Running in the morning - pre breakfast


I'm currently training for the Cumbrian Run and hoping to run all the way this year (only my 2nd half marathon).

Anyway, i've been getting up at 5:45am, having a banana and a bit of Lucozade and heading out for a run.

I was just thinking ( i could be totally wrong here) but if i run in the morning and my body hasn't got as much 'fuel' on board and is having to work harder, would this help in my training WHEN i run on a night and i've got 3 meals on board ?

I know i will probably not be performing or training as hard due to the lack of carbs etc but i feel as though i'm still putting in the same effort and my times are coming down.




  • Are you thinking of the 'train low, race high' strategy?

    There's some interesting research suggesting that training in a glycogen depleted state does promote some endurance-adaptations to occur, but doing it properly is more complicated than you might think.

    You need to be in a properly depleted state - even after an overnight fast you won't be that glycogen depleted. You're not exactly using a lot of fuel whilst you sleep, and the liver produces glucose to prevent the need to dip into glycogen stores. Having a banana and some Lucozade as well as what you're already storing means you wouldn't be training low at all.

    The research that has been conducted uses a two-step method. You do session one at around 70% VO2max (moderate effort) for a duration sufficient to begin to deplete (at least 30-60 minutes), then a second session at the same or higher intensity (or intervals) to promote the adaptations to occur, either immediately or after a break during which you have to fast.  

    It only really shows benefit for endurance events though, and a half marathon doesn't necessarily fall under that category. A lot of people can complete that sort of distance without needing to take on fuel anyway, so this strategy wouldn't definitely confer any benefit.

    There are also some serious issues with the training low aspect - whilst you may feel as though you're training as hard, it's unlikely that you can put in the same effort if you're glycogen depleted. Plus it can affect the immune system, lead to overtraining type symptoms and poor recovery.

    Personally, I wouldn't bother image

  • Ach, Sarah, I disagree.  Mike, skip to the bottom line. image

    You don't need to be properly depleted.  Even beginning training in a no-excess-blood-sugar state primes the body for fat utilisation, whereas training with, for example, a dose of lucozade, does not.

    With no alternative preferential energy sources available, glycogen depletion begins immediately.  An overnight fast is enough to reach this stage if you do not fuel on waking.

    When you start to utilise glycogen, you are really only using it in the muscles which you are working.  All other muscles in the body also have glycogen stores, as does, you correctly state, the liver.  These glycogen stores are implicated in buffering the stores in your active muscles through a process called the lactate shuttle.  Lactate in your blood is actually a fuel utilised by the working muscles and transporting energy from lesser used areas.  Not important to this question, but just to show that there's actually a lot of glycogen around!  However, even if utilising glycogen, you can still utilise fat in 'the mix' dependent upon your training intensity.  If greater than moderate effort as in your second session, you're not in a prime zone for aerobic adaptation.

    AMPK is the protein marker you're looking for to indicate aerobic adaptation.  AMPK is not only implicated in fat utilisation, but also glucose uptake efficiency and and mitochondrial biogenesis.  The latter is exceptionally important as mitochondria increase improves your ability to utilise oxygen in the muscles.

    Notice that you don't have to be glycogen depleted to reach this stage, just using (depleting) glycogen.  As you have about 2 hours or 20 miles -ish of glycogen depending upon your experience and training, it will take a serious training session (equivalent of a 18-22mile race) to go from simply fasted to glycogen depleted.  I wouldn't go this far because the recovery is more difficult, but this really is the equivalent of hitting the wall in a marathon, or bonking on a bike.  It's not likely you'll get there in normal training!

    A half marathon is an endurance event.  Anything above about 300m uses a degree of aerobically provided energy, and about 800m is the 50/50 split anaerobic to aerobic (approximates, it's really based on duration).  A half marathon uses about 90% of energy from aerobic sources.  So if you improved your aerobic capability, you improve your half marathon.

    As to a harder session improving aerobic ability, it is true to a degree, often to a degree notable in 6-week studies.  High intensity work does improve VO2Max, but this is a measure that is only one among a number of variables which should be improved for improved performance.  It is less good at producing the type of aerobic adaptation concomitant with a 'train low' regime.  It is also less beneficial in terms of other specific benefits such as strength if performed in a lower energy state.

    So the answer was don't even bother to fuel at all.  Unless you want to train hard, in which case you should always fuel.

  • Mike

    I am nowhere near as scientific or as qualified as either Sarah or Ratzer, both of whom really know their stuff.

    My view is based on my own experience, and FWIW I think doing some of your longer runs first thing in the morning, without any breakfast, is a great way of doing two (inter-related) things that are helpful for distance events.

    The first is encouraging your body to use fat as the energy source, and the second is teaching your legs what it feels like to run when tired (or carb/glycogen depleted)....

    I also believe that an awful lot of runners (myself included) have a tendency to over estimate the importance of loading up with carbohydrate when it comes to running training, and doing some runs in a so-called carb depleted state can help to prove that it is indeed possible to run well and train hard with much less carbohydrate in your diet.
  • Hi guys,

    WOW !

    I was only expecting a YES/NO answer. hahaha

    Many thanks. Due to time restrictions on a night (kids / work etc) i can only really get out early mornings except on weekends. As i say, i tend to have a banana and/or Lucozade before i go out. I've suffered from dehydration in the past so always like to have a decent drink even if it's not medically required.

    I done the Cumbrian Run last year but only managed to Run/Walk it due to being a new runner (2h 32min). I've had a decent few weeks training and i honestly believe that running first thing in the morning has helped me lose weight and also get quicker/better.

    We'll see in 12 days though...image





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