What you eat before a run matters – go out underfed and you might hit that wall well before you think. If you’re planning on running long and strong, try these simple but delicious recipes that are packed with slow-release energy and muscle-loving nutrients.
What you eat before a long run matters. I can trace some of my worst weekend runs to eating an insuffient breakfast or the wrong kind of meal before setting out – resulting in feeling groggy, tired and ill. Although it varies from person to person, my rule of thumb (as an ultra-marathoner) is that you can get away with eating nothing or very little up to 10K (at a gentle pace), but anything over that distance, over an hour or at any great speed requires proper fuel. So, what kind of fuel is best? Again, it depends on your constitution. Cereal, for example, doesn’t work for me because I can’t digest it properly (one word: regurgitation), but overnight oats is fine. Someone else will swear by muesli to get them through a session. For most of us, however, carbs are king.
When we run, our main source of fuel is glycogen. That’s the stuff that gets our muscles working and allows our brains to process what’s happening. While you can run on a low-carb diet, it seems counterproductive when the body prefers carbs as a source of fuel; is it really worth putting yourself through pain just to stay in ketosis (if you’re a low-carber)? The great thing about running is that it forces you to put performance over aesthetics. If you want to run strong and long, you need good quality, slow-release carbs – it’s that simple. Add onto that a good dose of antioxidents, a little protein and some good fats to keep you feeling fuller and more energised for longer, and you’re onto a winning combo.
Forget your boring bowls of cereal and try these five pre-run breakfasts. They’re packed with muscle-friendly fuel as well as anti-inflammatory properties and vitamins. Oh, and they taste delicious too!
1. Strawberry crunch granola
Crunchy, quick and delicious, homemade granola is so simple and often much better for you than shop-bought versions. This one is gluten-free but if you can eat gluten, you can use ordinary oats. Add whatever else you like to this recipe – you might prefer adding more fruit or different seeds.
200g gluten-free oats
50g sunflower seeds
50g pumpkin seeds
100g slithered almonds
1 tbsp coconut sugar
4 tbsp coconut oil
3 tbsp maple syrup/date syrup
50g freeze-dried strawberry pieces
Bowl of Nush Almond Milk Strawberry Yoghurt to serve.
Preheat the oven to 160° while you get started on the granola.
Place the oats, seeds, nuts and coconut sugar in a bowl before adding the wet ingredients.
Bake for 15 minutes, checking the granola half way, until it’s golden brown in colour.
Leave to cool completely (that’s very important if you want crunchy granola) before adding the strawberreis.
Toss well and store in an airtight jar for up to three weeks.
Serve on top of the yoghurt, or have a bowl of granola with a dollop of yoghurt on top!
2. Chocolate and almond milk muffins
If you don’t have to eat a lot before a run – particularly if you’re running later in the day. Maybe you already ate breakfast and just need a little energy boost, or perhaps you’re the sort of sophisticated breakfast-er who likes to have umpteen small things going on. Whatever your situation, muffins are always a good choice, and these bad boys are super easy, great for making ahead of time (hello, Sunday activity!) and are packed with plenty of nut power. Of course, you could always wait ‘till you come back from your run to have a hot cup of tea and a muffin – the perfect recovery.
1 cup almond milk (like Nutty Bruce Activated Almond M*lk)
2 cups plain flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp crunchy almond butter
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup Pico Super Dark Chocolate
Preheat the oven to 180 C.
Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray and set aside.
In a medium bowl combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nut butter.
Combine the almond milk, sugar, oil, and vanilla extract, whisking together until the sugar has completely dissolved.
Add the wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix together.
Break up the chocolate into pieces and fold into the dough.
Spoon the batter into the prepared baking sheet so that muffin moulds are two-thirds of the way full.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until lightly brown and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean .
Remove from oven, let cool and enjoy!
3. Simple overnight oats
This is what I eat before every long run. It’s so simple, so filling and does the job. Add more milk to make it more runny, less if you like it a little more firm!
1 cup porridge oats
1 tsp chia seeds
1 cup oat milk
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp nut butter (I use ManiLife deep roast)
1 tsp cacao nibs
1 tsp flaked almonds
Place your oats and chia into a Tupperware box.
Add the milk and maple syrup before giving it a good stir.
Mix in your nut butter – it might be a little lumpy but is there anything better than getting a nougat of nut butter in your oats?
Pop the Tupperware top on and put the container in the fridge.
Leave overnight to soak.
The next morning, see how firm or runny it is and add more milk if it needs it.
Sprinkle the cacao nibs and almonds on top – and more nut butter if you want.
4. Baobab breakfast semolina porridge
Baobab is a fruit that has been lauded for having loads of different health benefits, including balancing sugar levels, reducing inflammation and improving gut health. It’s also high in vitamin C (one tablespoon of baobab powder contains half of your vitamin C RDA), as well as potassium, calcium, magnesium, B vitamins, fiber and protein. It’s about as close to a “superfood” as you can get. So, here’s an awesome baobab breakfast recipe from Binta’s Kitchen (from whom you can buy baobab powder). Binta is from northern Nigeria where baobab grows and is prized for its nutritional and medicinal qualities.
2 cups milk (plant-based or dairy)
1 cup warm water
3 tbsp baobab powder
3/4 cup of semolina
Handful of dried nuts and fruits (shredded coconut, almonds, figs and/or goji berries all work well)
Drizzle of maple syrup
Put your semolina into a bowl.
Gradually add the milk and water to the semolina and whisk.
Keep whisking until smooth.
Add your baobab powder (we used Binta’s own) and whisk into the mix.
Serve and top with the dried fruits and maple syrup.
5. Protein yoghurt bowl
OK, so maybe you’re planning on running a 5K and you want some muscle-loving protein without the heavy feeling that can come from having a gut-full of oats, this is a good option. It’s a super simple recipe by Isabel Zapf, founder of Z-Ora, which uses the brand’s Clarity Bowl. That’s made up of: walnuts, almonds, oats, cashew nuts, dried apricots, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, dried dates, brazil nuts, freeze-dried blueberries, oat bran and cinnamon – so if you can’t get your hands on a bag, why not try making a DYI version? The Clarity Bowl is great because it’s packed with 15g of plant protein and omega-3 fatty acids, loads of vitamin E (protecting the cells from oxidative stress) and magnesium (important for protecting the nervous system).
50g Z-Ora Clarity Bowl (or your DYI mix!)
150g organic soya yoghurt
1 spoon almond butter
Some additional cinnamon powder to spice
Mix the soya yoghurt with the Clarity Bowl.
Chop a banana over it.
Stir in a spoon of almond butter.
Sprinkle some additional cinnamon over it and enjoy
For the most health benefits, prepare your bowl the night before (as you would with overnight oats) as soaking can increase how well your body absorbs valuable nutrients from the nuts and seeds.
Want more simple and nutritious recipes? Make sure you check out the rest of our meal ideas in the SWTC library.
Images: Getty / supplied by brands.
Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.
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