/ 20 min

What to Eat Before Running to Help You Go the Distance

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By: KURU Footwear
Four plates on a table filled with pre-run nutritious foods to eat before running.

Key Takeaways

  • If you are running less than 90 minutes, you probably don’t need to eat beforehand unless you want to.
  • A meal or snack can help settle your stomach or fuel a short run first thing in the morning after waking up.
  • For runs longer than 2 hours, try to eat a meal 2-3 hours beforehand and small snacks periodically throughout the trek.

Runners love to discuss ways to optimize their performance, and nutrition is a big part of the puzzle. What to eat before running can be a crucial decision, especially for runs longer than 90 minutes.

While your choice of food is less critical on shorter runs, knowing your body and some key basics about nutrition can set you up for running success.

The Importance of Pre-Run Nutrition

Should you eat before running? It’s a common question for both newbie and seasoned runners looking to fuel their fitness and get maximum performance while burning fat. The short answer is, generally, yes. The longer answer is whether you should eat, what you eat, how much you eat, and when you should eat all depends on how long you’ll be running for, and your specific dietary needs. 

Proper nutrition before and after a run can help boost your endurance, maintain your energy levels, and give your muscles the fuel they need to repair themselves afterward. All of which are important to stay active. The proper meal can play a crucial role in your performance when it comes to long-distance runs and especially for marathons and beyond.

Optimal Timing for Pre-Run Meals and Snacks

The ideal timing for loading up on energy before a run largely depends on how far you’ll be running. If you are going to be running for less than 90 minutes, it’s less important to eat before a run and the timing isn’t as particular. Still, it may settle your stomach (or help your mood) to eat a little something before shorter stints, especially early in the morning.

For longer distances, fueling your body becomes much more important. Try to eat a meal 2-3 hours before running longer than 90 minutes, or aim for a smaller snack 30 minutes to an hour beforehand to give you the juice your body needs.

Key Nutrients for Pre-Run Fueling

Fueling your trot gives us plenty of food for thought, so let’s take a look at the role different nutrients play in getting you to the finish line of your favorite aerobic activity.

Carbohydrates: The Energy Source

What is good to eat before running? Well, carbohydrates are the workhorse of pre-run meals and snacks. Carbs are going to offer you a quick boost of glucose for the energy you need to keep moving during your run.

Simple carbs like breads, rice and pasta can be OK in moderation but you don’t want to overdo it on them. Mix in some complex carbohydrates, from sources like whole grains or fruit. For early morning runs, carbs like toast or a bagel can be a great way to settle your stomach and supply some quick energy.

Proteins: Muscle Repair and Growth

Proteins play a significant role in repairing muscle, so you’ll want to include them in your nutrition plan if you’re a runner. On the flip side, protein is harder to digest than carbs, so eating too much protein can cause stomach distress during a longer jaunt.

Lean meats like chicken or seafood are usually better pre-run than heavier meats. Peanut butter, avocado or egg whites are all great ways to get a little protein before a run. One popular pairing is a banana with a scoop of peanut butter!

Infographic illustrating essential nutrients to eat before running.

Healthy Fats: Sustained Energy Release

Sometimes we see the word fat in the context of food and get worried, but plenty of healthy fats function as fantastic fuel. Like protein, healthy fats are crucial in maintaining health and energy levels but you don’t want to eat too much of it before a long run. Like protein, fat is a little harder to digest than carbohydrates.

Fuel from food is more crucial for long-distance running, so if you’re doing a half marathon or a marathon, make sure you get some healthy fats into your pre-race meal. A handful of nuts or seeds, avocado slices, or some olive oil are all easy ways to get some healthy fat into the mix.

Hydration: Essential for Performance

Should I drink water before a run? Staying hydrated is mandatory for runners. While running on an empty stomach might be uncomfortable, dehydration can have serious consequences and lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Not to mention cramps.

Make sure to drink some water about 30 minutes before heading out. Especially if you just woke up. And working up a sweat leads to salt loss, so consider a sports drink or mix-in powder to add some electrolytes. You can also use watermelon or berries as a way to boost hydration!

