What to Eat Before a Run
Deciding what to eat before you run may significantly enhance your performance and help you get the most out of your running time.
Studies show that when your nutritional needs are at their optimum levels, your running performance is at its top level, whether you’re doing a short run or one that is longer. Your body needs both carbohydrates and proteins so that it can perform at its best.
A combination of carbs, fats, and proteins will not only give you adequate energy to run, but it will also help your body to recover faster and minimize damage to your muscles.1, 2
In this article, we’ll discuss why you should eat before a run, as well as list some foods that may provide your body with the best nutrition for running performance. We’ll also look at supplements that may be beneficial for runners.
Eating Before a Short or Easy Run
Fueling up before a short or easy run is just as important as eating well before a long one. Without nutritious food before running you may start to feel hungry, lethargic, or weak during your run. This can significantly decrease your performance and recovery time post-run may take longer. When you start your run, you don’t want to feel full, nor do you want to be hungry.
For your shorter runs, to give you maximum energy, choose foods that are high in carbohydrates and lower in fat, fiber, and protein. Carbs are the fuel that provides energy for your run, both mentally and physically. Choose complex carbs that take longer for your body to digest, giving you energy for an extended period of time rather than being used up quickly as fuel.3
Runners need protein to help build muscles. When you run, your body breaks down protein, so you’ll need to have a small amount before your run. Healthy proteins include chicken, eggs, fish, and tofu.4
Here are some good meal options for eating before a short or easy run, which provide your body with adequate amounts of carbs, fat, and protein:
- Whole wheat bagel with peanut butter
- Vegetables and hummus
- Banana plus an energy bar
- Oatmeal with blueberries or strawberries
Eating Before a Long or Difficult Run
As with short or easy runs, you’ll want to fuel your body with complex carbs, fat, and protein. Your body will require more energy on longer runs as you’ll be burning more calories, so you’ll want to eat more than you do on shorter runs. The number of extra calories you consume will be dependent on your age, gender, and size.
Don’t forget to eat healthy fats. Your body requires small amounts of fat, especially when you’re running longer distances. Fat acts as the backup fuel source for your body when carbs have been used up, so you can keep going. Choose good fats, such as avocado and peanut butter. According to studies, fats also slow down your digestion and keep insulin levels balanced.5
Here are some good meal options for eating before a long or hard run:
- Yogurt and granola – a power snack of complex carbs and protein
- Turkey and low-fat cheese on whole-wheat bread
- Wild salmon and avocado on whole wheat bread
- Fruit smoothie with Greek yogurt for protein
- Rice cakes with peanut butter and banana slices
How Long to Eat Before a Run
How long you eat before a run can be an individual preference, but there are some guidelines to follow.
For longer runs, you’ll want to give your body more time to fuel up so eat three hours before running, followed by a carb-based snack about 30 minutes before you set out on your run. You’ll be giving your body adequate energy to complete a long run by eating twice.
Healthy snacks that are good for eating up to 30 minutes before a run include:
- 8 oz. of unsweetened chocolate almond milk
- Banana with a tablespoon of almond or peanut butter
- A handful of almonds or other nuts
- A handful of raisins, which provide a healthy carb6
A good rule to follow is that the less time you have to eat before you run, the lighter your food choices should be.
Supplements to Take Before a Run
Running is physically demanding on the body and it can start to break down if you don’t give it the nutrients it needs to keep up with these physical demands.
Taking supplements may improve your running performance by elevating the nutritional demands on your body. Here are some of the best supplements for runners:2
Caffeine – Caffeine may boost your energy. Studies with athletes show that using caffeine before your run can increase your energy as well as get you mentally prepared for an endurance run. If you don’t want to drink coffee, other sources are available, such as energy drinks that contain caffeine.7
Creatine – Studies show that creatine supplements may reduce strain on the body’s cardiovascular system when you’re running in hot weather conditions. This may help improve your running performance.8
Glutamine – Taking a glutamine supplement may help with inflammation as well as help your body recover more quickly after your run.9
Fish Oil – Research shows that fish oil supplements may help to improve your cardiovascular performance by increasing blood flow when running. Fish oil can also prevent stiff muscles both during and after your run.10
Iron – Studies indicate that runners, particularly women, are more inclined to experience iron depletion, which can cause fatigue. Iron supplements may raise iron levels and improve endurance on your longer runs.11
Testosterone Booster – As men age, their testosterone levels decrease. This can lower energy levels and cause poor performance in runners. A testosterone supplement, like Hexofire Delta Prime, may help to improve your energy and enhance running endurance.12
Whey Protein – Whey protein is a nutritional supplement that may help to build up your muscles and improve your running stamina. Studies on exercise performance show that whey may help replenish the protein your body breaks down when running.13
What NOT to Eat Before a Run
There are some foods that you shouldn’t eat before you run. The following foods may cause stomach upset, which you want to avoid when on a run.
