Five Must-Have Breakfast Foods For Runners

Tonya Boyer, from Rocky Mountain Running and Triathlon Magazine shares her top 5 foods for a race morning.

A pre-run breakfast is important since what you eat, or don’t eat, can make or break your running. Exercise is primarily fueled by carbohydrates. Just like a car needs gas, runners need fuel. A post-run breakfast is also important to replenish the carbs and protein that your muscles need to recover. This 2nd breakfast will give you the energy to now run through the rest of your day.

It will take some experimentation to know what you can stomach, literally, and what gives your body the best fuel or re-fuel. Regardless of the exact meals you choose, here are five foods every runner should incorporate into their breakfast menus.


Steel cut oats are whole grain groats, or the inner portion of the oat kernel, which have been cut into 2 or 3 pieces. In contrast to rolled oats, the most common type of oat, steel cut oats have not been rolled so they look like small rice grains. Because of this it takes longer to digest and has a more sustained release of energy into the bloodstream, an important factor for runners. The slower digestion also keeps you feeling full for a longer period of time. Rolled oats, on the other hand, are flakes that have been steamed, rolled, steamed again, and toasted. During that process some nutrients, texture, and even flavor are lost. Steel cut oats have a nuttier, more hearty flavor than rolled oats.

Steel cut oats contain seven B vitamins, are high in calcium and iron, and are full of protein and fiber while low in salt and unsaturated fat. One cup of steel cut oatmeal contains more fiber (8g) than a bran muffin and twice as much fiber as a serving of Cream of Wheat. The most significant benefit of oats comes from the soluable fiber, which lowers cholesterol levels and consequently reduces the risk of heart disease and diabetes, among other things.

A common complaint about steel cut oats is the time it takes to prepare them in the morning. Most runners want a breakfast you can grab and go. So, here is a favorite recipe for oatmeal that you can prepare the night before. On race morning or before a training run, just pop a bowl in the microwave.

Make Ahead Steel Cut Oats
4 cups water
1 cup steel cut oats
¼ tsp salt

Boil the water. Add salt and oatmeal, stir well. Turn OFF the heat, and continue to stir until boiling stops. Cover, and let sit overnight. In the morning, you can divide the oatmeal into 4 individual serving dishes so breakfast is ready for the next four days. Microwave for 2 minutes. Top with strawberries, raspberries, chopped nuts, brown sugar, cinnamon, and/or honey.


As boring as a banana may sound or be, they pack a powerful punch. One banana contains about 450 mg of potassium, an electrolyte responsible for keeping your body and fluids in balance. Potassium is stored inside the body’s cells, however, after a long run more potassium will be found outside the cells than inside the cells. The result can be muscle cramps or a nauseous and weak feeling. Bananas are good pre-run, post-run, or for any snack of the day.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie
¾ cup water
¾ cup skim milk
1 banana
1 scoop chocolate protein powder
1 tbsp peanut butter

Blend until ice is crushed to the texture of your liking. Add more or less water for a thicker or thinner consistency. Can also add fresh fruit for added nutrients.

** A note on peanut butter. Peanut butter often carries a fattening misconception. While it does contain 16g of fat per serving, most is the heart-healthy monounsaturated kind. It also does not contain any cholesterol. Be sure to purchase the natural peanut butter with no added ingredients and no oil on top.

#3 – EGGS

For most runners, eggs serve better as a post-run breakfast. Egg protein contains all the essential amino acids your muscles need for good recovery. Besides having 30% DV of vitamin K, necessary for strong bones, eggs also contain choline, a brain nutrient that aids memory, and leutin, known to reduce risk of eye diseases. What runner, or any person for that matter, doesn’t want a memory enhancer? Nowadays, you can purchase omega-3 enhanced eggs to boost your “good” fat intake, or fats key to aiding the body’s inflammation response. Some runners may worry about the 213 mg of cholesterol in the average egg. Many studies, however, have actually shown that egg eaters have a lower risk for heart disease than those who push eggs away. Don’t discard the yolk either, as it’s jammed packed with important nutrients and essential fatty acids. On the days you eat eggs, limit other sources of cholesterol.

Egg Muffins
4 eggs
1/2 cup skim milk
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
4 green onions, finely chopped
Chopped veggies such as broccoli, red pepper, mushrooms, zucchini
Optional – finely chopped lean ham, ground turkey, or black beans

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray muffin pans with non-stick spray. Whisk all ingredients together; fill muffin cups ¾ full. Bake 30 minutes, or until eggs are set and just slightly browned. Muffins will keep for 4 days in the refrigerator for a quick grab later in the week, and they can be reheated in the microwave.


Yes, you can have sweet potatoes for breakfast. Because of the long cooking time, a sweet potato may serve better as a post-run breakfast, however, pre-cooked sweet potatoes fare well in the microwave. The tubers are high in energy-supplying carbs, but they are also packed with Vitamin A (700% DV), or beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant. Vitamin C, potassium, iron, manganese, and copper are also found in sweet potatoes. Most runners probably aren’t too watchful of their manganese and copper intake, however, these two minerals are crucial for healthy muscle function. While the orange vegetable is higher on the glycemic index for veggies, for runners this means it is more easily digested and quickly enters the system for energy use or replenishment. In the Potato Breakfast recipe, the greek yogurt adds protein and slows digestion a bit. If yogurt on a sweet potato just sounds too weird, try pairing with eggs.

Potato Breakfast
1 sweet potato, cooked
¼ cup greek yogurt
1 tbsp pure maple syrup
2 tbsp chopped walnuts or almonds
Dash of cinnamon

Cut open the sweet potato across the top and mash the flesh. Top with yogurt, syrup, nuts, and cinnamon.


Blueberries get their deep blue color from anthocyanins, a group of antioxidants known to fight disease. Most importantly for runners, this juicy blue fruit protects muscle tissue from free radicals that build up during workouts and lessens the damage to muscle fibers from exercise, thus reducing recovery time. Other reasons you should eat blueberries:

   • Protect against many cancers
   • Lowers cholesterol and blood lipid levels
   • Promote gastrointestinal health
   • Relieve both constipation and diarrhea
   • High in Vitamin C
   • High in fiber
   • Low glycemic-index carbohydrate

Frozen blueberries contain just as many nutrients as fresh ones, so you can have blueberries year-round. Eat them alone, on yogurt, whole grain cereal or oatmeal, or in a favorite muffin recipe.

Blueberry Nut Muffins
2 cups whole-grain flour (another must for runners)
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup skim milk
1/3 cup natural applesauce (no sugar added)
½ cup blueberries
Handful chopped walnuts, pecans, or almonds

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Fill muffin pans with paper muffin cups. Mix the flour, salt, brown sugar, baking powder, and soda together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl combine the eggs, milk and applesauce. Add wet mixture to dry mixture; stir just until moistened. Fold in fruit and nuts. Fill muffin cups ¾ full. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

** A note on whole grains. Whole grain eaters have less belly fat, higher levels of the good cholesterol, and lower blood sugar levels.

Tanya Boyer is the publisher of Rocky Mountain Running & Triathlon Magazine and race director for The Pink Series. Her main job, however, is that of mommy to three young children and wife to the most patient man in the world. Running and triathlon are her way of staying young and mobile.

Rocky Mountain Running & Triathlon Magazine is an information source for runners and triathletes in the Mountain States. To subscribe for home or office delivery, visit and enter the coupon code STUDIO5.

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