There’s truth to the saying, “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” You’re breaking the roughly 12-hour fast between dinner and your first meal after waking, when your body needs calories.

“Breakfast is foundational for healthy nutrition,” says Hayden James, R.D.N., C.S.S.D., owner of Satiate Nutrition. “It’s another opportunity to diversify your nutrient intake.”

While breakfast is crucial for everyone, it’s especially important for runners who often require more calories than the average Joe, and a special focus on certain nutrients, including carbohydrates and protein. That’s why it’s smart to do some breakfast meal prep to set yourself up for success when it comes to eating in the morning.

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“There is robust research that supports spreading out protein intake throughout the day in order to maximize muscle protein synthesis or muscle-building,” James tells Runner’s World.

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Planning Breakfast Before or After a Run

Whether you need to eat before a run is a hotly debated issue among runners, many of whom prefer to log miles on an empty stomach if they’re going out early in the morning. That can be okay, James says, for short (less than an hour), easy-effort workouts when you can eat a real breakfast directly after your miles.

“But if you wake up hungry, it’s a good idea to have something before you go out even if it is short and easy,” she says. “Hunger is an indication that you’re not well fueled.”

Breakfast is a must before workouts that last longer than 60 minutes or are harder efforts, like an interval workout or long run. If you have a hard time stomaching food before you start moving, James recommends something light like half a banana or a piece of toast with jam.

Timing plays a huge factor, too: If you eat a large meal or one that’s high in slower-to-digest protein, fat, and fiber you may run into GI issues mid-workout.

“There are two Fs that ef your workout: fat and fiber,” James says.

A general rule of thumb is to eat a mixed meal, which contains carbohydrates, protein, and fat, about three to four hours before a workout. For those early-morning runners, that means a very early wakeup call, which can be difficult.

If you’re eating an hour or two before a workout, think about your fuel as a robust snack or a mini meal, James says: two slices of toast with peanut butter and jam, for example. And for those who roll out of bed and hit the road, try dry toast, a handful of dry cereal, or a banana for easily digestible carbs.

Meal prep is an excellent way to take the guesswork (and early-morning legwork) out of those prerun and postrun breakfasts, ensuring you’ll have healthy, nutritious, performance-boosting fuel all week long.

Queen of meal prep and three-time New York Times best-selling author Elyse Kopecky and her co-author, Olympian and New York City Marathon winner, Shalane Flanagan, recently published Rise and Run, a cookbook focused entirely on breakfast.

“Breakfast is, by far, the most important meal of the day for athletes,” Kopecky tells Runner’s World. “Runners love to talk about what they’ll eat when they’re out on a morning run. Shalane and I fully support first breakfast and second breakfast.”

Preparing a week’s worth of breakfast makes it easy to fuel before (or just after) a workout, Kopecky says, noting she and Flanagan created breakfast recipes that are a cinch to prep and store, and delicious to eat.

“You’ll be much more likely to grab something healthy if it’s prepped or partially prepped,” Kopecky says. “If I have kale already washed, I’ll toss it into my egg scramble. When we’re busy we don’t have time to take that extra step.”


Breakfast Meal Prep Staples

When it comes to stocking your pantry and fridge, James and Kopecky swear by these essentials, thanks to their ease of use, nutritional value, and of course, taste.

Oats

Oats are a complex carbohydrate that provide heart-healthy whole grains. You can prep overnight oats so they’re ready to go before your morning run. Or take a page out of Kopecky’s book and make your own instant oatmeal mix that allows you to add your own sweetness (packets of instant oatmeal tend to be super high in added sugar). James and Kopecky love homemade baked oatmeal too.

Eggs

Inexpensive, high in protein, and extremely versatile, eggs can go a long way in meal prep for breakfast (and lunch and dinner). While scrambled eggs might not taste great reheated, egg cups are easy to prep and store for breakfast all week long.

Canned Beans

James keeps her pantry stocked with canned beans, high in fiber and plant-based protein. She can quickly rinse and drain them and toss into egg or tofu scrambles.

Nuts and Seeds

High in good-for-you fat, nuts and seeds are a go-to for Kopecky. She tosses them into her oatmeal and parfaits for a boost of nutrition. They also are a popular ingredient in homemade granola (see below for James’ granola recipe).


Breakfast Meal Prep Tools

One of the best things you can do to simplify meal prep is have the right tools, Kopecky says. “Good cookware will save you time and inspire you to cook more,” she wrote in Rise and Run.

Food Processor

Kopecky (and millions of her and Flanagan’s followers) live on Superhero Muffins—the first iteration is from Run Fast. Eat Slow. And they require grated carrots and zucchini. Grating veggies by hand takes time, and when you cook in bulk that’s a lot of hand-grating. Try a food processor—a small, simple one can do the trick—to grate your veggies quickly.

Storage Containers

The Kopecky household has every size mason jar you can think of owning. Ball brand wide-mouth pint jars are freezer-safe and can easily store smoothies-to-go and overnight oats. “Storage containers are so essential to be inspired to prep ahead,” Kopecky says.

Large glass flour canisters are also great for storing oatmeal and pancake mixes for easy access all week (or month) long.

High-Speed Blender

For those truly committed to breakfast meal prep, a high-speed blender like the coveted Vitamix, will make making your own smoothies, nut milks, and nut butters (to name a few) a breeze. Kopecky calls it a worthy investment.


