Running, Workouts

What to eat before a run?

The question of what to eat before a run and when to eat it is one of the most common dilemmas for new runners.

I openly admit to giving this no thought when I started running and would simply get my running gear on and head out of the door.

This would often lead me to stomach cramps, stitches and headaches when running… Once I had a better understanding of the effects of pre-run nutrition it really helped me improve my running.

As with most aspects of running there is not a silver bullet or one size fits all answer here so you will need to use some trial and error with the information below to get maximum effect.

Rule of thumb

One of the most common issues with pre-run nutrition is that new runners over-estimate the demands on their body during shorter runs.

If you are running for less than 60 minutes then your body likely already has all the energy it needs to get you through without making any alterations or loading on carbs etc before a run.

Whilst you don’t need to load up on food before a short run, it is still a good idea to follow the guide below, especially on foods to avoid before running.

If you are doing a longer or more intense run then it is a good idea to think more about your pre-run nutrition and ensure you have some extra energy loaded in plenty of time for your run.

What to eat before a run
What to eat before a run and when:

You are going to have to do a bit of experimentation here to get this perfect but I have put together a few general principles on the timings of your pre-run food.

Within 30 minutes of your run:

  • Eat a small amount of easily digestible food that will not sit heavy in your stomach while running causing you cramps. Over-eating here is likely to have a negative impact on your run.
  • Some examples of good foods to eat in this period:
    • A Banana
    • Dried fruits such as raisins
    • A granola bar
    • Energy bar
    • Around 250ml water for hydration
  • Examples of foods to avoid in this period:
    • Pastas
    • Breads and bagels
    • Fried foods
    • Large amounts of carbs

The key in this period is to avoid over-eating but give your body a small energy boost and hydration.

1 hour before your run:

  • If you still have an hour before your run then this is a great time to get a snack on board to give you energy for your run but allow it to be digested in time.
  • Some examples of good foods to eat in this period:
    • A bowl of cereal
    • Peanut butter on toast
    • Scrambled eggs on toast
    • Around 500ml water for hydration
  • Examples of foods to avoid in this period:
    • Large meals
    • Spicy food
    • Fried foods

Your aim in this period is to get some easily digestible food on board to ensure your body is prepared for the run. I suggest that hydration be your main concern at this time.

2 hours+ before your run:

  • If you still have two or more hours until your run then you can have a larger meal/snack than is possible only 1 hour before your run, but stick to around 400 calories to avoid over-eating.
  • Some examples of good foods to eat in this period:
    • Oatmeal with fruit and nuts
    • Grilled chicken wrap
    • Houmous and pita bread
    • Peanut butter sandwich
    • Around 500ml water for hydration
  • Examples of foods to avoid in this period:
    • Large meals
    • Alcohol
    • Fibrous veggies
    • Fatty foods

Morning Runner?

I am not a morning runner but I know many that are and often they will rise from bed, get their gear on and go.

This does not leave them much/any time for food before a run, is this a bad thing?

As I stated earlier in the post, your body likely already has the energy it need to perform a 60-75 minute run at normal intensity, so there is not a massive concern here.

If you can I would suggest trying to get a small snack in 30 minutes prior to your run and some hydration, even if this means getting up a little earlier.

If you are planning a long or intense run first thing in the morning, then I would suggest having a larger carb focussed meal the night before so that your body is fuelled come morning.

Closing thought

As you can see there are plenty of points to consider here and it is up to you now to use some trial and error to find what works best for you. Feel free to share your thoughts and what works well for you in the comments section below.

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