For some breakfast really is the most important meal of the day; failure to break their fast and they are of no use to anyone. Whilst for others, the mere thought of putting anything in their stomachs before midday, makes them feel queasy.
What about runners? When it comes to the running community it would appear, based on research, that consuming a balanced breakfast has a beneficial impact on performance. So if you are the type of person who normally does without, you might actually be putting yourself at a disadvantage.
A 2015 study highlighted the importance of the inclusion of breakfast for all athletes, including runners. The study reported that the omission of breakfast resulted in a lower energy intake, which consequently had a negative effect on high-intensity training later that evening (5 pm) even after consuming a larger lunch to make up the calorie deficit. In the study, the performance of the subjects who skipped breakfast was 4.5 percent worse.
In order for runners to deliver their best, one of the key inputs needs to be consistency in training. Only when a runner trains consistently over a period of time will they achieve progression and improvements in their performance. This involves ensuring the right fuel before, during and after training; as well as sufficient rest and recovery between sessions.
So what does the right fuel look like for runners?
When I start working with any new runner, there are a number of things to take into consideration when thinking about their nutritional strategy.
Four key things the nutritional strategy includes are:
1) Energy demands – what distance are they training for and what will this means with regards to the energy systems they will be trying to develop and adapt?
2) The mix of training sessions and intensities.
3) Their body composition goals.
4) Their Competition schedule.
From this initial information, I can begin to build a individualised plan, with the fundamental key being to tailor their nutritional intake to their training schedule.
This means fueling up with complex carbohydrates such as oats, potatoes – sweet and white, wholegrain breads, pasta, rice quinoa and couscous, before high-intensity training; this ensures that glycogen stores can be built and sufficient energy is available to the working muscles at a high-intensity.
On lower intensity and rest days, while carbohydrates should be consumed, they can be kept to a moderate intake – aiming for around a fist size portion at meal times.
Protein, while always thought of as an integral part of recovery, should be “pulsed” at regular intervals throughout the day.
This ensures an evener distribution throughout the day and studies demonstrate that muscle protein synthesis (building of muscles) is more efficient. As a rule of thumb, I tend to suggest a palm size portion at meals.
Dairy protein is particularly good for recovery immediately post exercise, as it contains the right composition of easily digestible carbohydrate and protein.
The final nutrients to add to the mix include fruits and vegetables to provide vitamins and minerals necessary for the efficient running of all the processes within the body. Also, essential fatty acids which ensure absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, important for preventing inflammation, muscular recovery and boosting the immune system.
So back to breakfast
One of the challenges faced by many of the runners I’ve worked with is ensuring a sufficient energy intake prior to their early morning training session and then the short time frame between recovery, getting to work and potentially their next run session later that day.
I always aim to provide runners with practical advice and one suggestion is my recipe for Blueberry Bircher Muesli. It can be prepared the night before, easy to digest and is also portable. So even if they do not feel able to eat it before their run, it can be packed and transported to work, and enjoyed at their desk. The combination of oats, fruit and Greek yoghurt make it a perfect pre or post-training option.
Blueberry Bircher Muesli recipe
Serves 1, preparation time: 10 minutes, plus overnight soaking. 5 minutes the following morning.
Compôte (makes 4 servings): 350g/12oz/21⁄2 cups blueberries
For the Bircher Muesli: 85g/3oz Blueberry Compôte 30g /1oz/heaped 1⁄4 cup rolled oats 170g/6oz/heaped 2⁄3 cup fat-free Greek yoghurt 2 tsp clear honey
1) Put the blueberries in a saucepan with four tablespoons of water over a medium heat. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down to low and simmer for 10 minutes until the blueberries are soft and slightly thickened.
2) Leave the compôte to cool, then transfer to a screw-topped jar and keep in the fridge overnight. It can be kept in the fridge for up to 3 days.
3) To make the muesli, put a quarter of the Blueberry Compôte (85g/30z) in a bowl, stir in the oats, cover and leave to soak in the fridge overnight.
4) The following morning, take the bowl from the fridge containing your muesli and Blueberry Compôte and stir in the yoghurt and honey and enjoy. If you are in a rush, pack it up and take it with you.
Nutrition facts (per serving) Calories 291 Carbohydrate 52.2g Protein 17.3g Fat 2.5g (of which saturates 0g).
About the Author
Renee McGregor RD SENr is a Performance Dietitian and author, who works with elite athletes, coaches and sport science teams to provide nutritional strategies to enhance performance and manage eating disorders.
She is the author of Training Food, Fast Fuel books and Orthorexia, and soon to be released Healthy eating goes bad.