What's the right way to tackle a morning run without wasting time or putting your body at risk? From fueling-up to warming-up, here's how to run first thing in the a.m.

By Karla Bruning
June 29, 2016

You got to bed early, and laid out your running gear the night before. Your alarm goes off, and it's time to run. But what's the right way to tackle that morning workout without sacrificing precious time? You can wake up, warm up, fuel up, and get in a solid sweat sesh before work-and before everyone else has had their coffee-with these tips. (Hate Running? 25 Ways to Learn to Love It)

Wake Up

Resist the temptation to hit snooze. Instead, tell your body it's go time. Set your alarm to lively music. Open your shades. If it's still dark out, turn on the lights. Brew some coffee or tea. The quicker you wake-up all your systems, the faster you'll be in beast mode. Also, don't spend too much time on your phone or computer. Five minutes can quickly turn into 15 and cut into your run.

Fuel Up

You don't need to make a full breakfast. Heck, if you're running within an hour, it's better to keep it simple. "You don't want to eat a huge meal," says sports nutritionist and author Janet Brill, Ph.D., R.D.N. "Eat something easily digestible and drink fluids." Think grab-and-go foods with a mix of sugar and electrolytes like potassium and sodium: a banana or handful of raisins will do the trick. Studies show both fruits fuel workouts as well as commercial sports drinks or chews. And be sure to wash them down with some water.

Or Don't

Don't want to eat pre-run? That's OK too. Running before breakfast may actually boost your workout and your mood, according to a study in Cell Metabolism. Why? Lower levels of the "fullness" hormone leptin may actually increase your stamina and enjoyment out there on the road. Plus, exercising before breakfast might help you burn more fat and fend off insulin resistance, a condition that often precedes diabetes, according to studies in The Journal of Physiology and British Journal of Nutrition.

Just don't plan on running too far or too long. "If we're talking about 10K and above, breakfast is how you'll get your energy, " says Heather Hausenblas, Ph.D., a physical activity and health psychologist at Jacksonville University.

Of course, if you do skip breakfast pre-run, be sure to eat a mix of protein and carbohydrates within 30 minutes of your workout to fire-up your metabolism and start important post-workout muscle recovery. Studies confirm you'll want to down up to 30g of protein, but not more. The macronutrient repairs muscle damage and helps replenish glycogen stores when paired with carbs. Aim for a 3-to-1 or 4-to-1 carb to protein ratio. (Check out these 12 Ways to Sneak Protein Powder Into Your Meals.)

Warm Up

Warming up is important any time of day. But shaking out the old cobwebs is especially crucial first thing in the morning. Your body is coming from a state of total rest. Not only are your muscles usually tighter, but your body's core temperature and hormone levels won't hit their stride until late afternoon to early evening.

Think you don't have time? Think again. "If you're running 10-minutes per mile, run one mile less, and just take that time," says Meb Keflezighi, Olympic silver medalist, Boston Marathon and New York City Marathon champion. "Use that 5 minutes before and 5 minutes after to stretch. Stretch your calves, hamstrings, and quads-they're important." Carving time to "do the small things," Keflezighi says, has been the key to his longevity in the sport. After all, he's headed into his fourth Olympic Games at the age of 41.

Many running coaches and physical therapists recommend dynamic stretches to get your body ready to work. Think high knees, butt kicks, knee hugs, leg swings, walking lunges, and the like. Once your feet meet pavement, it may take your body a bit longer to get up to full-speed. Ease into that first mile more gently than you would later in the day.

But once you're warmed up, you can expect to run a solid workout if you're well rested. Morning runners benefit from fresh legs, cooler temps, and a focused mind that has yet to succumb to the day's inevitable decision fatigue.

Plus, sticking with a morning running routine will pay off. Studies show morning exercisers can actually re-wire their bodies to reach peak performance in the morning-instead of p.m. as we're naturally wired-with regular training.

So set that alarm, get up, and get out to run.