Skipping Breakfast? How Running on an Empty Stomach Can Hurt Your Stride

Photo: Getty Images/Justin Lambert
The idea that "food is fuel" has likely been ingrained into your head since you had to be convinced to eat your brussel sprouts by way of the "airplane fork" method as a four year old. Fast forward a few years, and as adults, we know that what we eat helps our bodies perform, whether thats gulping down a green smoothie ahead of a productive day at the office or carbo-loading before a marathon. But as someone who tends to head out to her morning three-milers before I hit the kitchen for breakfast (I'm not willing to get out of bed even one minute earlier than I have to), I've always wondered: Is it actually ok to go running on an empty stomach?

Aside from pretty much guaranteeing that all you'll be able to think about during your run is what you'll eat when it's done, there are a few other reasons why running on an empty stomach probably isn't the best idea. "I really wouldn't advise running on an empty stomach," says Monica Auslander Moreno, MS, RD, LD/N, nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition,  noting that she'd offer the same advice regardless of what distance a person was running. "I wouldn't see any benefits, in fact, you may be 'running on fumes' AKA not have adequate energy stores to fuel your runs and may have to dip into muscle which isn't ideal."  When I asked the team at New York Road Runners what they thought about running on an empty stomach, they agreed with Moreon's sentiments, and said they'd never ever recommend skipping the most important meal of the day.

If you're someone who generally has trouble eating when the first wake up, but wants to stick with a morning run schedule, it may require some planning ahead. "Some people are eating dinner quite late and then running quite early, so they are assuming that fasting before a run is 'best,'" says Moreno. But again, that's not the case. "If you're going to go for an early morning run, try dialing back your dinner the night before so you're hungry enough to at least have a piece of fruit before your morning run."

Okay, fair enough. But is there ever a case in which you should skip your breakfast? "The only reason someone may choose to do so is if they become very nauseous if they run and then eat," says Moreno. But, she says, this discomfort could be happening simply because you're fueling with the wrong sort of food or drink before the hit the pavement. If you tend to get nauseous before you run, try having a half of a banana or a small portion of fruit and water. "At the very least, even a half of a banana can give you access to some quick-burning carbohydrates for energy," says Moreno, noting that you'll then want to follow up your run with a proper meal containing protein, fat and carbohydrates. And of course, hydrating before, during and after you run is just as important as fueling your body with food.

As with any type of exercise, the most important thing you can do when it comes to running on an empty stomach is listen to your body. "If you're someone who just can barely tolerate a small portion of fruit— that's you," says Moreno. "Other people prefer a heartier meal like some eggs on sprouted grain toast or nut butter on sprouted grain toast with fruit. Some people love oatmeal before a run; others find it too 'heavy'—it's all about what works best for your body."

Looks like I'll be setting my alarm three minutes earlier from now on for a hot date with a half of a banana.

Now that you know what to snack on before heading out to pound the pavement, here's exactly what you should eat when you get home. Plus, how cutting out booze (I know, I know) could totally change your run game. 

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