Get at least 8-12 ounces of water, and stay hydrated throughout your run. Just don’t overdo it, as chugging large amounts of water can upset your stomach or even cause nausea–especially if you’re already overheated or dehydrated. Take your time with steady sips when rehydrating.

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8 Foods to Eat Before Running

Wondering what to eat before running a 10k? Fueling your body with the right foods before a run is essential for optimal performance. Consider the following pre-run meals and snacks:

  • Bananas: High in carbohydrates and potassium, they provide quick energy and help prevent muscle cramps.
  • Oats: Rich in complex carbohydrates, oats provide sustained energy release during your run.
  • Wholegrain Toast: A good source of carbohydrates, it provides energy and can be topped with nut butter or sliced fruit.
  • Greek Yogurt: Packed with protein, it helps with muscle repair and recovery during your run.
  • Energy Bars: Choose ones with a balanced mix of carbohydrates and protein for a quick and convenient pre-run snack.
  • Berries: Loaded with antioxidants, berries provide a burst of energy and help reduce muscle inflammation.
  • Sweet Potatoes: High in carbohydrates and rich in nutrients, they offer a steady release of energy during your run.
  • Peanut Butter: A good source of healthy fats, protein and carbohydrates, it offers a steady release of energy during your run, helping you maintain endurance.

Infographic showcasing recommended foods to eat before running.

8 Foods to Avoid Before Running

Wondering what not to eat before running? Avoiding certain foods can help prevent digestive discomfort, bloating, or energy crashes during your run. Steer clear of these risky picks for pre-run meals and snacks:

  • Fried Foods: Greasy and heavy foods can cause discomfort and sluggishness during your run.
  • Spicy Foods: Spicy dishes can lead to digestive issues and potentially cause discomfort while running.
  • High-Fiber Foods: Foods like beans, lentils, and high-fiber grains may cause bloating or stomach distress during exercise.
  • Carbonated Drinks: Carbonated beverages can lead to gas and discomfort while running.
  • Dairy Products: Dairy items like milk, cheese, and yogurt can be harder to digest for some people, potentially causing stomach issues during a run.
  • Sugary Foods: Foods high in added sugars, like candies, cakes, or sugary drinks, can lead to a quick spike in energy followed by a crash.
  • New or Unfamiliar Foods: Don’t try new or unfamiliar foods right before running, as they may not sit well with your stomach and could lead to digestive issues.
  • Alcohol: Avoid alcohol before running. It can cause dehydration and negatively impact coordination and endurance.

Assessing Your Run’s Nutrition Requirements

When you are figuring out what to eat before running a race, the main thing to consider is the length of the run. Will you be out for an hour, or are you settling in for a, well, marathon session?

Runners commonly overestimate how many calories they need, especially from carbs, for outings shorter than 90 minutes. Your body generally has the energy it needs on hand for runs of up to 2 hours. 

Morning Run

Before we get into the various distances and their nutrition needs, let’s talk about what to eat before running in the morning. 

Running on an empty stomach can be uncomfortable and leave you feeling grouchy, especially as your body is generally coming off of its longest period of fasting of the day. Try to eat at least 30 minutes before heading out, and choose something simple and easy to digest, like toast or a banana.

Easy Training Run

For short runs, you don’t need to eat very much, and you may be able to get away without eating anything. If you are wondering what to eat before running a 5K or what to eat before running a mile, this is your zone. Remember, unless you’re just waking up, you generally don’t need extra food for runs lasting less than 90 minutes. 

Eating too much, or eating heavy foods, right before a run can make you feel sluggish or cause stomach problems like bloating, gas or diarrhea. Give yourself a quick boost with something simple like jam on toast.

Long Runs and Intense Workouts

Longer runs, and more intense workouts call for more fuel, and when you cross the 90-minute mark, it becomes more important to eat beforehand. This advice is for people wondering what to eat before running a half marathon or more.

If you are going to eat a full meal, give yourself 2-3 hours before your run so you have time to digest. You can get away with a snack 30 minutes to an hour beforehand.

For refueling on the go, shoot for 30-60 grams of carbs per hour of the run. Energy gels and energy bars are popular, purpose-made choices for energy on the go. Other options include dried fruit, fruit snacks, and gummy candies for a quick boost. And stay hydrated!

