I run at 5:30 in the morning and generally don’t eat anything. I’ve read that I shouldn’t run on empty. If there were just one food to eat—easily digestible—which one would you recommend?
I cannot recommend just one food because runners vary so much in their ability to tolerate pre-exercise food. Here are a few popular choices:
Banana, pear, melon, applesauce, canned peaches or any type of fruit
Swig of orange juice, cider, or fruit smoothie
Yogurt (withor without granola or berries)
English Muffin, toast, half or whole bagel (with or without peanut butter)
Oatmeal or any hot cereal
Small bowl of cold cereal (Cheerios, shredded wheat, Wheaties) with milk
Leftover (sweet) potato
Consuming anywhere from 100 to 300-400 calories of a carbohydrate-based food (fruit, vegetable, grain) that settles well will help you get more our of your workout. The amount you eat will vary according to the intensity of your workout (more intense = less food), your body size (bigger body = more food), and your personal tolerance to food. The benefit of enjoying a pre-run snack is to bolster your blood sugar, which can easily drop overnight while you sleep and leave you feel droopy and un-enthusiastic about your run.
Runners who eat a lot of food at night likely have a normal blood sugar level the next morning, enough to cover their fuel needs during the early morning workout. They can forgo the morning pre-run snack. But the problem with eating a lot at night is it can easily lead to fat gain. Hence, the wiser choice is to eat less at night and grab a pre-run snack.
You can eat as you run out the door; no need to get up earlier! As long as you will be exercising at a pace you can maintain for more than 30 minutes, your body can digest the food and put it to good use.
For more information: Chapter 9: Fueling Before Exercise in Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook