When it comes to eating and diet, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. We’re all different and we have our own preferences and requirements. But there are some foods that pretty much all sources seem to agree are excellent sources of nutrition before a run.
Should you eat before running?
If you’re going for a longer distance, then it’s more important that you eat in advance. If you’re running for less than 60-90 minutes, sources suggest that you don’t need to eat beforehand as your body will have enough stored glycogen to fuel it. But running on empty isn’t for all of us, and it might leave you feeling like you’ve got no energy halfway through.
How much to eat before running?
Timing is important. Running with a full belly is no fun. As well as you feeling the contents of your stomach bouncing up and down, eating too soon before a run can lead to cramps, side stitches and leave you feeling uncomfortable throughout.
If you do want to eat before you run, experts suggest ingesting 300 to 400 calories roughly two hours in advance. If you have a larger meal, then you might want to wait a little longer before running, depending on how fast you digest food.
What to Eat Before Running
As a general rule, if you want to eat before a run then try to go for something that’s high in carbohydrates. Some protein (a ratio of 4:1 in favor of carbohydrates) is fine but avoid too much fat or fiber as they often take longer to digest and might affect performance.
A cup of black coffeecan boost your running performance, as caffeine helps you go faster and further. Studies suggestdrinking a small coffee about an hour before you run. And contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t dehydrate you. But it does increase your urine output, so you might have to go to the toilet more than usual. Runner’s World have already brewed up an excellent articleon how coffee affects your run.
Eating a banana before running or doing sport is almost always a good idea. They are well known for being an excellent source of energy. They aid digestion, they’re good for your skin and they’re good for blood pressure.They also contain antioxidants and potassium (about 400mg per banana) – which helps stop your muscles from cramping. Other good fruit options before a run include oranges and blueberries.
Peanut or Almond Butter
As you’ll see below, nut butter is a favorite of some of our athletes. For good reason. Almonds and peanuts contain vitamin E (which is an antioxidant), iron, calcium and potassium. Both are high in monounsaturated fat content, but this has been linked to lowering the risk of heart disease. Bottom line? Almonds are slightly healthier (more nutrients), peanuts have slightly more protein and they’re pretty equal in terms of fat content.
Multigrain or Wholemeal Bread
More nutritious than its more processed white counterpart, brown wholemeal (and multigrain) bread is a good choice for a quick and easy snack before you run. Full of slow-release carbs, it should keep you feeling energized throughout.
Yogurt has a healthy mix of carbohydrates and protein, so it can be a good choice for before a run. It also contains calcium, which is good for bone health and probiotics that are good for your gut. Watch out for the sugar content, as some yogurts aren’t as healthy as their packaging might suggest. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, maybe use a healthier alternative to sugar like honey, agave, maple syrup or stevia extracts. If lactose isn’t your thing or you don’t enjoy dairy products, then there are other options like soy, rice or coconut milk yogurt.
Another one that probably won’t shock you. Oats are packed full of goodness (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants) and they slowly-release energy. So they’ll keep you going all through your run. If they’re good enough for race horses, they’re good enough for you. Check out this article from Healthline on just some of their nutritional goodness.
If you plan to go for a longer run and have enough time to properly digest before you do, eggs can be a good choice. They are super nutritious, with a mix of protein and healthy fats. They also contain all nine amino acids (the building blocks that make up protein) which means they are a complete protein source.
Studies show that dark chocolate can reduce inflammation, boost your aerobic capacity or VO2 max and help you run further. It’s said to lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. And it triggers the brain to release endorphins, making us feel good. Portion size is important. As is quality of chocolate. Generally speaking, the higher the cocoa content, the better it is for you.
What do athletes eat before running?
Trail-running duo Katie Schide and Germain Grangier
“Before a run in the morning, I always make sure I am hydrated so I’ll drink two or three big glasses of water,” says Germain.
“I like to have an omelette with spinach and mushrooms, as well as a bit of soy yoghurt with a big spoon of almond butter. I love almond butter – I get most of my calories from it. And a black coffee for a little extra motivation.”
No time to cook something?
“If I’m going out not around a mealtime, I’d have a quick snack. Probably some dates with nut butter and dark chocolate,” says Katie.
“Also, just to clarify, for Germain, 'a big spoon of almond butter' means roughly 1/3 or 1/2 cups (43 or 64 grams)."
Triathlete Josh Amberger
“Usually I’ll have toast with butter and peanut butter. Sometimes I'll put jam and banana or honey on it, or tahini if I'm craving it. It’s basic, but delicious and light on the stomach. I'd consider this a snack and not necessarily breakfast. If I'm running soon after waking up, I'll just have a little fruit. Red papaya, banana or grapefruit are my favorites,” says Josh.
“If I’m running later in the day then I'd probably eat a normal lunch two or three hours before then refuel with something light like a piece of fruit or a glass of juice. And, if I'm short on time, I might just have an energy gel. You want to avoid going into the run in a fasted state, so a small amount of calories is good but nothing in a quantity that would upset the stomach.”