but have enough calories to provide you with the energy you need to run well. Some of the best foods to eat include easy to digest grains, lower fiber fruits, and nut protein (for a total of 200 – 300 calories).
Here we’ll cover what you should be eating before your morning long run as your breakfast, but we’ll also get into what works well as meal the night before. Because what you put in your body needs to fuel you while also keeping you feeling your best.
What to Eat the Night Before the Morning Long Run
We’ll get into the breakfast you should be eating before heading out for your morning long run, but when you’re getting out near sunrise, what (and when) you eat the night before matters, too. Since that will come first, we’ll start there.
(By the way, there will always be the people who can get away with not worrying about what they’re eating beforetheir big run or timing it correctly. But they’re in the minority.)
Here’s what to eat the night before a morning long run so you wake up feeling energized and ready to tackle all those miles.
Best Dinner to Eat the Night Before a Long Run
So, yes, we’re just talking dinner here because that’s going to be the last thing you eat the night before your long run. You don’t need any extra snacks to tide you over til morning (and that includes dessert – sorry).
When creating a dinner plan that works well for you, think about having these four things on your plate:
- Lean Protein – (Skip the fatty steak the night before a long run!)
- Easy to Digest Carb – You can dress these up with oil and spices, but take care with any dairy – some tolerate it great while others do not
- Vegetables – Cooked vegetables will lower the fiber content and make them easier to digest
- A bit of healthy fat – This can be what you grill your chicken in, a dressing, etc.
And if you just HAVE to have something sweet (trust me I get it!) finish off that dinner with a small handful of your favorite fruit.
Here are a few go-to dinners I enjoy that could work well for you, too.
Dinner Idea 1: Chicken, sweet potato (with ghee or butter), sautéed spinach with avocado oil and garlic
Dinner Idea 2: Pork chop (trim most of the fat), sheet pan roasted white potatoes and carrots
Dinner Idea 3: Tilapia with lemon, white rice and green beans
If you are a vegetarian, feel free to swap out the proteins for one that you know works for your body and that you digest easily.
I personally love a hot meal for dinner, but a salad with protein, greens, tomatoes, avocado, cucumbers and nuts/seeds can be a great meal, too. Even soups with the right balance can work.
You will find what feels right to you with a bit of trial and error, but use my suggested guidelines as your base and you should be good to go! (And don’t forget to be drinking lots of water, too.)
Timing the Night Before Long Run Meal
So what time should you eat this healthy and well thought-out meal of yours?
Instead of giving you an exact time of night to eat it, such as 6:30, it makes a lot more sense to work backward from when you plan to head out for your run.
Plan to have your meal completely eaten around 12 hours before you plan to start your long run. This means if you’re going to head out by 6:30 am, you want your dinner completely eaten by around 6:30 pm the night before.
Now don’t fret if it’s 30 minutes earlier or later, just keep it within that range. This will give you plenty of time to digest that dinner (and hopefully rid your body of the leftover waste) before you leave for your long run after you wake up.
What to Eat the Morning of the Morning Long Run
For your morning meal you’re looking to create a combination of easy-to-digest carbohydrates mixed with a bit of protein. A 3:1 ratio is a good starting point, but it doesn’t need to be exact.
This is a mini-breakfast, by the way. You’ll be consuming carbs during your long run, so you don’t need the full meal deal here. About 200 – 300 calories is perfect.
(Before we talk food I KNOW many of you are already wondering about coffee. Yes, you can have your coffee – I write all about that here.)
For your easy-to-digest carbohydrates, those can come from white bread options or a gluten-free whole grain such as oatmeal. Fruits also fit into this category, just keep it to a minimum and/or go for the lower fiber options. As for protein, ideally, you’ll want to steer clear of meat. Nut proteins are the way to go (egg whites can work well, too).
Here are some great mini-breakfast combos to try (alongside a glass of water, of course):
Mini-breakfast #1: One piece of white toast slathered with peanut butter and a bit of jelly
Mini-breakfast idea #2: 1/2 bagel with peanut butter and 1/2 a banana
Mini-breakfast idea #3: RX bar (my favorites are Peanut Butter, Peanut Butter and Chocolate and Vanilla Almond – I’d recommend getting a sampler pack if you want to give them a try)
So that last one is what I eat before every single long run. It has worked for me for the last three years and I don’t plan to switch it up. I usually don’t eat the entire bar…5/6 of it is just about right for me. RX bars are made completely of whole foods that give the protein, good fat, and carbs you need before a run.
One caveat about RX bars, however, is that the dates in them are a high fiber fruit. If you know this won’t sit well with you or it doesn’t work the first time you try it, choose something else!
Lastly, oatmeal (not the sugary packet kind) is something I know that a lot of runners love to eat before their long runs (try mixing in some nuts and a bit of fruit). But since this is a whole-grain and higher in fiber, if this is your choice, you’ll want to err on the side of a longer duration of time between your breakfast and your long run than shorter.
