Eating Before Your Morning
RunBy Julie Upton
Runner's World Online
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The alarm sounds, and you roll out of bed
and into your running shoes. Within minutes, you are out the door cruising
around the neighborhood. Nothing can stop you--except maybe that dead feeling
in your legs. And that empty feeling in your stomach. And the fact that no
matter how hard you push, your normal nine-minute pace quickly stalls into a
laborious 10-minute-plus shuffle.
Often times it's a mystery why a
good run goes bad. But any nutritionist can tell you in just two words what's
going on in a dead-leg morning slog: no breakfast. "Running in the morning
without eating something is like driving a car on fumes," says Jenna
Bell-Wilson, R.D., a nutrition and exercise instructor at the University of New
Mexico in Albuquerque. According to Bell-Wilson, when you run in the a.m.
without eating breakfast, your pace will feel harder than it is, you won't be
able to reach higher intensities, and you'll burn fewer calories as your body
goes into conservation mode from the lack of fuel in your system.
all happens because, unless you're a midnight snacker, you've been fasting for
nine to 12 hours between dinner and sunup. During this time, your muscle and
liver glycogen and blood-glucose levels drop--all crucial energy sources that
fuel your running. By eating shortly after you awake, you break the fast and
begin to top off your energy stores. With a full tank, your body is then primed
Reams of research have confirmed that breakfast eaters,
whether they run or not, are healthier and trimmer than people who blow off
breakfast. Studies show that morning eaters are better able to manage their
weight, mostly because they're less likely to become ravenous, and therefore
overeat later in the day.
Breakfast also helps control blood-sugar
levels, which increases your mental acuity and improves mood. And researchers
are studying how certain foods eaten at breakfast may affect our hormones and
ultimately help prevent chronic diseases.
Some fast runners even
attribute their breakthrough performances to their a.m. meal. Marathoner Dan
Browne, who'll be representing the United States at the Olympics this summer,
fuels up on breakfast before every big event. "I ran my fastest marathon after
eating store-bought rice pudding and coffee," says Browne. "I'll be looking for
rice pudding in Athens this summer. Normally though, I have coffee, a banana,
and a Clif Bar."
Breakfast foods that work for one runner--rice
pudding, say--may not sit well with another. Most runners need to experiment to
find out which foods work best for them. "My favorite breakfast is black tea
with milk and sugar, and a plain bagel, half with cream cheese and half with
peanut butter and jelly," says middle-distance runner and two-time Olympian Amy
The American College of Sports Medicine and the American
Dietetic Association recommend eating a high-carbohydrate, 400- to 500-calorie
meal two or three hours before exercise. Jennifer Toomey, Olympic hopeful and
U.S. record holder in the 1000 meters, cooks herself a hearty breakfast every
morning. "Pretty much every day, I'll have two fried eggs, two slices of
whole-wheat toast, OJ, and coffee," she says. That's fine if you have the time
before you run, but it's not practical for early morning runners. If that's
you, tailor your breakfast to your workout. A mini meal or snack of 100 to 300
calories is plenty for runs of up to an hour at a moderate pace. Just 16 ounces
of sports drink, one energy gel, or eight ounces of your favorite juice will do
Whatever calorie count you're aiming for, the best
breakfast foods are rich in complex and simple carbohydrates and high-quality
protein, with smaller amounts of healthy fats. This combination of nutrients
will set you up for better running no matter what time of day you head out.
What's For Breakfast
Here are five quick mini-breakfasts,
ranging from about 200 to 400 calories, that deliver plenty of carbohydrates,
plus protein and good fats to keep your energy levels higher, longer.
Stone-Wheat Crackers with Nut Butter--Spread a thin layer of almond, cashew, or
good ol' peanut butter on four whole-wheat crackers.
Replacement Beverage--If you're not interested in solid food in the morning,
grab a meal in a bottle, such as those by Snapple or Slim-Fast.
Oatmeal á la Rice Cooker--Rice cookers make great old-fashioned oatmeal
and will cook on a timer so that it can wake you up when it's finished cooking.
For added protein, top it off with a dollop of yogurt or peanut butter.
Two Handfuls of Trail Mix--Choose one that contains nuts, fruit, and some
cereal or pretzels. This amount packs more than 250 calories, but offers a good
combination of fat, protein, and carbohydrates.
energy bars make a decent breakfast. Look for one with at least 200 calories
and 6 grams of protein. Most PowerBars, Cliff Bars, or Balance Bars will fit
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