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Fueling for Races and Marathons

You’ve probably seen the old trope of gorging yourself on pasta the night before a big race, but major carb loading isn’t usually necessary, even for a marathon. You’ll want to shoot for a healthy carb intake throughout the week and get a good meal the night before, but there is generally no need to go overboard carb loading

As mentioned in the section above, you’ll want to add carbs and energy about every hour or so on longer races, so pack some snacks for these long runs. And on a big race day, don’t leave anything to chance. Try out the foods and snacks you plan to eat during earlier training runs so there are no uncomfortable surprises on your big day.

During Training

When you’re training for a race, you mostly want to focus on giving your body the fuel it needs. Nutritionally dense foods, like whole grains and fruits and vegetables, give you energy and help you feel full without overdoing it on calories. Other foods popular with runners include bananas for potassium, egg whites for easy protein and avocado for healthy fat.

Leading Up to Race Day

Resist the urge to overdo it heading into a big race. There is no need to pound down plates of pasta or get lost in the weeds of some hyper-specific dietary plan. Follow the guidelines above, and don’t be afraid to experiment and try new foods to see what fuels work best for you.

On Race Day

You don’t want to take on a big race on an empty stomach, and if you want a full meal, you should try and eat at least two hours before taking off running. Some runners will wake up, eat, and go back to sleep before an early start time, but that may not work for everyone. 

If you can’t get a full meal in on the morning of the race, you can compensate somewhat with a larger meal the night before but it’s important not to overdo it and set yourself up for tummy troubles. A snack 30 minutes before taking off can be a good option if you can’t squeeze a meal in.

Stay hydrated, and keep adding fuel in the form of snacks if you are running long distances, whether it’s your favorite energy gel or just a handful of nuts.

Impact of Running on Digestion

Can you run on an empty stomach? You can, but it may not be fun or comfortable. Still, if you prefer to set out right away in the morning and feel like you have enough energy to manage your run, it’s not necessary to eat beforehand unless you’re going to run for more than 90 minutes.

Some runners report their activity can sometimes cause stomach issues, but it’s not entirely clear how that connection functions. One thought is that the high-impact motions put pressure on your organs or change the way your blood flows, leading to sudden stomach distress. In any case, foods known for pit stop problems like cherries, raspberries or items high in fiber, are likely worth skipping over.

Increased Blood Flow and Nutrient Delivery

One of the significant benefits of running is to your circulation, as the motion promotes enhanced blood flow. Better blood flow means more oxygen and nutrients supplied to your muscles, letting you push harder and further. Good circulation also helps your body recover faster from exercise and injury. That increased blood flow also helps with digestion, giving you better nutrient absorption.

Improved Bowel Regularity

Running has a lot of side benefits, including when it comes to bowel movements. If you’ve been experiencing constipation, exercise can help relieve the issue. A sedentary lifestyle is a major risk factor for constipation and the health issues that stem from it. Running can help keep your bowel movements healthy and regular.

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Post-Run Recovery and Digestive Well-being

What you eat and drink after a run can be just as important as what you put into your body before a run. Try these tips for better health and digestive well-being.

Replenish Fluids and Electrolytes

Your body can’t go long without water, so pay special attention to your hydration. Drinking plenty of water after a run is crucial, but the exact amount will depend on how far you run, the temperature, your body, and other factors. Don’t chug water too fast, especially right after finishing a workout. 

Even better than water are electrolyte-rich options like sports drinks. It’s crucial to replenish your electrolytes and salt levels after any intense workout and a run is no exception!

Incorporate Nutrient-Dense Foods

Staying healthy is about feeling full without overdoing it, so nutrient-dense foods complement any runner’s routine perfectly. Lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, and a smorgasbord of fruits and vegetables, can all help you feel full and fueled up for any activity, all on fewer calories than you’d find in less dense foods like simple carbohydrates.

 

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Hydration, electrolyte balance and nutrition are vital in optimizing your running performance.  If you’re serious about getting the most out of your body, consider your footwear. What to wear on a run can be as important as what to eat before running.

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