Bagels, a default fueling item for many runners around the United States. Although they are so commonplace within many running circles, are bagels actually good for you?
Filled with plenty of carbs to fuel your run and plain enough to process well in your stomach, bagels are a great pre and post-run snack to get the best out of your training.
What exactly inside bagels make them so great for running and other endurance sports?
In this article, we will cover the nutritional information of a plain bagel, cover key points that make bagels a good fuel source for runners and then talk about how you could best implement them into your fueling.
Are Bagels Good For Runners? The Main Reasons Why You Should Eat Them
Bagels: The Nutritional Facts
Bagels do vary greatly in portion sizes, so we will be covering a “standard” plain bagel to keep things simple.
1. Calories (Energy)
A typical plain bagel will usually have between 250-400 calories depending on its size, which works well as a great “pre-run” fueling source to have around 1-3 hours before your run or workout.
What makes bagels so great is that they usually digest quite easily for most, and do not leave anyone feeling “heavy” or “bloated” after eating.
Being easy on the digestion helps for both pre and post-run circumstances because you do not want to deal with GI issues going into your run.
Furthermore, most will have a fairly mellow stomach post-run, so having something easy to digest (but still having plenty of calories) makes the recovery process easier.
Of course, this does not count the things you will put on your bagel (typically cream cheese, butter, nut butter, or salmon).
We would not particularly recommend loading up your bagel too heavy pre-run, as the bagel itself has everything you need to feel properly fueled for your session.
However, after your run, it might be beneficial to load your bagel with a good source of protein to enhance your recovery.
Eggs, salmon, and nut butter are good options to put on your bagel post-run, as the combination of carbs and protein will be great for jumpstarting your body’s recovery.
A typical plain bagel contains between 45-55 grams of carbohydrates densely packed within it.
Carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of instant energy during moderate to intense physical activity. It is called upon for many of our runs, and essentially all of our workouts.
It is possible that we are burning fatty acids as our primary source of fuel in easy runs and some long runs, but for most people carbs will be what you use to train.
Needless to say, you will need to make sure you have carbs in your body if you want to perform well in your training run (and especially a workout).
Having a bagel 1-3 hours before your run will give you all the carbs you need to be your best when it counts.
It’s no secret that many runners generally have lower than the recommended amount of Iron within their diet. Most bagels contain around 15% of your daily value in iron.
Iron is a mineral that your body NEEDS to function properly, and this is particularly important for endurance sports like running, given the cardiovascular nature of the sport.
It is responsible for the production of hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that helps transfer oxygen to all parts of the body. It also contains myoglobin, which provides muscles with oxygen.
Of course, you should not look to bagels as your sole source of iron throughout the day, as dark leafy greens like spinach or red meat have more iron per serving within them, but as runners (who are often anemic) every bit or absorbable iron helps.
Optimize Your Fueling
So now that we know what makes bagels a great option for runners, how can we best use them to optimize our fueling, and then ultimately, our performance.
As we mentioned before, the standard approach would be to eat a plain bagel 1-3 hours before your run or workout. This time frame depends on how good your stomach is at digesting food in general and how you interact with food before running.
Some people prefer to just roll out of bed and run on an empty stomach. This is a suitable option for some, but we do not all run bright and early in the morning. I am in the camp that a bagel for breakfast is the way to go!
If you are someone who can only run in the afternoon or evening, then fueling is advisable, as you would have already burned through much of your energy from dinner the night before.
If you are on the earlier end of fueling before your run (3 hours before) then you might consider adding peanut butter and/or a banana to your bagel so you can get a little bit more in your system that far out from the run.
If you want to eat a bagel after your run, then that is great too!
For most workouts, we recommend getting some calories, carbs, and protein in your body between 30 minutes to an hour after your workout.
Generally, the sooner you can eat the more benefit you will see from your workout.
This is because your body enters an anabolic window for a couple of hours directly after exercise, but it spikes promptly after you finish and trends downward over the next couple of hours even if levels are in a heightened state.
If you do not refuel after a training session, then your body will enter a catabolic state, which means it will begin seeking fuel from within the body to repair itself, which simply put, means your body will eat its own muscle to rebuild its broken-down tissue.
The time frame to hit the anabolic window is different between individuals and also depends on when you had your pre-workout meal, but generally speaking it’s best to consistently refuel no later than an hour post-workout.
Here are a few nutrition packed breakfast foods:
Seek to pair a protein source with your bagel post-workout. You can look to add peanut butter, salmon, or even have an egg and cheese bagel sandwich.
To be quite honest though, my personal favorite is some bagel avocado toast with an egg on top. This checks all the nutritional boxes you need to recover because it has carbs (bagel), protein (eggs), and healthy fat (avocado) in a simple, easy, and delicious package.
If you prefer the cream cheese route with a side of yogurt, I fully support that too.
From one runner to another, I am a fan of unsweetened almond milk over traditional cows milk so pairing bagels and a glass of milk in the morning pre or post run is the way to go!
Conclusion: Are Bagels Good for Runners- YES!
Ultimately, a bagel is definitely a good choice for runners to fuel with if done correctly.
You do not need to have a bagel before every run, because quite frankly you might just not need that much energy before a standard easy/recovery run.
However, for longer or high-intensity sessions it is pivotal to have enough fuel to get the most out of your workout.
The best way to decide what works best for you is to take the guidance from this article and experiment to see how it all comes together. A little trial and error helps you learn a lot about your body, and who knows, you might just find your favorite fueling source yet!
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Hi, Jeremy Here,
I am the the guy behind Train for a 5K. On this site, I share everything that learned along my running journey. The content I create is the running training I wish I had before we started this journey. About Me.