I asked my Instagram followers what their preference was for breakfast before a run – toast or bagels, or porridge. I wasn’t sure what the response would be – I know porridge is often heralded as the breakfast of choice for those who are physically active but, as a runner myself, my preference has always been bagels. From my informal poll, it was a pretty even 50:50 split. I guess the bigger question is: does it matter and is one better than the other?
The role of carbohydrates
Research in sport science has determined that carbohydrates are key components when fueling the body. They’re the preferred currency to deliver energy to working muscles, and recently it has also been shown that carbohydrate availability around training is critical for optimal performance, recovery and adaptation from training. However, we can only store a finite amount of carbohydrates in our body and when these stores are full, there is sufficient energy to fuel moderate-intensity running – so around 7/10 effort level – for 90 to
120 minutes. In addition, studies have shown that eating a good breakfast positively influences run performance later in the day and also helps with appetite control throughout the day. It’s clear then, that making the right breakfast choice is essential for both your health and performance.
Porridge or bread before a workout?
Both porridge oats and bread options provide carbohydrates – on this front, they both make excellent choices. But how do they stack up nutritionally? You might be surprised to know that a 50g portion of oats will provide you with 30g of carbs. Make it with 200ml of cow’s milk and top with a banana, and you have a breakfast bowl that provides you with around 65g of carbohydrates. Porridge also has the advantage of containing soluble fibre, which supports good gut and heart health.
Now, if we compare this to two slices of wholegrain toast, we’re also looking at around 30g of carbohydrates. This is elevated if you choose a bagel, which provides around 50g. If you top both with peanut butter and banana, you’ll get 55g and 75g of carbohydrates respectively. And while wholegrain flour will provide some insoluble fibre, iron and B vitamins, white flour is much easier to digest and will release carbohydrates into the system much quicker.
What’s the verdict?
Both are great choices, providing a decent amount of carbohydrates, especially when we consider that the recommendation is 1g to 1.2g of carbohydrates per kilogram of bodyweight, one to three hours before exercise.
Toast and bagels are probably slightly easier to digest and are good options prior to shorter, higher-intensity sessions, or when time is short and you don’t have long between eating breakfast and your run.
Porridge, on the other hand, might be more useful prior to a long, slow run as oats release energy at a more sustained pace overtime, ensuring that your blood sugar levels don’t fluctuate when you’re out for longer. Porridge oats can also be enhanced by adding dried fruit, honey and even granola to hit those higher carbohydrate intakes when they’re needed the most.
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