Rise, shine, and eat these runner-friendly meals before or after you grind.
Eating is training
It may sound odd at first, but what you put into your body is just as important for your performance, recovery, and longevity as the actual training you do on the track, trail, road, or in the gym. At GU Energy Labs, we live by the phrase “Eating is Training.”
As a sports nutritionist and ultra-endurance runner, I know that optimal nutrition is a key component of any athlete’s self-care routine, and breakfast is the prime time to start your day off right. I love breakfast, especially when it’s easy to prepare and provides nutrients like protein, complex carbs, healthy fats, and essential vitamins and minerals. The recipes below are two of my all-time fall favorites. Both are a snap to prepare in 10 minutes or less, packed with flavor, and will fill you up without slowing you down before (or after) any morning run.
For the ultimate easy-prep breakfast that’s ready to take on the go, I usually turn to overnight oats. Oats are a great source of whole grains and prebiotic fiber, which feeds the good bacteria living in your gut to promote immune function and overall health. Greek yogurt (you can now find plant-based versions, too) gives you a boost of protein to support muscle maintenance and repair, while heart-healthy walnuts deliver essential fatty acids, including anti-inflammatory omega-3s.
½ large ripe banana
½ cup rolled oats (gluten-free, if sensitive)
½ cup plain low-fat Greek yogurt or non-dairy Greek yogurt alternative (look for at least 9 grams protein, plain or vanilla flavored)
⅓ cup unsweetened almond milk
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1-2 tablespoons walnuts, chopped (toasted, if preferred)
In a small mason jar, mash banana thoroughly with a fork. Add oats, yogurt, almond milk, vanilla, and cinnamon. Stir well to combine.
Cover and refrigerate overnight, or for at least 6 hours.
Stir and serve topped with chopped nuts.
Notes: These can be warmed in the morning before serving and drizzled with maple syrup for a touch of sweetness. Toasting the walnuts just before serving brings out their rich aroma and flavor.
Reminiscent of a banana bread muffin, this recipe makes one hearty serving, so feel free to eat half before and half after your run.
Pumpkin Spice Protein Pancakes (makes about 4 pancakes, serves 1-2)
I know it’s a little cliche, but I adore cooking with pumpkin (and other winter squashes) in cold weather. Not only does it taste amazing combined with pumpkin pie spice, as you’ll find in these protein-packed pancakes, but pumpkin is also an excellent source of the antioxidant beta-carotene, with a ½ cup providing 250% of your daily requirements. Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A, which is important for a strong immune system and healthy vision. One serving of these flapjacks delivers 20 grams of protein and can be prepared vegan/gluten-free as needed. This dish is great before or after a long run, gym-based strength session, or really any day of the week.
1 (~30 g/1 ounce) scoop vanilla or cinnamon flavored protein powder (I used Dymatize Iso 100 Cinnamon Bun protein but any protein powder will work as well)
1/2 cup pumpkin purée (not to be confused with pumpkin pie filling)
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 large egg whites (or ¼ cup liquid egg whites or vegan liquid egg substitute)
1/2 cup old fashioned oats (gluten-free, if sensitive)
1/2 cup milk or unsweetened plant-based milk alternative (I used cashew)
Heat a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium heat.
Put all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
Pour about 1/4 cup of batter per pancake onto the skillet. Cook until tops are covered with bubbles and edges look firm and close to done, about 2–3 minutes. Flip and cook for additional 1–2 minutes or until pancakes are done.
Serve warm with your favorite topping. Some favorites include sliced banana, warm almond butter, or a drizzle of pure maple syrup.
Notes: Consider adding 1-2 tsp sweetener (coconut sugar, etc.) to batter if you prefer a bit more sweetness to your pancakes.
In my line of work, I’m often asked to provide simple yet healthy meal ideas for athletes and active people of all ages. One thing I look for when creating or recommending recipes is what I call the “nutritional bang-for-your-buck.” That is, recipes must not only taste great but also deliver additional health benefits. These could include high protein options for muscle health, anti-inflammatory or antioxidant-rich foods for cardiovascular and cognitive health, fiber-forward recipes for gut and immune health, or phytonutrients such as polyphenols which may help delay the aging process and protect against several chronic diseases when consumed regularly.
The best way to reap all these benefits? Eat a wide variety of colorful fruits and veggies, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, plus plant-based or lean proteins of choice every day. Your body will thank you in the long run.
Roxanne Vogel is the nutrition and performance research manager at GU Energy Labs in Berkeley, CA. She oversees the Performance Lab, works with sponsored and elite athletes on nutrition planning, and innovates new products in Research & Development. Vogel is a high-altitude mountaineer and ultra-endurance athlete who recently completed the “Seven Summits” by climbing the highest mountain on each continent, including a 14-day speed ascent of Mount Everest.