Breakfast before or after morning run?
September 7, 2006 8:15 PM   Subscribe

In terms of boosting metabolism and promoting weight loss, should I eat breakfast before a morning jog or after? If after, immediately after or is an hour later ok?

I'm 35 year old former drunken slothlike fatass, but between biking, dieting, and sobering up, I've lost about 30 lbs in the past 2 years. (Most of the weight loss is from dieting, but the other things have obviously improved my health too.) I still want to lose another 15/20 lbs. I'm starting to add a morning jog to my routine, hoping to get in the habit of 20-30 minutes of jogging a few days a week. Always having breakfast has helped me a lot, and I understand its important because it lets your metabolism know you live in a time of plenty, not a time of famine. However, my routine is wake, shower, 20 min communte, breakfast, work. I've tacked the jog on at the beginning of that routine. By jogging on an empty stomach and not filling it for the better part of an hour, am I convincing my body that I'm in a time of famine and running from a predator first thing in the morning? I can't imagine cooking up some eggs then going running, would just a little pre-jog snack do the trick?

Obviously, my understanding of metabolism and exercise is rudimentary and fractured at best. Any advice and insights are welcome.
posted by Cranialtorque to Health & Fitness (38 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I am not a diet expert, just a runner. I always eat something before running. No need for something as heavy as eggs, but have some cereal or a granola bar. You will feel better running, and you will run better, and if that means you can run faster and therefore a longer distance in your 20 or 30 minutes, then you will burn more calories.

Metabolism probably plays into that, too, but I am no expert on the science of it.
posted by Airhen at 8:19 PM on September 7, 2006

I think if you are only running 20-30 mins it is not that big a deal. Hydration is more important. A glass of orange juice or chocolate milk or similar is probably good enough. I cycle about 30 mins each morning, pretty hard, and whether I eat first or not makes no difference, but I really notice if I'm dehydrated.
posted by unSane at 8:47 PM on September 7, 2006

This is totally from something I read a long time ago, so I don't have the cite to back it up, but I read that eating after exercise is a bad idea. After you exercise, your metabolism is going crazy, and the moment you put food in there, it slows down.

So yeah, I would eat before the run.
posted by unexpected at 8:50 PM on September 7, 2006

Anecdotally, I feel horrible if I eat before I run, even if it's a short run. (I do, of course, drink water before a run.)

On a less anecdotal note, the running magazines available on popular newsstands have, for the past year, consistently argued in favor of eating more or less immediately after you run (within 20 minutes).
posted by oddman at 8:54 PM on September 7, 2006

If you search google for "early morning fasted cardio", there is a theory going around that not eating before doing cardio promotes fat loss. I am not sure about the validity, but it might be something worth researching.

Congrats on the weight loss, btw.
posted by glip at 9:25 PM on September 7, 2006

I can't eat a thing at least an hour before running. But sometimes i can slip in a light smoothie that is well-blended. When eating after exercising, you want to load up on proteins, which should be gobbled up by your system before you start craving junk, to fill your empty stomach. So if I found myself in your routine, I'd take an apple, yogurt and granola to eat on the commute. If I waited for the better part of an hour to eat, I'd eat everything in sight and that would *not* promote health and weight loss.
My answer: Do whatever you can stomach, because that will help you to eat healthier.
Similar post
posted by iurodivii at 9:37 PM on September 7, 2006

The last time I went to a Body Pump class, I felt a little faint and asked the instructor about it. The first thing he asked was whether I'd had breakfast, and when I said I hadn't he chewed me out. So his opinion was that if you're going to be doing something vigorous, you need *something* to give you a little extra energy.

I've tried the morning jog thing too, and the only thing that works is getting up an extra half hour early and eating a granola bar right away, then giving that a little while to digest. It's hard to get up though...
posted by web-goddess at 9:50 PM on September 7, 2006

Like Airhen, I'm just a runner...

Everything I've read (mostly stuff from Runner's World or the folks who write for it) seems to indicate that eating within the first half-hour after your run is the key.

I can't remember the exact reasoning for this, but it goes something like this... If you eat before you run, the body will go into 'crisis' mode (the body says, "why are we running? what's chasing us?") and it stores the food you just ate as fat - it has no idea when the crisis will end, so it wants to store the food for as long as possible. Whereas, eating afterward signals that all is well -- maybe it has something to do with our ancestors exerting huge physical effort during the hunt, then relaxing with a good meal after a successful outing. The first half-hour after exercise is critical because that's when the muscles are most receptive to protein replenishment.

If you're worried about performance during exercise, then split your breakfast into two parts - eat something that's mostly carbs (a bagel or some toast) 15-20 minutes before the run, then eat the protein part of your breakfast when you're done (within an hour of when you get back). The carbs will get you through the run, then the protein will help rebuild the muscles. The important part to this is that you need to be careful to not wind up eating too much as a result of eating twice -- metabolism aside, weight loss is just a matter of burning more calories than you take in; keep in mind that you burn about 100 calories per mile. The first few times you do this, you'll probably feel terrible during your workout until your body gets used to running with something in your stomach.
posted by jknecht at 9:57 PM on September 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks. y'all... and sorry about the duplicate question. I don't really know why my search didn't turn up that damn near identical Q.

And glip, special extra thanks to you. Yr so nice.
posted by Cranialtorque at 9:58 PM on September 7, 2006

I have read and been told countless times that one should not eat breakfast before a morning run and afterwards wait at least an hour before consuming any calories if weight loss is the goal.

The reasoning is that your body has spent the energy from the previous days food overnight, so exercising on an empty stomach should tap into your fat stores. I suppose that the hour of waiting is taking advantage of the fact that your metabolism is still all revved up so your body will continue burning fat.

I definitely notice that it is a lot harder to do the same amount of exercise following this method, but I should have thought of that before I drank all of those beers this summer.
posted by hooves at 10:13 PM on September 7, 2006

I don't know anything about how it will affect your metabolism eating before vs after running early in the morning, but if you do eat before, I would recommend that it is something light, just so it doesn't upset your stomach. In my experience, carbs and breadier things work better. A bagel or something perhaps. In my experience, eggs before a run, as you mentioned, are bad. It gave me quite a tummy ache. Find whatever works for you. If it turns out that neither eating before or after is detrimental, I would recommend something like jknecht. Some carbs before, and some proteins after.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 10:31 PM on September 7, 2006

For a short run like that I don't think it makes much difference. If you feel peckish prior to the run have a little something to prevent a bonk or have your whole breakfast. As long as you are having something light like cereal, as opposed to say eggs and bacon (hardly diet food) you should be fine, at least I am. The bigger issue for me is that I am often up during the middle of the night wasting time on MetaFilter and then can't get up early enough to run or ride.
posted by caddis at 10:36 PM on September 7, 2006

jknecht has it for the most part, with a few more specific practical recommendations that might help with your schedule.

Since you are so rushed, you won't have time for much of a snack before the run - a half of a bagel or even a powerbar would be fine. If you can stomach a small bowl of cereal and have time for it, thats good too.

You want protein right after the run, and a shakes are super easy and you can just down it in the car during your commute. One scoop of whey protein is ~20g of protein, and decent brands will mix easy with water or milk. You can usually get a bunch of these bottles cheap anywhere, or order some of the shaker type bottles like this. You can even get five of them, put the whey in each at the beginning of the week, then just pour your mixer in before you leave the house. Shake it up and go.

Re: not eating before the run - this is not really too big of a deal, the main concern I'd have is having crappy runs since you will be in a fasted state.

Re: not eating for over an hour after the run - don't do it. Immediately after exercise is about the _only_ time where meal timing may really matter.

There is a time and a place for doing fasted cardio in the morning, and that time is when you pretty lean already and are trying to get rid of the last few stubborn pounds of fat. Since you have 15/20 lbs you want to get rid of, you aren't there yet.

