Contents

Question 1:

Should I be eating the same for all my runs?

What to eat before your run is often the most important question for new runners. Your body requires different fuel depending on the type of training.

During harder training sessions and races, your body uses carbohydrates (stored in the muscles as glycogen) as its main fuel (energy) source. You’re only able to store a relatively small amount of carbohydrate, which is why keeping it topped up is so important.

During low intensity exercise, such as jogging or walking, the body burns fat as its main energy source. Therefore, fuelling with carbohydrates isn’t as crucial and a high protein meal or snack before your run will do the job.

The important thing is to plan which sessions you need to be ‘fuelled’ with carbs. Find recipe suggestions and more tips for low-intensity and high-intensity training days.

Question 2:


How long after eating a meal should I wait before going for a run?

James says:

Everyone has different levels of comfort regarding eating around training, so it’s important to trial what works best for you. In general, wait two to four hours before running after eating a large meal. This allows time for your food to fully digest. After a smaller snack, 30 minutes – two hours should be sufficient, depending on how much you have eaten.

For energy-boosting snacks before a harder run, try to focus on smaller carbohydrate snacks that have a reasonably high glycaemic index score (GI). A food’s GI measure is relative to how quickly it’s digested and broken down into glucose, so high-GI foods are absorbed faster and less strain is placed on the gut.

The following options are great as quick snacks, before, during, or after training and when ‘carb-loading’ before an event:

Apricot, honey & pistachio flapjacks
Healthy banana bread
Fruity teacake

As a general rule, low-GI foods are best eaten as part of your main meals whilst training (alongside moderate amounts of protein and fat), as their energy is released more slowly into the blood stream and will provide you with sustained energy.

Low-GI breakfast recipes
Low-GI lunch recipes
Low-GI dinner recipes

For lower intensity or recovery sessions, you can reduce your carbohydrate intake accordingly. The following are protein-rich options:
Courgette tortilla wedges with pesto & rocket
Crab & asparagus omelette
Chicken breast with avocado salad

For low-intensity sessions under an hour, the occasional fasted-session is fine too, and can help the muscles to become more efficient for endurance training.

Question 3:


Should I eat before an early morning run and if so, what should I opt for?

James says:
You should always plan to eat before a harder training session, as the body will require fuel from carbohydrates. For lighter, low intensity training, a protein-based breakfast or even a fasted training session are fine.

There are three morning situations to plan for:

1. The early riser
If you wake up two hours before your run, good options include oats, wholegrain toast topped with eggs, granola, bagels or breakfast muffins and freshly made smoothies.
Recipe suggestions
American blueberry pancakes
Cinnamon porridge with banana & berries
Good-for-you granola
Cardamom peach & quinoa porridge

2. Straight out of bed
If you prefer to get straight on the road with minimal fuss, try a small snack with quick releasing energy such as energy balls, fruit or a small flapjack.

If you are really struggling to eat first thing, try increasing the carbohydrate portion of your evening meal the night before, as this will be stored in the muscles ready for your morning run.

3. ‘Training low’
This is a new strategy used by professional athletes to help the muscles adapt to endurance training. For a low-intensity endurance session, you may plan to reduce the carbs in your breakfast as this can encourage the body to burn fat for fuel.

Question 4:


What should I definitely avoid eating before a run?

James says:
To provide sufficient fuel, foods should be mostly high in carbohydrate, but you should also eat foods that you’re used to, make you feel comfortable and don’t feel too ‘heavy’ in your stomach when you begin exercising.

In the two – four hours before a run, try to limit the following foods as these are well known causes of gastrointestinal distresses such as diarrhoea and bowel upsets.

What to avoid…

  • Foods very high in fibre
  • Excessively fatty foods
  • Unusually spicy foods
  • Drinking too much caffeine
  • Alcohol

Question 5:


On the morning of a big race, how long before should I eat and what should I opt for?

James says:
What you eat on the morning of your event should link into an overall fuelling strategy that you have developed during your training. Eat a meal two – four hours before the start of the race, and include a range of foods depending on your taste.

Good breakfast options for the morning of your race may include:

  • Pancakes and mixed toppings, such as fruits and nuts
  • Porridge oats with milk or soy milk
  • Granola with milk or soy milk
  • Multigrain bread topped with eggs
  • Fruit salad and low-fat Greek yogurt
  • Bagels or breakfast muffins with low-fat cottage cheese
  • Fruit juice or a fruit smoothie

Now you know what to eat before your run, get the rest of your training nutrition right:
What to eat during your run
How to recover after your run

This article was last updated on 25 March 2019.

James Collins is recognised as a leading Performance Nutritionist through his work with Olympic and professional sport. Over the last decade he has worked with Arsenal FC, the England and France national football teams and Team GB. He has a private practice in Harley Street where he sees business executives, performing artists and clients from all walks of life. He is the author of the new book The Energy Plan, which focuses on the key principles of fuelling for fitness.
All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

Are you training for an event this year? Share your tips and experiences below.

What to Eat Before, During, and After Running

Even if you only jog the occasional few miles, you’ve likely heard about marathoners carb-loading the night before a long run or race. But pasta isn’t the only food that can help you run well, and it’s not just endurance athletes who benefit from proper fueling. What you eat before your run—as well as during, and after—is crucial to helping you feel good, pick up your pace, and recover quickly.

“Nutrition throughout the entire day, weeks, and months has an impact on all your workouts,” explains Kyle Pfaffenback, PhD, assistant professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at Eastern Oregon University and a nutrition consultant for the Brooks Beast Track Club. “Thinking about it as an aspect of training will help optimize all your runs and allow your muscles to recover and adapt, too.” This is how to eat and drink like a serious runner.

RELATED: Hydration and Exercise: How to Get It Right

Image zoom Getty Images

What to eat before a run

If you’re running an easy-paced 3 to 4 miles (or less): Skip a pre-run meal. “If it’s just a few miles, you don’t need to eat before,” says Vishal Patel, chief sports nutritionist at Nuun, who has worked with elite athletes such as Kara Goucher. There will be enough glycogen (the body’s most readily accessible form of energy) in your muscles to power you through. Drink 8 ounces of water or a low-calorie sports drink before you head out, though, especially if you’re running first thing in the morning (because you wake up dehydrated).

Before a run more than 4 miles long or any speed work: Eat 50 to 60 grams of complex carbs, like oatmeal and a banana. “This tops off glycogen stores,” says Pfaffenbach. Eat 1½ to 2 hours prior to give your body time to digest and soak up the nutrients.

For a tough tempo workout or sprint intervals: Have a carb-rich meal the night before. Stick to a supper that has pasta, rice, lentils, potatoes, or quinoa (balanced with protein and veggies) before any key-workout day to up glycogen stores, which is important for high-intensity performances at all distances, says Pfaffenbach.

RELATED: The 6 Biggest Mistakes Trainers See You Making at the Gym

Image zoom Getty Images

What to eat and drink during your run

If you’re running for less than an hour: Water is sufficient, unless it’s especially hot or humid. In that case, it’s important to sip a sports drink that contains electrolytes. Electrolytes (namely, sodium and potassium) help muscles retain fluids, receive oxygen and function properly, says Patel. “Getting them in fluids, rather than in a solid snack, helps deliver the electrolytes to your muscles faster,” he says.

For long runs: Muscles store enough glycogen to fuel about a 60-minute run. After that, you’ll need 30 to 60 grams of carbs an hour—from sports drinks, gels, or chews—to maintain your intensity. “Eat early and often for a regular flow of nutrients,” says Pfaffenbach. Your brain realizes you’re low on fuel before your muscles do and will start to slow you down as a precaution. During runs 90 minutes or more, sports drinks with carbs and electrolytes can help you maintain pace and delay fatigue.

Towards the end of your race: Swish a sports drink around in your mouth, then spit it out: Just rinsing with the sugary drink can trick your brain into recruiting more muscles (especially when they’re depleted) and enhance your performance, according to recent research in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. No tummy pain, all gain.

