Running on an empty stomach is a thing: it’s commonly referred to as fasted cardio. While there are several noted benefits of doing so, it generally isn’t recommended. But then the question becomes, what do you eat before a run? And how much do you eat? And how long should you wait after eating to run? Does how long you wait even matter?
We’ll answer those questions here, and we’ll even tell you what foods to avoid before a run, as well as what foods we recommend.
So let’s get started.
Why You Need to Fuel Up
All of us know someone who eats poorly but is still endowed with an aesthetic body and athletic talent.
But no matter how lucky that someone is, even he or she needs to pay attention to their diet if they want to maximize their peak performance. Not only can proper diet and hydration make the difference in a tight competitive race, but they can also put you in a better place mentally.
The problem is fueling incorrectly can lead to experiencing some negative effects during your run. You can become more susceptible to cramps, for example, or gastrointestinal problems. If you don’t get enough nutrition, you may find yourself becoming sluggish, fatigued, and, of course, hungry.
The key is to know what nutrients you need to consume; and to know that, you need to know which nutrients your body utilizes during periods of exertion. And obviously, what your body needs during periods of exertion is sources of energy.
If you read our article on post-run snacks, you’ll find that after a run, you need, most of all, to replenish your carbs and protein. Because that’s what the body uses to convert to energy. The goal is to up your glycogen stores.
It follows, then, that stocking up on your glycogen stores – as well as ensuring a stable glucose level in your blood -should be your main priority before a run. That means that carb intake is the name of the game. At the same time, you want something that can be digested quickly. Remember, you don’t want to feel full or bloated while you run. That would put a damper on your performance, not mention be incredibly uncomfortable. So your pre-run diet should consist of things high in carbs and proteins, but low in fiber.
When Should I Eat Before a Run?
This is a good question. You could eat the ideal meal but in a not so ideal way at a not so ideal time. If you eat it too soon before running, you risk hurting your performance and even motivation.
If you opt for a light snack, you only need to wait about 30 minutes to 45 minutes to begin running.
If, however, you opt for a full meal, you should wait up to 4 hours, depending on the amount of calories consumed. Ideally, you should consume no more than 400 calories; these 400 calories can be consumed just two hours before you start running. Any more than that and your waiting time doubles to about 4 hours. But larger meals are discouraged. Even if you’re planning on a long run, it’s better to eat light beforehand and then fuel up again mid-run.
Keep in mind also, that if you’re going to wait a few hours before running, or if you’re going to be running long and hard, you should also make sure you’re consuming enough protein. Failing to do so can lead your body to burn muscle for fuel. But protein-intake should be a priority when it comes to your overall diet to ensure that your body can readily repair your muscles after training; when it comes to pre-run eating, though, focus on your carbs.
How Many Carbs Should I Consume?
Another great question.
The thing is that the answer will vary from person to person because your body’s needs are dependent on many factors like your weight and the intensity of your workout.
The basic guidelines are as follows:
- If your run is going to be under an hour, 15 grams of carbs should do the trick
- For longer runs, or runs with higher intensity, shoot for 30 grams of carbs
- As for how much to eat before a marathon – depending on the length of the marathon – 50 to 75 grams of carbs is recommended
What Not to Eat Before a Run
As we said before, foods that rich in fiber should be avoided before running. But it’s not just fiber. Fat and protein should be avoided too. This is because they take longer and are harder to digest – your body will wind up spending way too much energy on digestion during your run, leaving less energy for it to draw on for your actual running. And this will lead you to feel exhausted and can even cause cramps.
Here are a few examples of foods that should be avoided before you run:
- Veggies (anything leafy – like broccoli – is a no-go)
- Beans, peas, and lentils are no-go’s too
- Fruits high in fiber, like apples
- Red meat
- Cheese or any kind of dairy (even milk and especially cream cheese)
- Anything spicy
- Pasta (if running within 30 minutes, because it takes a long time to digest)
- Fried foods
- Though not technically a food, large amounts of caffeine should be avoided
- Again, technically not a food, but make sure to avoid alcohol too soon before running as well
What to Eat Before a Run
This is what you’re probably here for. So let’s just dive right into our choices within the 3 to 400 calorie range, to be consumed about two hours before running.
- Turkey sandwich with whole wheat bread
- Cereal (avoid cereals high in fiber)
- A peanut butter bagel
- Pasta with veggies
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
- Omelet and toast
- Oatmeal with fruit
Best Pre-run Snacks
The difference between a pre-run snack and a pre-run meal is calories. A pre-run snack consists of no more than 150 calories and could be eaten about 30 minutes before a run without sacrificing performance. In fact, it should boost it. Below are our recommendations.
- Banana with peanut butter or almond butter (it’s up to you)
- Banana with an energy bar
- Graham cracker
- A boiled (or roasted) potato
- Half bagel with peanut butter
- One-fourth cup of dates
- A single shot of espresso or a small (don’t overdo it!) cup of coffee
- English muffin with butter or jelly
- Low-sugar or no-sugar applesauce
- Whole-grain crackers with hummus
And there you have it: everything you need to know about what to eat before a run.
Questions? Concerns? Let us know in the comments below.