Congrats on your progress so far, and keep it up!
posted by rsanheim at 10:39 PM on September 7, 2006

the protein rsanheim speaks of helps your muscles recover. Not necessary for a post jog, but quite helpful after a spirited run.
posted by caddis at 10:43 PM on September 7, 2006

True, it wont be quite as vital if its really just a leisurely jog. Most dieters don't eat enough protein as it is, though, so a shake in the morning is a good way to boost it. It will also provide more satiety thru the morning then the typical carb-heavy breakfast of many people.
posted by rsanheim at 10:47 PM on September 7, 2006

my one-hundred-twenty-five dollar per hour personal trainer, who I hated every single time I wrote a check to her but loved every other time I stepped onto the scale or looked into a mirror, regularly preached to me about the importance of eating a light snack half an hour to forty-five minutes before a run.

I never bothered to inquire as to the reason for this, I am so far up the ass of simplicity I view the world as a giant colon, but whenever I didn't, I had worse runs. which very well might be a placebo effect or a bad conscience but hey, the lady had a way with words.

she also had a derriere to die for.
posted by krautland at 10:48 PM on September 7, 2006

jknecht, am I mistaken or is a bagel somewhere in the neighborhood of one thousand calories? I'd find eating something like that somewhat counterproductive, in spite of the good intentions.

how about one of these 90-calorie special k bars?

alas, your stellar information speak to your knowledge and I am sure your physique is enviable.
posted by krautland at 10:52 PM on September 7, 2006

jknecht, am I mistaken or is a bagel somewhere in the neighborhood of one thousand calories?

I think you're mistaking the bagel for the mountain of cream cheese that traditionally go on the bagel.
posted by holgate at 11:59 PM on September 7, 2006

if you are trying to strip fat i would miss the pre jog snack.

then eat something about 20 mins after the run.

as other people have said hydration is far more important.
posted by moochoo at 3:40 AM on September 8, 2006

I used to have this exact same dilema [I'm a complete nooB to sports and fitness, but have been powerwalking/jogging for about a month now]. I found that if I didn't eat breakfast, I'd get lethargic and dizzy. If I did eat brekkie before exercise, I'd be too full and get nautious.

My solution was to split brekkie in half. First thing in the morning I stuff a slice of toast/jam and a coffee into me. Then 30 mins later I go for my jog. About an hour after returning, I have a bowl of cereal and juice as I dash out the door.

I find I dont snack on anything then until lunchtime, which always helps the waistline. And of course I'm in great condition for my jog.
posted by Chorus at 4:19 AM on September 8, 2006

jknecht, am I mistaken or is a bagel somewhere in the neighborhood of one thousand calories?

If a thousand calories is within cranialtorque's normal breakfast routine, then it doesn't matter. I wasn't suggesting to eat more - just to split up the morning food.

PS - forgot to offer congratulations on the weight loss.
posted by jknecht at 6:42 AM on September 8, 2006

The bagel discussion in this thread struck a chord with me, as I was eating a giant Dunkin Donuts bagel with cream cheese while I read it (a thousand freaking calories?!). So I checked the nutrition information on their website: 370 for the bagel, and 190 for the cream cheese.

Not a perfect breakfast, for sure. But (thank God) not 1000 calories. And that's a practically-nutritionally-devoid Dunkin Donuts bagel...

My advice is to do what makes you feel your best -- that won't discourage you from actually doing the running. Sometimes I find a bit of hunger drives me to work out harder -- but if you feel weak it probably affects your run. A granola bar a half an hour or so before cardio sounds palatable to me (I'm prone to nausea in the morning, for some reason -- especially pre-workout).

Another vote for the split-the-breakfast advice, I guess.
posted by penchant at 7:38 AM on September 8, 2006

Wow, what's with all the advice to eat bagels, powerbars, or orange juice? The point is to lose weight, remember. Your food choices are going to have just as big of an impact as the running, if not more. Therefore, you do not want to be eating sugary or starchy carbs, especially just by themselves. You need to be eating lean protein, fiberous fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats like nuts. Whether you eat this before or after a run is not such a big deal, go with what your body tells you.