Beans, lentils, and other legumes contain fiber and raffinose, which when combined may cause bloating and stomach discomfort.14
Cruciferous vegetables, such as cauliflower, contain fiber and sulfur, making them hard for some people to digest.15
Raw seeds, such as sunflower seeds, are high in fat which may cause gastrointestinal upset. If eaten, seeds should be combined with carbs and proteins to make them easy to digest.
- Williamson, E. (2016). Nutritional implications for ultra-endurance walking and running events. Extreme Physiology & Medicine. 5:13. Retrieved on September 26, 2018 from https://extremephysiolmed.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13728-016-0054-0
- Jager, R. & Kerksick, C. (2017). International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 14:20. Retrieved on September 26, 2018 from https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8
- Ormsbee, M. & Bach, C. (2014). Pre-Exercise Nutrition: The Role of Macronutrients, Modified Starches and Supplements on Metabolism and Endurance Performance. Nutrients. 6(5): 1782-1808. Retrieved on September 26, 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4042570/
- Kato, H. & Suzuki, K. (2016). Protein Requirements Are Elevated in Endurance Athletes after Exercise as Determined by the Indicator Amino Acid Oxidation Method. PLoS One. 11(6): e0157406. Retrieved on September 26, 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27322029
- Lattimer, J. & Haub, M. (2010). Effects of Dietary Fiber and Its Components on Metabolic Health. Nutrients. 2(12): 1266-1289. Retrieved on September 26, 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257631/
- Too, B. & Cicai, S. (2012). Natural versus commercial carbohydrate supplementation and endurance running performance. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 9:27. Retrieved on September 26, 2018 from https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-9-27
- Spriet, L. (2014). Exercise and Sport Performance with Low Doses of Caffeine. Sports Med. 44(Suppl 2); 175-184. Retrieved on September 26, 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4213371/
- Beis, L. & Polyviou, T. (2011). The effects of creatine and glycerol hyperhydration on running economy in well trained endurance runners. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 8:24. Retrieved on September 26, 2018 from https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-6-13
- Castel, L. & Newsholme, E. (1997). The effects of oral glutamine supplementation on athletes after prolonged, exhaustive exercise. Nutrition. Volume 13, Issues 7-8: pp 738-742. Retrieved on September 26, 2018 from https://doi.org/10.1016/S0899-9007(97)83036-5
- Hill, A. & Buckley, J. (2007). Combining fish-oil supplements with regular aerobic exercise improves body composition and cardiovascular disease risk factors. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 85(5): 1267-74. Retrieved on September 26, 2018 from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/6340869_Combining_fish-oil_supplements_with_regular_aerobic_exercise_improves_body_composition_and_cardiovascular_disease_risk_factors
- Auersperger, I. & Skof, B. (2013). Exercise-Induced Changes in Iron Status and Hepcidin Response in Female Runners. PLosS One. 8(3). Retrieved on September 26, 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3589469/
- Angwafor, F. & Anderson, M. (2008). An open label, dose response study to determine the effect of a dietary supplement on dihydrotestosterone, testosterone and estradiol levels in healthy males. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 5:12. Retrieved on September 26, 2018 from https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-5-12
- Huang, WC. & Chang, YC. (2017). Whey Protein Improves Marathon-Induced Injury and Exercise Performance in Elite Track Runners. Int J Med Sci. 14(7): 648-654. Retrieved on September 26, 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5562115/
- Hasler, W. (2006). Gas and Bloating. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2(2): 654-662. Retrieved on September 26, 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5350578/