Pounding the Morning Pavement: 5 Things to Know About Starting Your Day with a Run

Your alarm goes off earlier than usual, and there’s no time to lose. You gulp down a glass of water, lace up your shoes, and go. With all the hustle and bustle of family, work and life, making the time to exercise can be challenging. Going for a run in the early morning hours is a great way to create a positive routine. It provides a ton of health benefits, but are you fueling your body the right way for your workout? Here are some things to know before you head out the door.

1) Running before breakfast can shift what your body uses for fuel.

Our bodies can generate energy from different sources for a morning workout. When we’ve had a chance to eat before exercise, the carbs stored in our muscles and liver (called glycogen) can power us through a few a.m. miles. But since the body also relies on these carbs while we’re sleeping, our glycogen deposits aren’t full when we wake up. If you head out for a run before “topping off” the carbohydrate tank with a meal, your body needs to resort to other energy reserves to power through the miles ahead. Because the human body also stores a lot of fat, it’s the perfect source for low-intensity cardiovascular exercise. Studies show that running at a lower intensity (like a steady jog) will increase the amount of energy derived from fat rather than carbohydrate. Also, people who worked out on an empty stomach burned more fat than those who had eaten beforehand. Simply, if you head out for a run on an empty stomach, your body will run on fat!

2) If you’re looking for speed, you might need a pre-run snack.

It’s important to consider your running goals when thinking about pre-run eating. If they include increasing your strength or speed, having some carbohydrates after you wake up could help you reach your target faster than you would running on empty. And if you’re starving first thing in the morning? No need to have your growling stomach wake up the neighborhood. Eating a small snack that includes protein and a bit of carbohydrate – like a mini bagel with peanut butter or an apple with string cheese – before your workout can provide the energy you need.

3) Drinking caffeine before you head out can give you an extra boost.

An espresso or a cup of tea before your morning run provides you with energy, and drinking caffeine can improve endurance when consumed about an hour before exercise. Also, caffeinated beverages can increase alertness, contribute to hydration, and help you achieve the “runner’s high” endorphin boost we’re all chasing. Athletes in several sports incorporate caffeinated beverages into their exercise routine.  It could work for you too.

4) The benefits of morning exercise continue way past noon.

Not only will the calorie-burning effects last for hours afterward, but a morning workout is associated with better sleep, improved workout consistency, and lower blood pressure.

5) Running in the morning isn’t for everyone.

No form of training will have the same effects for every individual, so it’s important to tailor your fitness timing to whatever works best for you. Feeling chipper enough to head out for a morning run? Then go for it! However, if you’re not a morning person, don’t force it. The important thing is getting exercise whenever you can, no matter what time of day it is.

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This blog includes contributions from Allison Dostal, RD, PhD.