Try These Recipes for Breakfast Meal Prep

Now for what to actually make, James and Kopecky share some of their favorite recipes.

The Best Maple Granola

breakfast meal prep, granola recipe
Courtesy of Hayden James

Makes 9 cups (18 servings)

Ingredients:

6 cups rolled oats
2 cups flaked coconut
1/2 cup wheat germ
2 Tbsp chia seeds
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tsp neutral oil, like canola
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp coarse salt, divided
2 cups pecans
2 cups roughly chopped almonds
1 1/2 cups pumpkin seeds
3 cups dried fruit (optional)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Combine pecans, almonds and pumpkin seeds on a sheet pan, and toast until fragrant and just beginning to brown, about 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer the nut/seed mixture to medium bowl and toss with neutral oil and 1/2 tsp. salt and set aside.

Reduce oven temperature to 300°F degrees.

Combine rolled oats, chia seeds, flaked coconut, wheat germ, ground cinnamon, remaining salt, maple syrup, and olive oil in a large bowl. Mix well by folding with a rubber spatula being careful not to break the coconut flakes. Transfer mixture onto a standard-sized sheet lined with parchment paper or Silpat.

Gently pat down to even fill pan. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes until lightly golden, making sure to gently toss granola every 20 minutes or so. Try not to over-work it or you’ll lose the clusters. The granola may seem a little soft, but it will crisp up upon cooling.

When you remove the granola from the oven, dump the pecan/pumpkin seed and dried fruit mixture on top. Allow the granola to cool completely before storing in an airtight container. It should keep for seven days.

Courtesy of Hayden James


Green Pina Colada Smoothie Pouches

breakfast meal prep, smoothie recipe
Klavdiâ Volkova / EyeEm//Getty Images

Makes 10, 4-oz Pouches

Ingredients:

1 large banana
1.5 cups frozen pineapple tidbits
1 can (~13.5 oz) coconut cream
4 scoops unflavored protein powder (or vanilla)
2 cups, lightly packed fresh spinach
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (not needed if using vanilla protein powder)

Directions:

Assemble the pouches. Ensure the lids are screwed on tight, and open the bottom, ziploc side of the pouches. Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. Fill the pouches over the sink and be careful not to over-fill the pouches or they will run over when closed. Sometimes a little bit of smoothie gets trapped in the bottom zip closure area, so run the bottom of the pouches under gently running water to flush out any smoothie. Store in freezer and remove as needed.

Courtesy of Hayden James


Yam Spice Superhero Muffins

breakfast meal prep, muffin recipe
Westend61//Getty Images

Makes 12 muffins

Dietary accommodations:

To make this dairy-free, substitute 3 tbsp virgin coconut oil for the butter

To make this nut-free, substitute 2 cups pumpkin seed flour for the almond flour or 1 1/2 cups oat flour + 1/2 cup whole milk yogurt for the almond flour

To make this egg-free, substitute 3 tbsp flax + 1/2 cup water (soak for 5 minutes) for the 3 eggs

Ingredients:

2 cups almond flour or almond meal
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
3 eggs
2 cups grated peeled sweet potato or yam (about 2)
1⁄3 cup maple syrup or honey
4 tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 tbsp grated fresh ginger

Directions:

Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 12-cup standard muffin tin with paper liners.

In a large bowl, combine the almond flour, oats, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and walnuts (if using).

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, sweet potato, maple syrup, melted butter, and ginger. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. The batter will be thick.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups, filling each to the brim. Bake until the muffins are nicely browned on top and a knife inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes.

Store leftover muffins in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Reheat in the oven at 300°F for 10 minutes or microwave on low power for 30 seconds

Recipe from RISE & RUN Copyright © 2021 by Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky, published by Rodale Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.


Trail Mix Breakfast Cookies

breakfast meal prep, cookie recipe
Erin Scott / Courtesy Penguin Random House

Makes 20 cookies

Dietary accommodations:

To make this dairy-free, substitute 6 tbsp virgin coconut oil for butter

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 cup oat flour
1/2 cup almond flour or almond meal
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, pecans, or peanuts
1⁄3 cup chocolate chips
1⁄3 cup unsweetened dried tart cherries, cranberries, or raisins
1⁄3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup ground flax
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter,* slightly melted
1/3 cup coconut sugar (or cane sugar)
1 egg, whisked
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp vanilla extract

*If your butter is salted, reduce the salt in the recipe to 3/4 tsp.

Directions:

In a large bowl, combine the oats, oat flour, almond flour, walnuts, chocolate chips, dried fruit, coconut, flax, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda.

In a separate bowl, whisk the melted butter and sugar until combined. Add the egg, honey, and vanilla and whisk until well blended. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Cover and chill the dough in the fridge for 1 hour (or in the freezer for 30 minutes).

Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Use your hands to roll the dough into golf ball-sized balls (applying pressure to ensure all the mix-ins hold together) and set them on the prepared baking sheet, spacing them 1 inch apart. Use your palm to flatten them slightly.

Bake for 14 to 16 minutes, until golden brown on the edges. Use a spatula to transfer the cookies to a cooling rack to cool.

Time-saver tip: Keep a container of these cookies stashed in your freezer so you’re always prepared for a last-minute invite to hit the trails.

Recipe from RISE & RUN Copyright © 2021 by Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky, published by Rodale Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.


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