RELATED: Doctors Said She’d Never Run Again. Now She’s Doing an Ironman

Image zoom “Be careful about ‘bargains,’” says Blake. “Pasta is inexpensive and it’s easy for restaurants to make a profit, but that comes at the expense of your waist.” If you’re tempted to get a refill, you’re better off avoiding restaurants that offer that deal (and making a healthy version dish at home, like this seafood pasta recipe). Still, any place you order spaghetti, the portion will likely be huge—remember, one serving of pasta is the size of half a baseball—so aim to take half the dish home in a doggie bag. Think of it this way, says Blake: “If it was so delicious, wouldn’t it be fun to enjoy it again the next day? You want to stretch it to two wonderful eating occasions rather than having memories from just one.” Getty Images

What to eat after your run

Once you’ve logged the miles, have a bite within an hour to reap the most rewards. “When you’re running, you’re breaking down and stressing your muscles; the time when you get stronger is during the recovery period,” explains Patel. Reach for a meal with a 2-to-1 or 3-to-1 ratio of carbs to protein, depending on the length and intensity of the run. (If you ran for an hour or less, 2-to-1 will do.) Why? Carbs are more important, as they replenish the glycogen stores (the go-to energy source) in your muscles.

Already know the power of chugging chocolate milk post-workout? Other options with the right ratio: a berry and banana smoothie with a scoop of protein powder, an Rx or Amrita protein bar, or a cup of Ripple chocolate pea protein milk.

What to eat before a 5K or 10K run

What to eat before a 10k

Finding a balance between energy sustaining foods and foods that are easy to digest is the key for runners. The ideal pre-run meal or snack should be composed primarily of:

  • Low GI foods
  • Healthy carbohydrates
  • Protein
  • Healthy fats.

Here I explain why these foods are so important before a run, plus I look at when you should eat them to achieve the best performance possible. I also explain which foods to avoid pre-run and why this should be the case.

1. Eat – Low GI foods

The glycaemic index (GI) is a rating system for foods containing carbohydrates. It measures how quickly these foods are digested and how soon they affect blood sugar (glucose) levels after being eaten. The faster the body breaks these down, and blood glucose rises, the higher the GI rating.

According to our Nutritionist Emma Thornton, it’s important for runners to eat foods containing low GI carbs, particularly in the 2-3 hours before a run, as these foods release energy slower and at a more sustained rate. She says: “This will help to preserve energy stores in the muscles and should allow fat sources to be used thus ensuring energy levels are higher for longer.”

It is particularly important to avoid all high GI foods in the 20 minute window prior to exercise as there can be a physiological effect attached to the drop in blood glucose at this time. This means energy gels are one to watch as they can be packed with sugar, meaning their effects on your energy levels may not be very long-lasting.

Low GI foods:

  • Oats
  • Bananas
  • Blueberries
  • Dried apricots
  • Oranges

Look at our recipe hub to find inspiration for your pre-run meal – our spiced porridge is tasty and filling!

2. Eat – healthy carbohydrates

When it comes to carbohydrates, it is important not to overload as this group of foods can leave you feeling sluggish and bloated. However, eating a small amount of carbs the morning before a big run should help to see you through. That’s because carbs are able to boost stores of glycogen which serves as a source of energy.

Before a 10k, aim to have around 1/3 of your meal made up with carbs and use fish, meat and vegetables to fill up the other proportions.

Healthy carbohydrate foods:

  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Brown rice
  • Wholegrain bread
  • Potato
  • Porridge
  • Cereal

3. Eat – protein

A little bit of protein before a race can help you feel full for a longer period of time – as a rough guide, around ¼ of your dinner plate should be made up of protein. On top of this, protein is really important for the muscles as it is used to build and repair tissue there. It makes up tendons, for example, as well as ligaments, collagen and elastin, the latter of which is essential for repair work. This means it is important to get protein both before and after a run.

Read our blog ‘How much protein do you really need?’ for further information on protein.
Protein-rich foods:

  • Beans
  • Pulses
  • Fish
  • Eggs

4. Eat – healthy fats

Nutritionist Emma Thornton says that we mustn’t forget about eating healthy fats before a run. These provide fuel to sustain the body through a long distance and help support the absorption of multiple nutrients too. Healthy fats also help support the health of the muscles and joints.

Emma says: “Healthy fats should make up 1/4 to 1/3 of our daily diet so these should feature during periods of training, although you might want to reduce this intake in the few hours prior to running as they are much slower to digest.”

Foods containing healthy fats:

  • Flaxseed
  • Avocados
  • Nuts
  • Tofu
  • Fish

You could try our recipe for cranberry granola bars if you’re after a delicious and healthy pre-run snack.

What is a good meal to eat before a race?

Now that I’ve looked at a few key ingredients to eat before a 10k, here are a few examples of meals from our recipe hub that incorporate these foods.

  • Cacao & Peanut Butter Porridge
  • Homemade Muesli with Almond Milk
  • Cod with Pesto Topping & Butter Bean Mash
  • Poached Eggs with Spinach on Wholemeal Toast
  • Italian Blushing Pasta (with wholemeal pasta)
  • Pumpkin and potato soup

My meal plan for race day

I have done a few 10k races now and, with each one, I am gradually learning more about what to eat before and after the race. I hope these tips help you out if you are preparing for a 10k event too.

Morning

I start the day with some porridge mixed with banana and peanut butter as I know this is a meal that will fill me up and release energy slowly. I drink a big glass of water with this so that I’m hydrated for the race.

AM snack

A blueberry smoothie is quite good around this time as I don’t want anything that will make me feel too full. I also like to have a homemade cereal bar to hand, such as our muesli & peanut butter bars, just in case I feel peckish en route to the race.

10K run

Afternoon

After running I will usually have my main meal of the day because, after burning lots of energy, it needs to be replaced! I really like fish so will cook salmon, brown rice, chickpeas and beans all mixed together in a sauce – my favourite is teriyaki! I find the beans make the meal a bit more filling which is what I need at this time. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water after the race too, as this will replace lost fluids.

PM snack

If I feel hungry mid-afternoon, which is expected given the amount of calories and energy used up during the course of a 10k, I usually like to have something sweet as a little treat for my hard work. Banana bread is one of my favourite cakes and, with a cup of herbal tea, it’s the perfect way to relax post-run. It doesn’t have to be too unhealthy either – take a look at our recipe for healthy banana bread to see what I mean!

Evening

As lunch becomes my main meal on race days, for dinner I’ll opt for something light such as pasta in a tomato or pesto sauce. I like to add lots of veg in there too such as spinach, peppers, peas and courgette – yum!

Foods to avoid before a run

As well as choosing certain foods to eat before a run, there are actually a few things that should be avoided as well. This should maximise performance and aid recovery in the days after a run! Read on to find out what you should not be eating.

1. Avoid – Fibre

Fibre is an essential part of a healthy diet and, when consumed regularly, is even associated with a lower risk of heart disease, strokes and type 2 diabetes.

That being said, we may want to avoid a heavy intake of fibre immediately before a run as it can sometimes be a little hard for the stomach to digest.

High fibre foods:

  • Raspberries
  • Apples
  • Pears

2. Avoid – High fat foods

Foods high in fat are also ones to avoid before a big run as these can only be digested slowly. This can make your stomach feel weighed down and may leave you feeling tired and low in energy.

High fat foods:

  • Cheese
  • Chocolate
  • Cake
  • Pizza

Try some of our healthy snacks as an alternative to chocolate and cake. Our peanut butter bliss balls are the perfect option!

3. Avoid – Caffeine

Caffeine is known to give you an energy boost so it can be tempting to have a coffee before a run. This is not a good idea, however, as caffeine can cause stomach upset and diarrhoea – not something you want to have to deal with while you are out on a run, especially if there are no restrooms nearby!