An example of a light breakfast:
a couple eggs
an apple
a small handful of almonds
posted by Durin's Bane at 8:14 AM on September 8, 2006

370 for the bagel, and 190 for the cream cheese.

hold on - per serving size, the popular pitfall manufactors seem to enjoy printing on there, or the whole bagel? because that actually wouldn't be all that bad.

(this is another perfect example for the good old saying "don't believe your bosses bosses boss.")
posted by krautland at 8:41 AM on September 8, 2006

Carbohydrates are your friend. I disagree with the people who are advocating pure protein, sugar, and fat for breakfast. You need that complex carbohydrate to fuel your day.

Unless you are an Atkins person, then forget everything I've and everyone else has said nutritionally, pretty much forever, and send yourself into ketosis at will.
posted by zhivota at 10:06 AM on September 8, 2006

Response by poster: I have ketosis to thank for my original 30lbs or so of weight loss. (South Beach, not Atkins, to be precise.) That has really stalled out on me, thus the need to exercise more. (Surprising how much easier it was to lose weight when I was obese!) I rarely have a carb-heavy or sugar-heavy meal anymore in general. But a small bowl of high-fiber cereal or piece of fruit or even a little yogurt pre-run would probably be a good idea. Thanks for all the help!
posted by Cranialtorque at 10:40 AM on September 8, 2006

I saw an interesting story about a hot gal that had lost alot of weight by eating backwards. She ate her supper in the morning, lunch at lunch and a small breakfast for supper. That way she had all day to burn off the majority of the calories.
posted by stinkfinger at 10:40 AM on September 8, 2006

krautland -- I understand your skepticism. I doublechecked to verify the serving size. Indeed, it says "serving size: 1 bagel" and "serving size: 2 oz." (for the cream cheese, which indeed is the size of the little cup they give you). I was surprised (I truly expected a thousand calories).

Of course, I haven't taken outright lying into consideration -- but without further research I am in no position to point the accusatory finger at the Dunkin.
posted by penchant at 11:17 AM on September 8, 2006

I'm not a runner, but I have lost weight by watching what I eat and exercising, so I guess that makes me about as qualified to comment as anyone else in that thread.

I always find exercise more difficult if my stomach is completely empty (i.e. very first thing in the morning), and I don't delude my self that "feeling more difficult" means that I must be burning more calories. I strongly suspect any metabolic effect of timing your eating around exercise will be very small -- if there was a big effect then the advice in the thread would show more consistency than the diametrically opposed opinions that have been offered.

You will also note that all the advice you have received is anecdotal, based on vaguely remembered reading, as related by a personal trainer and so on. No cites or links to real research.

My favorite example of this kind of small effect blown out of proportion is the claim that exercise has an effect on metabolic rate that persists after you stop exercising. It's often bandied about as a wonderful benefit of exercise, a sort of bonus enhancing your efforts to loose weight. If you look at the research you find the effect is real but small, AND it is only found at levels of exercise that are beyond most non-athletes. If I remember correctly, the effect occurs after exercising at greater than 70% VO2 for more than 90 minutes -- way more intense and longer than most of us normal people manage. This doesn't stop people talking as though all you need is to go for a 20 minute jog to boost your metabolism way up for the rest of the day -- it's just self delusion.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 11:26 AM on September 8, 2006

rsanheim, can you cite any evidence for your assertion that "There is a time and a place for doing fasted cardio in the morning, and that time is when you pretty lean already and are trying to get rid of the last few stubborn pounds of fat"? I've heard similar, but I'd like to read more about it, mainly since this is the situation I feel I'm in. Do you have a specific source for this? Have you had any success with this approach? Just curious :-)

