This question came up from an athlete the other week and they asked Coaches Sandi and Sage, “I do a lot of workouts on an empty stomach because I have to be at work at 9:00am, and I like getting my run in before work. For some of the long runs, I need to wake up at 4:00am in order to fit in. Sometimes I take a gel or two, but other times I run on an empty stomach. So I guess my questions are:
· Is it OK to run on an empty stomach? If not, what should I eat?· What should I eat the day before a race? What about the morning of?
We (Coach Sage and Coach Sandi) want to preface that we are not nutritionists, but we have done a lot of research into how an athlete should fuel and approach nutrition and training. This is also personal experience from decades of experimenting and tweaking our nutrition, so know that something that works for you may depend on your typical diet and routine. This same thing may not work for us, and vice versa.

However, we’ll address question #1 first – is it okay to run on an empty stomach?
First, I (Coach Sage) would frequently run on an emptier stomach that were relatively shorter. This always worked out fine for me on these types of runs. Generally speaking, you’re going to be low on carbs first thing in the morning, but you should have enough glycogen stored in your muscles and liver to be able to run for a fairly long time without needing any sort of fuel source.

That being said, if you have a long run on tap or a high intensity workout planned, it’s going to be important to have enough fuel to get the right amount of intensity in for the workout
. If you don’t have a breakfast that has some carbohydrates in it, you may bonk pretty bad if you have to throw down a high-intensity 15 mile long run. You can experiment what type of fuel works best for you before these workouts, but you’re most likely not going to need to a slam a big cinnamon roll. Realistically, a banana and a cup of oatmeal would be sufficient to fuel you for a higher inte🥖nsity effort in the morning. Try to let it digest (some would say up to two hours) before heading out on a run, but this can vary person-to-person. However, a 6-8 mile run with no calories beforehand is totally doable (9-12 kms). We always encourage our athletes to have a glass of water before they go out for their run, whether they eat or not, because you usually wake up slightly dehydrated.
If you’re still struggling to eat a breakfast for a high intensity workout or long run, here are some other ideas:
· 🍌 Eating a banana or a few dates – this is light on the stomach and quick to digest.· Granola bar· Half a cup of oatmeal (i.e., a smaller portion of oatmeal than what you would typically eat for a full breakfast)· 🍞 One piece of toast with peanut butter
If at all possible, try to plan your easy runs on days you know you might not be able to eat anything before you go. Then for workouts, another reason we encourage athletes to eat is because we see them hit their prescribed paces easier because of the carbs they consumed. In the end, and like we alluded to earlier, it’s important to experiment and see what works best for you.
This leads us into our next question, which is: What should one eat the morning of a race?When Coach Sage used race a lot of cross country and half-marathon distance races, I would always eat something about 2.5-3 hours before the race. The goal was to make it something simple, easy to digest, and most importantly, something I was used to. Don’t be going to that yummy looking restaurant down the street pre-race! Nuh uh. It should be something you’ve regularly had in your diet and you know your stomach can tolerate running on it. I would aim for something high in carbs, and fairly low in fat. So a lot of the breakfast ideas we mentioned earlier (oatmeal, toast, etc) are great options, but you can probably have a bigger portion of them if you give your body ample time to digest it.
We’ve covered breakfast, but let’s back up a bit – what should one eat the night before the race?
I (Coach Sage) like to eat my dinner no later than 12 hours before the race, just so I can make sure everything is cleared out before the gun goes off… if you know what I mean 💩. Again, I use a similar mentality for what I do with my breakfast: keep it simple! I eat something I know my body can handle, I’m not experimenting in the kitchen the night before, and I try to make sure it’s carb heavy and lighter on the fats. The will help me wake up feeling good, not bloated, and confident my GI system won’t pull any surprises on me mid-race.
Whew! Are you hungry now? I think that’s all we have for this week, but as always, feel free to email us at if there’s a future newsletter topic that you would like us to cover!