Figuring out what to eat before a run can be confusing. Should you eat a snack or a full meal, and are some options better than others? Here are tips and tricks to help you succeed.
"What do you eat before a run?" I feel like I'm opening Pandora's box by asking this question. It seems that each runner has their tried-and-true pre-run meal, and they are willing to fight to the finish line to defend their favorite fueling options. And to make the matter more confusing, there are articles in every fitness and running magazine, and on every running site espousing research or tightly-held beliefs on the matter.
While I've pulled together a list of items most often recommended by the experts, and meals and snacks that have worked for me, it all really comes down to one thing...
Do what works for YOUR body.
I know, I know...that seems like a cop-out, but let me convince you.
One of the most agreed-upon rules of running (and many other sports, for that matter) is that you should not try something new on the morning of a race.
Why is that?
After months of carefully planning and training for your target event, the last thing you want to do is mess with your pre-run fueling. You'll likely be rewarded with multiple trips to the porta potties mid-run.
Been there, done that.
The time to experiment with pre-run fueling options is on your training runs. You are not just training your body to run farther and faster. You are training it to deal with fiber, to process food and fluids efficiently and to sustain you through any fueling "walls" that you might hit.
Play around with different combinations of food and fluids until you find the combination that works best for your body.
Where do you start? What are the some of the recommended options?
That depends on a couple of factors...how long you will be running, how far ahead of the run you will be eating and your body's preferences.
What to eat when running for less than an hour:
If you the type to roll out of bed, straight into your running clothes (raising hand) and you are running for less than an hour, many experts say that it's fine to avoid a pre-run meal. That is, as long as you fuel properly shortly after your run.
However, this doesn't work for everyone. Many people feel that, understandably, they need a small meal to feel fully energized for their run. Again, do what is right for YOUR body!
Here are some options:
- Dried fruit
- Raw nuts
- Low-fiber cereal with low-fat or skim milk
- Greek yogurt with berries
- ½ Cliff Bar
My personal preference before a shorter run is to eat nothing (especially if I'm running right after I roll out of bed), as long as I had a healthy dinner then night before.
What to eat when running for more than an hour:
If you are running for an hour or more, not fueling is not an option. Your body needs some quality calories to sustain itself properly. In fact, not fueling for long runs can even be dangerous. Your body needs electrolytes, potassium and sodium (amongst other nutrients and minerals) to function properly.
When eating a larger meal before a long run, be sure to give your body sufficient time to process and store the energy. Most experts recommend eating a larger meal 1 to 2 hours before your run.
Here are some options:
- Higher fiber cereal (such as GoLean Crunch) with low-fat or skim milk
- Whole wheat bread with nut butter and drizzle of honey
- English muffin with nut butter and small amount of jam
- Scrambled egg with whole wheat toast
- Whole wheat waffles with small amount of maple syrup
- Oatmeal sweetened with maple syrup
- Hummus with crackers or raw vegetables
- Sweet potato
- Fruit or green smoothie
My personal preference before a long run is half a banana and half of a piece of whole wheat bread with peanut butter.
Things to avoid eating before a run:
- Fruit juice, which is concentrated in sugar and may cause stomach upset
- Foods that are very high in fiber
- Foods that are very fatty
- Foods that are very spicy
- Drinking excessive amounts of caffeine
- Alcohol (does that need to be said?)
The moral of the story is...practice fueling, both for food and fluids. And listen to your body.