People have suggested eating a small snack before running. If the theories about burning fat due to exercising while in a "fasted" state are true, this would seem to be counter-productive. I'd also suggest that it could lead to problems: you'll be digesting the food for maybe and hour after you ate it. This will draw blood into the gut, and hence away from the legs. Personally, I'd avoid it. You won't have the fuel for a huge workout, but the "fasted-running" technique seems incompatible with that anyway.
posted by ajp at 11:43 AM on September 8, 2006

People have suggested eating a small snack before running. If the theories about burning fat due to exercising while in a "fasted" state are true, this would seem to be counter-productive.
It is only counter-productive if you would do the same amount of exercise with or without the snack, or the difference in fat burning is really significant. The difference in fat burning is most likely not significant enough to make up for being able to go 10+ minutes more.
posted by ch1x0r at 5:39 PM on September 8, 2006

I am not sure that I buy into the run on empty to lose pounds theory. However, under that theory you don't want to eat before you run. Your lack of sugar will cause your body to seek fuel from other sources, like fat cells. Eating carbs screws this up. People have been suggesting you have some carbs for comfort and to prevent a bonk. On your light runs it is unlikely you would bonk unless you were already in sugar deficit. However, if you have ever really bonked you would fear this. We are talking lying on the ground, unable to move, sell your soul for a candy bar level of distress. If you flirt with this, just carry some food with you like a power bar, gel or whatever and don't use it unless you need it, if you buy into the run starved meme. It might work, but it feels awful, and I don't want to be that thin or that uncomfortable. I think you might also need to run harder and longer than you currently do to make it work.
posted by caddis at 6:10 PM on September 8, 2006

I saw an interesting story about a hot gal that had lost alot of weight by eating backwards.

anyone else think of anorexia first when they read that?

I'm going running now.
posted by krautland at 7:08 PM on September 8, 2006

The only time I've ever feinted in my life was in the shower after a hard bike ride before breakfast. I felt woozy, and then I heard myself hitting the tub. boink.

And, not that you asked, but I've always thought that the training-your-metabolism deal is bunk. But I only lost 130 pounds and kept it off for 7 years. What do I know.
posted by NortonDC at 9:22 PM on September 8, 2006

Arriving late to the party, I can only comment with (a shred of) authority on the post-exercise nutrition. Runner's World has written a number of times that eating complex carbohydrates and protien within 20 minutes of finishing a workout helps greatly with recovery. Supposedly the nutrients/materials are preferentially delivered to the muscles just used, as opposed to the entire body. They suggest cereal with skim milk and/or yoghurt, or one of the nutrition bars. Anecdotally, I've used this idea for years and it seems to help my recovery greatly; if I don't eat something shortly after a run, the next day is a lot harder. The technical name for this is "glycogen supercompensation", but a quick web search seems to indicate some confusion between what I'm talking about and the old practice of "carbo-loading", which I think is different.

I haven't had to try to lose weight for a long time now, but when I did, I found that long runs or bike rides at a consistent but not fast pace worked the best. These usually happened before a large breakfast, but that wasn't particularly planned out. I've lost weight on multi-day backpacks, but that wasn't particularly planned, either...

I would suggest that as long as you're not doing a hard workout (as per NortonDC, above), you'd be fine eating after your morning workout.

Good luck and congratulations.
posted by mhespenheide at 10:18 AM on September 9, 2006

But I only lost 130 pounds and kept it off for 7 years. What do I know.

I'm in that club, too. 347->228 this morning. still working on getting to 200.
posted by krautland at 10:30 AM on September 9, 2006

Response by poster: krautland & norton, I'm truly impressed at your weight loss(es). Fantastic.
posted by Cranialtorque at 12:19 PM on September 9, 2006

I have more energy for running if I eat half a banana half an hour before I start exercising. It's probably the sugar, but I think the potassium is a factor, since I don't get the same jolt of energy from a glass of juice. I eat the second half of banana when I get home. (I get up at 5:30 and hit the gym at 6).
posted by mdiskin at 5:10 AM on September 10, 2006

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