Emma also says: “Don’t forget to watch out for energy products like gels, drinks and bars that are cleverly marketed at runners but may also be loaded with caffeine. The energy hit these kinds of products provide may also be relatively short-lived.”

Sources of caffeine:

  • Tea (including green tea)
  • Coffee
  • Energy drinks

4. Avoid – Sugar

Although sugar will initially provide a bit of an energy boost (or a sugar rush!), this isn’t long-lasting and the inevitable crash in energy levels will soon follow. This means it is best to avoid sugary foods in the lead up to a run.

We know that sugars are abundant in the likes of cake and sweets, but don’t forget they can be hidden in other, more surprising, sources too.

Unexpected sources of sugar:

  • Fruit juice
  • Canned soup
  • Cereal

How long before a race should you eat?

A big meal can often make us feel tired and weighed down which is not what we want right before a run. To prevent this, there are some general guidelines you can follow to ensure your food is properly digested before putting on your running shoes:

  1. 150-200 calories should be consumed every hour before a run
  2. If you consume a large meal, wait 2-4 hours before running
  3. If you consume a light meal, wait 2 hours before running
  4. If you consume a snack, wait 30 minutes to an hour before you then decide to run.

These are general guidelines. Not everyone digests food at the same rate, so it’s a matter of trial and error to find out how long it’s best for you to wait before you start running.

What to eat and drink after a 10k race

After passing the finish line of your 10k race (and stretching out tired muscles!), one of the first things you’ll want to do is eat! So, what should you opt for at this time?

Try beetroot juice – Studies have shown that beetroot could aid muscle recovery after exercise so this is definitely one ingredient to include in your post-run meal.1 Alternatively, why not try some of Biotta’s Beetroot Juice mixed into your favourite smoothie?

My Top Tip:

Biotta’s Beetroot Juice is made from 100% organic, pressed beetroots, it has no additives or preservatives and is not from concentrate.

As well as helping to improve sporting performance, beetroot juice supports blood pressure, it helps to manage circulation and it may even fight colds and flu!

Find out more about Biotta’s range.

Opt for wholegrains – these replace glycogen (a form of energy) that is lost through exercise. This energy is released very slowly which can help avoid a crash later on. Brown rice, brown pasta and brown bread are all examples of wholegrain ingredients.

Fruit and vegetables – fruit and veg can have a high water content, particularly if it’s the likes of melon, courgette and oranges. This means it can help replace lost fluids after exercise. Fruit and veg also contain plenty of vitamins and minerals that your body may need to top up on after the run.

Nut butters – these are loaded with protein, fibre and minerals so are a healthy and tasty way to increase energy levels and replace any nutrients lost through your 10k run.

Stay hydrated – Make sure to drink water before and during a run to help replace fluids lost through sweat. Getting into the habit of drinking around 2 litres of water a day may also make it easier to stay hydrated come race day.

Try Balance Mineral Drink – This contains nutrients and electrolytes, including magnesium and potassium, and can help to ease the fatigue and aching muscles you may experience after a race.

What to eat before training

If you go for a short run first thing in the morning, it is not usually necessary to have breakfast beforehand as your glycogen stores should be enough to fuel your workout.

If you do skip breakfast before your morning run, though, make sure you leave enough time afterwards to have something to eat. It’s important that you eat within 30 minutes of finishing your run to allow your body to replenish glycogen stores and rebuild muscles.

Be prepared to have a bigger appetite as you up your training regime and know that this is ok! Get used to listening to your body and increase your intake of healthy, substantial foods, as required.

Good foods for training:

  • A banana
  • A granola bar
  • Handful of cereal

Smoothies make another great snack before a run. Take a look at our recipe hub for a whole range of smoothie flavours!

What to eat before a 5k

For runs which last less than 1 hour, or up to a 5 mile distance at an easy pace, runners often find that they have enough stored energy to undertake this type of run on an empty stomach – but how can you guarantee your stored energy won’t fail you?

The best thing to do is to have a light snack, 30 minutes before your run, to keep you energised throughout. Try to aim for about 15 grams of carbohydrates and low fibre content in this pre-run snack.

Foods to eat before a short run:

  • Granola bar
  • Low fat yoghurt
  • A handful of dried apricots
  • Muesli and peanut butter bar

What should you eat the day before a race?

Carbohydrates are ideal the night before a run as this can help prep glycogen stores. Foods including rice, bread, potatoes and corn are all rich in carbohydrates. That being said, we don’t need to do any major carb-loading for shorter distances such as a 10k, so don’t get carried away! Instead, aim to have around 1/3 of your plate covered with carbs, with the other two thirds a combination of fruit, vegetables, fish or meat.

Emma says: “Eating a better variety of foods pre and post-run will ensure you get a wider range of nutrients to help support better performance and recovery. Also, it’s important that you don’t change up your diet just before an important run or race and, instead, get used to trying out what different foods work best for you during your training period.”

The night before a big race it is also important to drink plenty of water, avoid alcohol (how can you run with a hangover?) and stay clear of coffee. This is likely to keep you awake at night, meaning you won’t get enough rest to see you through the run.

With all these tips you should be well prepared for your next 10k so, all that remains to be said is good luck and enjoy the day!

Originally published 20 May 2015 (updated on 22 Auagust 2019)

Choosing what to eat before a run plagues nearly every runner. And because people tolerate foods differently, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to prerun fueling. Some runners swear by eating nothing before their short or easier runs, while others have to put something in their system. That said, there are some general guidelines to follow as you prepare a prerun snack or meal.

What to Eat Before a Long Run

Long runs are most commonly defined as being 60 minutes or more, and once you get into half or full marathon training, a good chunk of your runs will be at least 60 minutes.

What you eat before a long run is a good dress rehearsal for your prerace breakfast, says Lizzie Kasparek, R.D., sports dietitian for the Sanford Sports Science Institute.

Long runs require more energy than shorter runs, which means your prerun snack or meal will be larger and take a little more time to digest. That’s why Kasparek recommends eating two to four hours before a long run (and eventually, your race).

“Whether you give yourself a few hours or just an hour to digest, focus on consuming mostly carbs,” she says. Your body’s preferred fuel source is simple carbs—banana, oatmeal, white bagel, a honey packet—because it can be quickly turned into energy.

Yes, we know that may mean an early wake-up for morning runners, but you’ll be grateful when you have the energy to push past the first hour. Plus, you can always wake up, eat a little something, and go back to sleep until run time.

Try: A small bowl of oatmeal topped with a few slices of banana
For sensitive stomachs: Half a white bagel with peanut butter or serving of white rice

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What to Eat Before a Sprint/Interval Workout

Often, speed work doesn’t last for more than 60 minutes, but the workout is much more intense than slower, longer miles. And because of this, your body needs prerun carbs, says Kasparek, who points out that some people also like a little bit of protein with this snack.

Honey Stinger Energy Gel, 6 Pack amazon.com $11.75 “You need to provide your body with quick carbs that give your body energy it can use right away,” she says.

Try: Plain greek yogurt with blueberries or banana with peanut butter or handful of dry cereal or Honey Stinger gel
For sensitive stomachs: Half a banana

What to Eat Before an Easy Run

Most easy runs don’t require a prerun snack—even those that are pushing 60 minutes, says Kasparek.

“If you’re going out for a quick 30- or 40-minute easy run, and you haven’t eaten in a couple of hours or it’s in the morning after an overnight fast, you’re probably not going to die if you don’t eat before that run,” she says.

The best thing to do is schedule those easy runs around your normal snacks and meals. For example, after a morning run, use your breakfast as your recovery meal, which will include carbs plus 15 to 25 grams of protein, says Kasparek.

If you’re running in the afternoon, instead of having your usual 3 p.m. snack and a 4 p.m. prerun snack, skip the prerun snack, or bump your 3 p.m. snack to an hour before your run. Then Kasparek suggests making your postrun meal your dinner.

