What to Eat Before You Run

Toasted bread with bananas
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Eating before your running workout can be a bit tricky depending on what time you run, as well as how far and how fast you run. If you train in the morning, you'll need to plan your pre-exercise nutrition accordingly, and eat enough to keep you fueled, but not so much that you feel queasy or get stomach cramps.

In theory, it's not essential to eat immediately before you run if you consistently eat a healthy diet and have properly replenished your glycogen stores after your last workout. In fact, the majority of the energy used to fuel your run comes from the stored energy in your body (glycogen), not the food you've just consumed. Most people have enough glycogen to fuel about 90 minutes of high intensity exercise and several hours of moderate exercise. So if you feel fine doing a short run on an empty stomach, go for it. Just be sure to hydrate with 12 to 16 ounces of water before heading out.

What to Eat Before a Short Running Workout

If running on empty doesn't feel good to you, you will want to hydrate with water and eat something light that digests easily. A good pre-run breakfast for those who run three to six miles can be something as simple as a banana, water, and maybe a cup of coffee an hour or so before starting your workout. You could also eat toast with jam or half of a carbohydrate bar if that works for you.

You'll need to learn what works best for your system and how much time you need to digest your food, but most people can eat a banana without problems. Avoid anything with a lot of protein or fiber, which takes a long time to digest before running.

What to Eat Before a Long Running Workout

For a longer run (10 miles or more) it may be necessary to eat up to two hours before you run so you have enough energy and allow time for it to digest. Consider eating 400 to 500 calories and drinking 16 to 20 ounces of water before your longer runs.

Again, consume high-carbohydrate foods that digest easily and provide quick energy for the run. Fruit, cereals, pancakes, a bagel with jam, fruit smoothies or anything else that is easy to digest would be great. Stay away from things that have a lot of fat and protein because it does not digest as well.

During your longer run, you may want to consider bringing along carbohydrate gel pack such as Clif Shot or small packet of pure honey to keep from running low on energy.

What to Eat After a Running Workout

The thirty minutes after finishing your morning run is the best time to replenish your glycogen stores and to rehydrate. This is the time to consume water and eat both carbohydrate and protein in a ratio of 4:1 (four grams of carbohydrate for every one gram of protein). Some good options for your post-exercise meal include oatmeal with low-fat milk, eggs with whole grain toast, yogurt, and berries, or even chocolate milk. While solid foods can work just as well as a sports recovery drink, the drinks may be a quick, easy way to get the right nutrition in the thirty-minute window.

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Article Sources
  • The Position Statement from the Dietitians of Canada, the American Dietetic Association, and the American College of Sports Medicine, Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research in the Winter of 2000, 61(4):176-192
  • Betts JA, et al. Effects of recovery beverages on glycogen restoration and endurance exercise performance Williams MB, et al. Effects of recovery beverages on glycogen restoration and endurance exercise performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2003 Feb;17(1):12-9.
  • Ivy JL, Goforth HW Jr, Damon BM, McCauley TR, Parsons EC, Price TB. Early postexercise muscle glycogen recovery is enhanced with a carbohydrate-protein supplement. J Appl Physiol. 2002 Oct;93(4):1337-44.