On that note, let’s talk about when to eat your mini pre-long run breakfast.
Timing the Morning Long Run Meal
Ideally you should be eating your breakfast over an hour before you head out for your long run.
This is because it gives you time to digest it and get in that bathroom pit stop before you head out. But, it’s also not so long that your body still isn’t able to utilize those calories for another 45 minutes – 1 hour (which is when you can start taking your mid-run nutrition.)
If you are finding that you’re still feeling uncomfortable on those long runs, try eating your breakfast closer to 2 hours before your long run. And if you don’t have time for that, cut down the amount you’re eating for breakfast and double check that you’re consuming easy to digest carbs (white not whole-grain).
Some people can get away with eating only about 30 – 45 minutes before their long run.
I have personally been doing this long enough to be able to get away with eating my RX bar even within 30 minutes of heading out the door. Whether it’s the mix of nutrients in the bar, the number of calories, or that my body has adjusted to being able to get through a long run without needing to go #2, this just works for me.
I do this because I don’t WANT to get up 1-2 hours before my long run – especially in the summer months when I have to be out the door before 6 am. This could work for you, but it’s better to get your breakfast in your body at least an hour before you leave for your long run IF YOU CAN.
Though the tips I’m giving you are sound and will work for most people, every single body is different. A lot of figuring out your nutrition is trial and error and once you find something that works don’t change it!
What Foods to Avoid Before a Long Run
For every great food to eat before your morning long run is a bad food to eat before a long run. I’m sure you already have a food in mind that you know puts your stomach in knots even when you’re not running (or gives you lots of gas)…these are the ones you need to keep off the menu.
High fiber and high-fat foods should be avoided before any long run. This is because they can wreak havoc on sensitive stomachs. The goal is to avoid the need to hunt up a bathroom!
The foods you want to avoid as your mini-breakfast and perhaps even the night before include:
– whole-grain bread and bagels – Perhaps you’ve always been taught to reach for the whole-grain option over white (whether it be bread, rice, or pasta) but these can make you feel way too full and sluggish on a run.
–high-fat animal proteins like red meat and bacon – I’m not sure who would think this would be a good idea before an early morning run, but I have to say it (for all the bacon lovers, I’m sure)
–high fiber fruits – (these are OK in small quantities)
–green vegetables like broccoli and Brussel sprouts – extremely healthy, yes, but not a good choice before a long run
–beans – the musical fruit…need I say more?
–spicy foods – this can lead to heartburn and an irritated stomach
And for the love, runners, please don’t eat a huge breakfast. You.will.feel.terrible.
Can I do a long run on an empty stomach?
Most people wouldn’t fathom running for many miles without eating something first. But for runners who have a lot of digestion issues or for runners who are trying to teach their body to burn fat for fuel, you might be curious whether it’s advised to do a long run on an empty stomach.
You can do a long run on an empty stomach if it’s an easy-paced long run and you have experience completing short runs on an empty stomach. But this should only be done a few times per training cycle and is usually best done under the advisement of a running coach.
But this is also a pretty big subject with a lot of factors at play, which is why I devoted an entire article to fasted running. In short, it is possible to do a long run on an empty stomach, but it is not for everyone and is best left to experience distance runners.
Here are a few caveats if you’re thinking of trying it:
1.) Test this out on short runs first. Do not attempt a long run on an empty stomach when you’ve never had success with it on a short, easy run. After it’s gone well for several shorter runs, then you can try it for a longer run.
2.) Only do a long run on an empty stomach if it’s entirely easy paced. (You may see these on your schedule as LSD (long slow distance) or to be completed at “conversational pace.” Why? Because in order to do any quality/speed running within your long run will require energy that comes from breakfast an/or calories taken in during the run.
3.) Always take back up nutrition with you just in case. You may go out on your long run thinking you’ll have no issue completing it on an empty stomach only to find your energy is too low and you feel faint. If this happens you should take your emergency nutrition immediately (and perhaps consider cutting the run short.)
4.) Don’t forget the water and electrolytes. You will still need to be fully hydrated while running and taking salt tablets at opportune times along your run will make sure you have proper electrolyte balance.
And remember, just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you should. Getting expert advice from a coach or nutritionist before trying a fasted long run is best so they can determine if it’s the right choice for you.
Finalizing your Pre-Long Run Nutrition Game Plan
Don’t be searching your cupboards last-minute to see if you have the right foods to fuel your run and keep you feeling energized. Planning ahead is key. And if your nutrition ends up not making you feel good on your long run, don’t fret. Just take some time to reassess and figure out what you could do differently the following week. And once you’ve got it, stay consistent with that night before and morning of nutrition and you’ll have it made come marathon race day.
Now, are you wondering what to eat DURING your long run? Go check out my article, “Long Run Nutrition: Foods to Eat During Your Marathon,” to get that all squared away.