That said, if you know that you can’t run well or safely without something in your system, have something small like half a banana or a tablespoon of peanut butter. And remember, easy means easy, so running at a relaxed pace that you can maintain and talk to a friend effortlessly if needed.

Try: Eggs with toast or a protein shake or oatmeal made with milk after a morning run, or salmon with rice or a veggie stir-fry after an afternoon or evening run

What to Eat Before a Race

If you’ve been training properly, you have practiced your prerace meal before your long runs, says Susan Paul, exercise physiologist and program director for the Orlando Track Shack Foundation. “Race morning is not the time to try anything new,” she says.

For shorter distances, like a 5K or 10K, your breakfast should be similar to what you’d eat before a track (interval) workout, because the intensity is higher, while the duration is shorter.

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For longer distances, like a half or full marathon, your breakfast—and the timing of when you have it—should be similar to what you practiced eating before your long runs.

As Paul and Kasparek point out, give yourself plenty of time to digest before you head to the start line. And because you might have hours between the time you have breakfast and toe the line, bring an extra snack, says Kasparek.

Clif Bar Energy Bar, 12 Count amazon.com $10.59 “You don’t want to be hungry on the start line,” she says.

Try: Bagel with peanut butter + gel or Clif bar 30 minutes prior to the start

RELATED: Build a killer midsection in the kitchen for powerful, effortless miles on the road with Eat for Abs!

Heather Mayer Irvine Freelance Writer Heather is the former food and nutrition editor for Runner’s World and the author of The Runner’s World Vegetarian Cookbook.

One of my favorite parts of going on runs is the meal or snack that seems to always follow. While I’m not the best at remembering to have a pre-run snack, I always look forward to a post-run treat. Whether I’m running to brunch or refueling on a spoonful of peanut butter immediately after a long run, I know that my body needs the proper fuel to recover enough to crush my next workout.

Depending on how long you’re running or what you’re training for, you might need to fuel up beforehand as well. Even if you’re the person who can’t stomach anything before a morning workout, it’s important to try to get something down for those long run days, or any long workout.

I haven’t quite been able to master the whole eating beforehand (after is easier for me!), so when I was given the chance to chat with four pro runners at Adidas’s shoe launch event earlier this year in San Francisco, I made sure to ask the experts what pre-run snack works for them.

Coffee is a food group.

The one thing runners agreed on was what they do before a race—caffeinate. “The one thing I do before a race is have a good dark-roast drip coffee and listen to pump-up jams, to go into a zone. It can go anywhere from Beyoncé to The Head and the Heart, really everything,” Leah O’Connor, a middle-distance runner, tells SELF. She currently holds the Michigan State University record for the 1,500 meters and the 3,000-meter steeplechase.

There’s a lot of research on coffee and athletic performance. According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), caffeine has been shown to improve endurance exercise performance (like running) in trained athletes. Depending on how it makes you feel, experts recommend consuming a max of 400 milligrams of caffeine each day, but “individuals should adjust this moderate amount based on how it makes them feel,” Beth Witherspoon, M.P.H., R.D.N., registered dietitian consultant for Community Coffee Company, told SELF. Don’t start drinking coffee on race day; incorporate it into your routine (if you’re already a coffee drinker) during your regular training runs, so you can figure out how early you should start drinking so you don’t end up having to go to the bathroom while you’re running.

If you prefer to stick with actual food, bananas are a staple for a reason.

They seem to be at every single break station at races—mostly because runners like bananas, but also because bananas can help combat nausea and provide your body with electrolytes. O’Connor agrees that before a run, she’ll eat “something bland that won’t upset my stomach, like a banana.” Bananas also are loaded with potassium and are easy to peel on the go.

Middle-distance runner Dominique Scott-Efurd from South Africa, who competed in the Rio Olympics, also agrees with eating bananas or something else pretty bland about an hour before her run. “If I’m hungry before a run, I grab a handful of pretzels or dry crackers. They’re not the most delicious, but it does subside any cravings or hunger and they sit well in my stomach.”

Bars are also worth a try, especially since there are so many to choose from.

“Right before a run, bars because they have sugar. I eat Power Bars, Clif bars, and Kind bars,” says professional middle distance runner Brie Felnagle. Try to look for ones with a good mix of protein and carbs to help boost your energy, Edwina Clark, M.S., R.D., certified sports dietitian and head of nutrition and wellness at Yummly, told SELF. Look for at least 20 grams of carbohydrates, and try to keep the sugar under 20 grams, Sarah-Jane Bedwell, R.D., told SELF.

You read advice everywhere about eating a snack before your run – but when, how much, and what exactly should you eat before your run? Should this be a mini-meal or just a small bite? Should you have carbs, protein, or fat? How long should you wait to run? In this post, I will be covering all the details of the pre-run snack. Do note that this refers to snacks before a daily run – what you eat before a race is usually different, as you are eating more to run faster and/or farther.

Why Should You Eat a Pre-Run Snack?

If you are running before breakfast, a pre-run snack serves the purpose of topping off your body’s carbohydrate stores. The overnight fast of sleeping can deplete up to half of your glycogen (stored carbohydrate), so a snack gives a boost of mental and physical energy for your run. The carbs from your snack will prevent any bonking or sluggishness on your run.

The same applies if you are running several hours after a meal and you are feeling hungry again. A pre-run snack stabilizes your blood sugar and provides you with the energy you need for your afternoon run, without ruining your appetite for dinner.

Pre-Run Snack Ideas

Ideally, you want to select easily digestible foods (not high in fiber) that are rich carbohydrates. You may choose to add a bit of fat or protein for satiety, but both fat and protein are slower to digest, so test your option on a shorter run first.

  • Graham crackers, plain or with nut butter
  • Banana, plain or with nut butter (my personal favorite!)
  • Toast or half a bagel with honey or jam
  • Roasted/boiled red potato with salt
  • Sweet potato with honey
  • Applesauce
  • Honey Stinger waffles

All of these options contain easily digestible carbohydrates and are relatively small in volume. You will notice that none of these foods are high in fiber. Some of the options add fat, which can help you stay fuller for longer and provide some energy (you burn fat and carbs while running).

For a long run of 90 minutes or more, pick a couple options or increase the portion size (i.e. half a bagel to one full bagel) to give you energy throughout the entire run. Your glycogen stores will begin to deplete after about 2 hours of running – and you never want to completely deplete yourself on a run – so you want to add more food before and take fuel during the run.

What NOT to Eat Before a Run

While everyone is different, I recommend avoiding potentially irritating foods or foods that are slow to digest. Even if you are not sensitive to these, they may leave your stomach feeling heavy or upset on a run:

  • Dairy products: milk, cream, cheese, yogurt
  • High-fiber vegetables, especially broccoli, cauliflower, kale
  • Beans/legumes
  • Meat
  • Alcohol

Ultimately, though, every runner is different. Maybe you can have a green smoothie before a run and be fine! Alternatively, you may find that the normal options such as peanut butter do not sit well with you. Use trial and error and consider what you are eating and when you are eating when finding a pre-run snack that works for you.

When Should You Eat Your Pre-Run Snack?

Individual factors must be considered in the timing of a pre-run snack:

  • Time of day: early morning run or did you just eat lunch a couple hours ago?
  • Digestion: Is your stomach sensitive?
  • Duration of run: Longer runs require more food before, which can mean more time to digest.

Ideally, you want to allow 30-60 minutes for a smaller snack to digest, such as a banana or dried fruit. Runners with stomaches of steel can usually run less than an hour after eating even a sizeable snack. For larger snacks before long runs, or if you have a sensitive stomach, allow 1-2 hours to digest. If you need more than 2 hours for a pre-run snack, consider trying other options to see if they digest better – especially if you are a morning runner.

When to Skip the Pre-Run Snack

A common problem for new runners is that they gain weight when they begin running. This can cause motivation to plummet and some to stop running altogether, especially if they started running for weight loss. When this happens, look at the calories before, during, and after a run – a Clif Bar before a run, Gatorade during, and a recovery shake afterward is excessive for a run in the range of 30-60 minutes. Your body cannot even use that many carbs on the run, especially when you are not running long enough to deplete your glycogen stores (90 minutes to 2 hours). There’s no need to have a 500 calorie pre-run snack plus sports drink on a 30 minute run when you just had lunch a couple hours ago.

Use your hunger as a cue for running after meals. If you are feeling ravenous already and have a run over 30-45 minutes or a harder workout planned, have a small snack (such as a banana or dried fruit) – you do not want to be running on empty. If you just ate a full meal a couple hours ago and do not feel hunger, then you do not need a pre-run snack – your meal will sustain you through the run.

If you are running for 60 minutes or less immediately upon waking, you can skip the pre-run snack – especially if eating one would come at the expense of sleep. Your stored carbohydrate levels may be lower after sleep, but a 30-60 minute easy run will not deplete your glycogen stores. Just be sure to eat within 60 minutes of finishing your fasted run to recover well and keep your immune system healthy.

A Little Extra Boost

Coffee: Caffeine offers numerous benefits for runners, including improved athletic performance, extra alertness, and help in emptying the bowels before a run (which we all know, is as essential as a pre-run snack!). If you are not a regular coffee drinker, begin with about half of a cup before a shorter run to see how your body responds.

Beet Juice: I have used beet juice before some hard workouts, in addition to a banana. It provides a few extra carbs and some research indicates that it improves athletic performance. I find it a bit pricy to use for everyday runs, but I have and will use it before goal races and peak workouts.

Linking up with Wild Workout Wednesday and Coaches’ Corner!

What’s your go-to pre-run snack?

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What To Eat Before a Morning Long Run

Running and Digestion

By Natalie Bickford, MS

There’s a lot of confusion and questions around what you should eat before a long run. What works for one person might not work for someone else. Everyone’s digestive system reacts differently to various foods. That’s why you should always test foods out during your training to avoid any race day emergency pitstops.

We’ve all experienced some degree of digestive stress during a run whether it’s a side stitch, bloating, diarrhea or heartburn. When you exercise at a high intensity or for a long duration, your blood flows away from your digestive tract to your working muscles, which dramatically slows down digestion. This is why you want to eat things that are quick and easy to digest before a run. Otherwise, it will be stuck in your gut potentially causing cramping and discomfort. This shunting of blood away from your intestines also makes them more permeable and easily agitated (1).

Learn more on how to boost digestion with our Top 10 Tips to Improve Digestion

What Should I Eat Before a Long Run?

Before going on a morning long run, you want to top off your glycogen stores with easy-to-digest carbs combined with a little bit of protein, fat and fiber for sustained energy. We opt for carbs that have a low-glycemic index, meaning instead of spiking your blood sugar, they slowly release glucose for steady energy that won’t make you crash.

Avoid a breakfast that’s high in fat, protein and fiber as these nutrients take longer and are harder to digest. You want to make things easy for your intestines since you’ll be diverting all your blood to your hard working muscles! What you eat depends upon how much time you have until you’re heading out the door. For a sunrise run you might just opt for a spoonful of nut butter with a hydrating drink. If you have an hour or two to digest, you’ll definitely want to opt for more sustenance.

Most importantly, use trial and error to figure out which option works best for you. Use each long run like it’s race day to practice your morning routine.

Let’s dive into some of our favorite, go-to foods to eat before a long morning run.

Favorite Easy To Digest Carbs

Here’s a list of our favorite foods to include in your breakfast before a long run.

Sweet potatoes
We love including sweet potatoes in a pre-run breakfast. They’re high in carbohydrates, but also loaded with potassium to prevent muscle cramps.

Oats
A bowl of oatmeal is Shalane’s favorite high-carb pre-race meal. She likes topping hers with bananas for a potassium boost, and nuts and berries for a touch of protein, fat and fiber. Make sure to allow some time for digestion since oats are higher in fiber. Elyse worked with Picky Bars to develop a Performance Oatmeal recipe that covers all the bases and it’s available in our Shop.

Toast
Toast is one of my favorite carb sources to have before a long run. It’s a easy on digestion and can be topped with nourishing spreads like nut butter or grass-fed butter. I love bakery fresh bread topped with mashed avocado and sea salt. Packaged sandwich bread can be more difficult to digest since it usually has added gluten and other processed ingredients to make it shelf-stable.

Bananas
Like sweet potatoes, bananas are a great source of quick-releasing carbohydrates and are also high in potassium and magnesium. We love them for topping toast, oats, adding to smoothies or just to smear with some peanut butter.

Smoothies
We love having a smoothie as a pre-run breakfast because they’re fast, nourishing and since they are blended up, your intestines don’t have to work so hard to break the food down. The best part is you can modify it based on what you like or can digest easily. We love sneaking in some ginger for digestion and healthy fats for inflammation.

Try Elyse’s new recipe for Creamy Dreamy Raspberry Hemp Smoothie up on the blog!

Our Favorite Pre-Long Run Breakfast Recipes

*RFES = Run. Fast. Eat. Slow
*RFCFES = Run Fast. Cook Fast. Eat Slow.

Can’t Beet Me Smoothie 2.0 (RFCFES, p. 52)

Peachy Green Smoothie (RFCFES, p. 58)

Anti-Inflammatory Chocolate “Milk” (RFCFES, p. 236)

Race Day Oatmeal II (RFCFES, p. 59)

Apple Carrot Superhero Muffins (RFCFES, p. 60)

Sweet Potato Breakfast Cookies (RFES, p. 56)

Smoothie Bowls (RFCFES, p. 56)

Chai Cashew Butter (RFCFES, p. 222)

Oatmeal Banana Pancakes (RFCFES, p. 80)

Sweet Potato Waffles (RFCFES, p. 82)

Avocado Toast with Greens (RFCFES, p. 85)

Try our favorite Performance Picky Oats for a quick, nourishing pre-run breakfast that is easy to pack for race day!

Photo: Alan Weiner

Training for a race—or even just busting through a tough workout—requires physical stamina and mental drive. It also requires following a diet that fuels you. Why? Perhaps even more than—or at least as much as—the miles you put in, what you eat will (kinda, sorta, def) make or break your performance.

Determining which foods will keep you from feeling seriously tired or maxed out—as well as figuring out what will keep you from cramping or bloating—are must-knows. So, I turned to two registered dietitians and a professional chef who regularly pound the pavement for tips. Keep reading to see the food rules experts follow to supercharge their runs.

Photo: Stocksy/Alisha Hieb

Oatmeal, banana, whole-grain toast, nut butter, apple

“Two to four hours before a workout, I try to have a snack or light meal that’s high in good carbs, moderate in easily-digestible protein, and low in fat, refined sugar, and fiber (to prevent cramping),” says Lindsey Becker, chef, certified health coach, and founder of Farm Cut and Tone House FUEL.

Pam Nisevich Bede, RD, a sports dietitian with EAS Sports Nutrition and a 2018 Boston Marathon finisher (her 18th full marathon) agrees with going for snacks low in fat and fiber, plus she aims to keep hers high in carbs and moderate in protein. “If I’m going longer (anything over 60 minutes), I fuel up with some easy-to-digest carbohydrates,” she says. “I opt for a cup of oatmeal and a banana or a piece of whole-grain toast topped with some nut butter and sliced apple. Pre-workout, my go-to is coffee with some almond or dairy milk. I rely on the milk for a small dose of protein, and I rely on the coffee for a jolt of caffeine and energy.”

Photo: Stocksy/Marti Sans

What to eat on race or hard-training days

Smoothies, beets, spinach, bagels, bananas, apple, peanut butter, oatmeal, cereal with fruit, toast, avocado, eggs

“Smoothies are always great, and I try to order one with spinach and beets,” Becker says. “Research has found that spinach can help muscles use less oxygen, which improves performance, and beets help increase blood flow to working muscles, which can boost stamina. They are also rich in antioxidants, which helps fight the oxidative stress that can come with intense workouts.”

If you’ve run a race, you’ve probably heard you shouldn’t try anything new on race day—and that’s especially important for your pre-workout meals. “The most important thing is to eat food that your system will tolerate. Practice with different pre-workout meals or snacks on training days so that you know what your body will digest easily and what will keep you energized,” says sports dietician Torey Armul, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and 17-time marathoner and ultramarathoner. “My personal favorites include a bagel, banana, or apple with peanut butter; oatmeal or cereal with a piece of fruit; toast with avocado; or egg sandwich on an English muffin.”

Photo: Stocksy/Javier Diez

What to eat after a run

Salmon, almonds, cashews, pistachios, nut or protein bar, protein shake or smoothie, milk, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, eggs, fruit, avocado, hemp seeds, spinach, sweet potatoes

All the experts agree the pro move after a run is protein. “Protein is the most important nutrient for muscle recovery and repair,” says Armul.

Bede says she always aims to recover with 15 to 25 grams within an hour of finishing. “The harder the workout and the more miles I put in, the more protein,” she says. Becker opts to get hers from salmon because of its added benefits: “Wild salmon provides a large dose of protein and anti-inflammatory omega-3s to rebuild your muscles,” she says.

Of course, protein isn’t the only nutrient your body will crave after busting through miles or intense intervals. “You’ll also want to replenish your glucose stores with carbohydrates, and replenish fluid and electrolytes that have been lost in sweat,” says Armul. “So drink fluids, eat fruits and vegetables, and have a post-workout meal that contains both carbohydrates and protein. My post-workout go-tos: almonds, cashews, pistachios or a nut or protein bar; a glass of milk or homemade protein shake or smoothie; cottage cheese, Greek yogurt; or a hard-boiled egg and fruit.”

Becker likes a bowl of savory oatmeal for a satisfying blend of carbs and protein and tops it with two hard-boiled eggs, sliced avocado, hemp seeds, and sautéed spinach. And her go-to carb for before a run? Sweet potatoes. They contain a “healthy dose of complex carbs to refuel your glycogen stores, potassium, antioxidants, and fiber.” she says. Pro tip: Use thick slices of sweet potato as the bun for things like burgers.

Runners have a lot to consider: here are 5 upper-body exercises to improve your stride, and don’t forget about recovery! These tips will get you practicing self-care like it’s the most important thing ever (which it is!)

7 Foods You Should Avoid Before Running

Most runners are aware of the importance of building up your glycogen stores before a long run. This gets your body prepped and ready for the intense workout.

But what you may not know is that you need to be careful when choosing a pre-workout snack: the wrong choice can lead to stomach problems and hurt your performance. Therefore, it is a good idea to avoid these seven foods before your run.

1. Legumes

Legumes, like beans or lentils, are an ideal source of fiber for runners. However, eating high-fiber foods before a run can lead to gastrointestinal distress or diarrhea during your workout.

2. White sugar

Carbohydrates are a good idea when you want to get ready for a long run. But, sugary foods like sweets or colorful breakfast cereals are not. These are full of empty calories which can hamper your performance. Your blood sugar first spikes and then falls rapidly. This condition, known as hypoglycemia, can lead to fatigue, headaches and performance loss. Before your next run, try eating a bowl of oatmeal or quinoa instead.

3. Fatty foods

Although fat as a macronutrient is an essential part of a balanced diet, fatty foods before a workout are a no-go. Fat sits in your stomach and takes longer to digest, which can really make you feel uncomfortable during a run. This is especially true for foods high in saturated fats (like cheese, bacon, burgers, etc.).

4. Protein bars

The food industry tries to promote the health benefits of every fitness bar. But, the reality is that many protein bars are full of refined sugar. Make your own pre-workout snack instead. That way you know what is in it. Homemade granola bars are a great way of building up your glycogen stores before a big run.

5. Lactose

Not all runners can handle a glass of milk or a bowl of yogurt before a workout. The reason is the lactose in dairy products, which many people have problems digesting.

6. Spicy foods

As tasty as a bowl of curry or chili is, spicy foods are a bad idea before running. While it is true that they are good for boosting your metabolism, they can also cause heartburn or gastrointestinal distress. Not a pretty thought when you are planning a long run, is it?

7. Sports drinks

Sports drinks often seem healthy, but they are usually full of sugar. The best thing before, during and after a run is plain water. Isotonic drinks aren’t necessary unless you’re planning to run for more than an hour. And then you should just make your sports drink yourself.

What foods do you avoid before running? We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.

You want to learn what to eat before running? Find out more about the best foods to boost your running performance.

***

What To Eat Before Running – Learn The Secret

The question of what to eat before running is one every runner ponders at some point, and experiments with throughout their running journey. Through trial and error, runners find some foods that provide energy, some that cause stomach discomfort, or some that just leave a bad taste in the mouth.

There isn’t one food that works for everyone, or even every workout. But there are plenty of ways to determine which foods should be your go to fuels before running.

Traditional sports nutrition advice recommends eating one to three hours before exercising to provide our muscles with the energy (calories) they need to move. Having a snack before a long run, hill repeats, or speed workout ensures that your body will have the energy to complete the goal time or effort.

For more on workouts, please read 6 Workouts Guaranteed To Help Crush your 5K and 10K PRs.

Research has consistently shown that athletes who eat before running (and other cardio exercises) perform better and recover faster. This is especially true for morning exercisers, as a quick snack will help replenish carbohydrate stores that we use to maintain blood glucose levels overnight.

As you determine what to eat before running, consider the following factors:

  • Workout length
  • Workout intensity
  • Time of day (When was the last time you ate? How much time do you have before you need to start the workout?)
  • Food preferences and intolerances

What To Eat Before Running: Macronutrients (Carbs, Proteins and Fat)

Carbohydrates are the preferred energy source for both the brain and muscles. The body can efficiently break down carbohydrates into available energy; fats take longer to process into energy. That said, both carbohydrates and fat can be used as energy during activity.

During high intensity workouts (when the body is working harder to keep going), carbohydrates are the primary fuel, and are key to sustaining performance. At lower intensities, like walking or a very easy run, the body burns more fat (compared to high intensity) along with carbohydrates.

The body is able to store much more energy in fat than carbohydrates, which is one reason it’s better to fuel with carbs before and during a run. Fats also take longer to digest, so may cause some stomach discomfort during movement. Learn more by reading, The Best Carbohydrates For Runners.

As you experiment with what to eat before running, aim for meals or snacks that meet the following criteria to help minimize stomach discomfort and maximize performance:

  • Low Fat
  • High carbohydrate
  • Low protein
  • Low fiber

Protein, fat, and fiber all slow the digestion process. During the day, this is helpful in feeling full and satisfied for long after a meal. Before a workout, this is less than ideal.

The goal is to eat something that will be digested quickly. Otherwise, the digestive system is still working to process your meal or snack as your muscles try to get going. This may also cause some discomfort.

What To Eat Before Running: Micronutrients (Vitamins and Minerals)

A myriad of vitamins and muscles are at play while you exercise. A few key micronutrients to consider are electrolytes that we lose in sweat (to varying amounts) sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium.

For more, please read Electrolytes For Runners: The Definitive Guide

Most sport-specific hydration and fuel products contain both sodium and potassium. It’s important to stay hydrated before, during, and after exercise. If training conditions are warm, humid, or at altitude, adjust your hydration.

As with other vitamins and minerals, they’re also found naturally in many foods. It’s rare that runners need to supplement these nutrients outside of daily diet, and hydration mix, gels, or chews. Consult a sports nutrition professional to see if you would benefit from any specific vitamin or mineral recommendations.

What To Eat Before Running: Serving Sizes

The recommended amount of food consumed before exercising varies widely for both individuals and types of athletes. To determine an individual’s specific needs, weight, overall health, and training goals are a few things to consider. In some cases, the weather may also influence energy and electrolyte needs.

Consider the following things:

  • Amount of time you have to digest your meal or snack
  • Amount of time you plan to spend exercising
  • Intensity of the workout
  • Time since your last meal or snack

For example: If you’re exercising in the morning, it has probably been hours since your last meal.

If you’re going out for a relatively short run, a small snack (e.g. toast with jam, a snack bar, yogurt, or a piece of fruit) may suffice. If you’re fueling for a long morning run, have a small meal (e.g. oatmeal with banana and nut butter, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, waffles, or a wrap).

Allow at least an hour for your food to digest. With your meal or snack, hydrate accordingly. Drink up to 16 or 24 ounces of fluid before you head out the door, to help prevent dehydration and aid in digestion.

For more on hydration, please read Dehydration and Performance: The Right Way To Rehydrate When Running.

What To Eat Before Running: Personal Experiments

You won’t know what fuel works best for you before a run until you experiment with different things. I routinely encourage runners to journal their pre-run meals and snacks for different types of workouts (e.g. speed, endurance, hill repeats).

When training for endurance, this food journal may start up to two days before a long run. A midweek speed workout is a good time to test what to eat before running too, especially if you have goal race pace work on the schedule.

  • Experiment with meal or snack timing
  • Experiment with nutrient combinations

Some runners tolerate nut butters, animal proteins, whole grains, or even dairy before a run. Some do not. Eat foods that are normal to your diet, and experiment with light protein, fiber, and fat in your pre-run meal or snack. You may learn that a slice of bread with jelly a high-sugar snack works best for you.

Or you may prefer bread with nut butter, a roasted sweet potato, or a hard-boiled egg. You may tolerate yogurt with fruit, or fruit with nut butter. You may prefer a snack bar or a smoothie.

Experiment with various nutrient combinations, focusing primarily on carbohydrates, adding in light protein or fat if you prefer. Take notes on you how feel during your run, especially in the first few miles. Remember to consider the length of your run, and bring snacks and hydration with you as needed.

What Should You Eat Before A Run? Whatever Works Best For You

I’ve seen plenty of unique pre-run meal and snack rituals with runners and other athletes. No one can say exactly what works best for you without some experimenting. That can be determined with expert guidance (from your physician and a sports dietitian), and the outlined personal experiments, with your preferences and training goals considered. These tips are general, and not meant to replace any one on one medial or nutrition advice you may need.

What To Eat Before a Run: Everything You Need to Know

Jan 20, 2020 Author: yash

Running on an empty stomach is a thing: it’s commonly referred to as fasted cardio. While there are several noted benefits of doing so, it generally isn’t recommended. But then the question becomes, what do you eat before a run? And how much do you eat? And how long should you wait after eating to run? Does how long you wait even matter?

We’ll answer those questions here, and we’ll even tell you what foods to avoid before a run, as well as what foods we recommend.

So let’s get started.

Why You Need to Fuel Up

All of us know someone who eats poorly but is still endowed with an aesthetic body and athletic talent.

But no matter how lucky that someone is, even he or she needs to pay attention to their diet if they want to maximize their peak performance. Not only can proper diet and hydration make the difference in a tight competitive race, but they can also put you in a better place mentally.

The problem is fueling incorrectly can lead to experiencing some negative effects during your run. You can become more susceptible to cramps, for example, or gastrointestinal problems. If you don’t get enough nutrition, you may find yourself becoming sluggish, fatigued, and, of course, hungry.

The key is to know what nutrients you need to consume; and to know that, you need to know which nutrients your body utilizes during periods of exertion. And obviously, what your body needs during periods of exertion is sources of energy.

If you read our article on post-run snacks, you’ll find that after a run, you need, most of all, to replenish your carbs and protein. Because that’s what the body uses to convert to energy. The goal is to up your glycogen stores.

It follows, then, that stocking up on your glycogen stores – as well as ensuring a stable glucose level in your blood -should be your main priority before a run. That means that carb intake is the name of the game. At the same time, you want something that can be digested quickly. Remember, you don’t want to feel full or bloated while you run. That would put a damper on your performance, not mention be incredibly uncomfortable. So your pre-run diet should consist of things high in carbs and proteins, but low in fiber.

When Should I Eat Before a Run?

This is a good question. You could eat the ideal meal but in a not so ideal way at a not so ideal time. If you eat it too soon before running, you risk hurting your performance and even motivation.

If you opt for a light snack, you only need to wait about 30 minutes to 45 minutes to begin running.

If, however, you opt for a full meal, you should wait up to 4 hours, depending on the amount of calories consumed. Ideally, you should consume no more than 400 calories; these 400 calories can be consumed just two hours before you start running. Any more than that and your waiting time doubles to about 4 hours. But larger meals are discouraged. Even if you’re planning on a long run, it’s better to eat light beforehand and then fuel up again mid-run.

Keep in mind also, that if you’re going to wait a few hours before running, or if you’re going to be running long and hard, you should also make sure you’re consuming enough protein. Failing to do so can lead your body to burn muscle for fuel. But protein-intake should be a priority when it comes to your overall diet to ensure that your body can readily repair your muscles after training; when it comes to pre-run eating, though, focus on your carbs.

How Many Carbs Should I Consume?

Another great question.

The thing is that the answer will vary from person to person because your body’s needs are dependent on many factors like your weight and the intensity of your workout.

The basic guidelines are as follows:

  • If your run is going to be under an hour, 15 grams of carbs should do the trick
  • For longer runs, or runs with higher intensity, shoot for 30 grams of carbs
  • As for how much to eat before a marathon – depending on the length of the marathon – 50 to 75 grams of carbs is recommended

What Not to Eat Before a Run

As we said before, foods that rich in fiber should be avoided before running. But it’s not just fiber. Fat and protein should be avoided too. This is because they take longer and are harder to digest – your body will wind up spending way too much energy on digestion during your run, leaving less energy for it to draw on for your actual running. And this will lead you to feel exhausted and can even cause cramps.

Here are a few examples of foods that should be avoided before you run:

  • Veggies (anything leafy – like broccoli – is a no-go)
  • Beans, peas, and lentils are no-go’s too
  • Fruits high in fiber, like apples
  • Bacon
  • Red meat
  • Cheese or any kind of dairy (even milk and especially cream cheese)
  • Anything spicy
  • Pasta (if running within 30 minutes, because it takes a long time to digest)
  • Fried foods
  • Though not technically a food, large amounts of caffeine should be avoided
  • Again, technically not a food, but make sure to avoid alcohol too soon before running as well

What to Eat Before a Run

This is what you’re probably here for. So let’s just dive right into our choices within the 3 to 400 calorie range, to be consumed about two hours before running.

  • Turkey sandwich with whole wheat bread
  • Cereal (avoid cereals high in fiber)
  • A peanut butter bagel
  • Pasta with veggies
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
  • Omelet and toast
  • Oatmeal with fruit

Best Pre-run Snacks

The difference between a pre-run snack and a pre-run meal is calories. A pre-run snack consists of no more than 150 calories and could be eaten about 30 minutes before a run without sacrificing performance. In fact, it should boost it. Below are our recommendations.

  • Banana with peanut butter or almond butter (it’s up to you)
  • Banana with an energy bar
  • Graham cracker
  • A boiled (or roasted) potato
  • Half bagel with peanut butter
  • One-fourth cup of dates
  • A single shot of espresso or a small (don’t overdo it!) cup of coffee
  • English muffin with butter or jelly
  • Low-sugar or no-sugar applesauce
  • Whole-grain crackers with hummus

And there you have it: everything you need to know about what to eat before a run.

Questions? Concerns? Let us know in the comments below.

Sources

1. National Institute of Aging

Exactly What to Eat Before a Short Run

If you’re tired of five-day-a-week elliptical sessions and are ready to try running, good for you. Becoming a runner is an exciting and challenging feat, but it can be a little more complicated than lacing up your sneaks and hitting the pavement. Without the proper nutrition, you’ll never reach Shalane status. OK, fine that might be too ambitious for right now, but in all seriousness, fueling your body appropriately is just as important for running as logging miles.

Here’s the low-down on what newbie runners should know about eating, fueling, and hydrating before their first mile or 5K. Follow these sports nutrition guidelines to feel your best out there on your first (or 15th) run.

1. Carb up.

Did you pick up running because it’s a sport that supports your pasta and bagel binges? Not so fast. It’s important to carb up correctly: As a general rule, complex carbs, like whole grains, potatoes, and beans are smart to eat about 2-3 hours before a run. Simple carbs, like fruit, are best about an hour before a run (we love a good banana).

“Carbs are the number one source of fuel and provide energy for your run,” says Angie Asche M.S., R.D., and owner of Eleat Sports Nutrition. In other words, carbs are essential to power you through your new form of exercise. This doesn’t mean you have to eat a bowl of pasta before a short run (sorry), but enjoying oats for breakfast or adding sweet potatoes to your salad at lunch are good choices when it comes to getting in your complex carbs.

2. But wait, don’t “over-carb.”

If you’re on your second bagel of the day because you didn’t read past our first tip, back away from the bread. Carbo-loading definitely helps with long distances (for when you do get to Shalane status), but many new runners start with shorter runs, like a 5K, so you don’t need to go overboard.

Most people eat about 45-65 percent (200-300 grams on a 2,000 calorie diet) of their calories from carbs on any given day. As long as you’re not on a keto or protein-centric diet, the amount of carbs you normally eat is probably enough to power your new sport. Just choose healthy carbs like fruits, vegetables, oatmeal, rice, quinoa, and whole grains within a few hours of your run (of course, if you have a gluten-intolerance or are Celiac, choose the carbs that work for you).

3. Experiment to find what works for you.

Being a new runner can be exciting, but the amount of new information you read online can be overwhelming. It probably looks something like this: Load up on carbs. Eat protein. But not too much protein. Avoid fat. Drink water. Don’t over hydrate. *head explodes*

“The truth is that every runner is different, and what doesn’t work for someone else may be just fine for you,” says Heather Caplan, R.D. and running coach. She suggests experimenting with foods you already enjoy (we aren’t talking about your Snickers habit, but your favorite oatmeal is a good start) and to make sure you keep portions in check. You’ll soon find out which foods give you the best energy and won’t cause you to search for a bathroom mid-run.

4. Don’t get too crazy.

Here’s the caveat to experimentation: You can experiment with some things—maybe a piece of toast with smashed berries instead of a banana—but don’t go all out and chow down on Indian food or jalapeño poppers before a run. You’re going to learn the hard way that it’s a one-way ticket to indigestion city because the spiciness and high-fat might be enough to upset your stomach. Same goes with too much fiber. Asche suggests avoiding too much fiber before a run because those foods can cause bloating or gas. No bueno.

5. Hydrate (duh).

If there’s one thing you remember about sports nutrition, let it be that hydration is essential. “So many runners underestimate their hydration needs,” Caplan says. She suggests bringing or having access to water on most of your runs. “Drink at least 16-24 ounces a few hours before a run and 4 ounces every 15 minutes while running,” Asche says.

The best way to tell if you’re properly hydrated is to check the color of your urine after a run. If it’s dark yellow or the color of lemonade, you need to drink more water during your run. If it’s a pale yellow, you’re properly hydrated. A lack of proper amounts of fluid and electrolyte imbalances in the blood can cause unnecessary muscle cramps and fatigue. Drink up, people!

6. You probably don’t need to down sports drinks pre or post run.

You’re probably skeptical of sports drinks: After all, we’ve been told that they have too much sugar for the everyday exerciser (which is true since most of us aren’t training for a marathon on any given day). But sports drinks were formulated for athletes, and they contain sugar, which can be essential for replacing electrolytes that get lost in sweat.

With that being said, you really only need a sports drink for activity that lasts longer than an hour or is in a severely hot and/or humid environment. “Again, experiment with different electrolyte mixes to see what you like,” Caplan says. “If you’re just starting out, and/or sticking to shorter distances, it’s OK to stick with water for the most part.”

7. Train your stomach.

Just like you need to train your legs to endure the stress of running, you need to train your stomach to handle the constant up and down motion. Cramps and runners trots (the urgent need for a bowel movement mid-run) are all too familiar, especially for newbies, so don’t get discouraged if that sharp pain in your side makes you slow down.

The good news is that avoiding GI distress can be fairly straightforward: Don’t eat too much right before a run and give yourself time to digest after eating your carb snack. You’ll find out which foods work best for you and which to stay away from (we’re looking at you, breakfast burrito). And since most new runners don’t need a sports drink, you’re in the clear because they can cause some tummy aches too.

The Finish Line

Remember, it’s up to you to determine what’s best for your body, but use these tips when you’re feeling a little lost. These snack combos are simple suggestions that will help you choose the right foods before any run. And just like running, learning the perfect fueling plan is a marathon, not a sprint. It may take time to figure out what works for you, but two tips will help you get the most out of your run.

Tip No. 1

Two to three hours before a run, eat a snack or meal rich in carbs with a small amount of protein and fats: an apple or banana with peanut butter, whole-wheat toast with a slice of turkey, crackers with a cheese stick, or vegetables and hummus.

Tip No. 2

About 30-60 minutes before a run, eat a small snack that’s high in carbs, low in protein, and contains very little fat: a piece of fruit (no nut butter); a small handful of raisins and granola; or a handful of pretzels, crackers, or plain popcorn.

Early in the morning, during lunchtime or evening — runners always need to navigate the balance of run times with meal timing to maintain a calm stomach, prevent hunger and boost energy. But, when done right, snacking can be part of the perfect meal plan for runners.

Snacks can be consumed any time of day, but offer performance advantages when carefully timed before or after a run. The right food choices in the right portions provide a fuel boost. Sometimes, less is more — that’s why snacks are the perfect fit for runners. Eating smaller amounts more frequently helps provide the body and brain adequate fuel, and also translates to better hydration.

Before the Run

Pre-run snacks boost blood glucose levels, and can top off muscle carbohydrate stores — essential fuel for longer, harder runs. The more time for digestion, the larger the snack. For a snack two hours ahead, go for something rich in carbohydrates such as a bowl of cereal, peanut butter sandwich or small smoothie. This can help power your run and prevent hunger. Typically, 50 to 75 grams of easily-digested carbohydrates can be consumed two hours before a run without causing any stomach upset.

Of course, real-life schedules could require that you gently fuel up one hour before a run. When short on time, go for lighter snacks that your body can digest quickly. Consider a handful of dry cereal or a slice of toast with jam. Aim for 15 to 25 grams of carbohydrates in the hour before a run. You also can pop in a carbohydrate gel or half an energy bar for easy digestion if you don’t have access to easy snack foods.

After the Run

Post-run snacks reload muscles with fuel and your body with fluid and electrolytes. Aim to eat something with both protein and carbohydrate-containing foods within 15 minutes of ending your run. Twelve to 15 grams of protein and 35 to 50 grams of carbohydrates will help your body replete what it lost and repair muscle tissue. Check food labels to determine optimal snack portions. Savory snacks are appealing if your appetite is diminished after a hard run.

Some post-run snacks include:

  • Trail mix with dried fruit, soybeans, cereal or pretzels
  • A peanut butter and jelly sandwich or wrap
  • An energy bar with a mix of carbohydrates and protein
  • A handful of salted nuts with pretzels
  • Pita bread with hummus

What to eat before jogging?

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