Deciding what to eat before you run can be tough. Even after much trial and error, some runners just can’t figure out their pre-workout fueling.
There are two key questions to ask yourself when deciding what to eat before you run. First, how long has it been since you last ate or drank something? And second, how long and how intense is your workout going to be?
The number one priority before a run: make sure you hydrate. In addition to being sure you are drinking enough water, be sure your electrolytes are restored from prior training sessions.
Also, be sure your sodium levels are high enough to keep you hydrated throughout your whole run.
Try to make hydration a habit, so that you don’t even need to think about it before your run. A sports drink that is low in sugar can usually get the job done.
For a short or easy run, meaning anything under 60 minutes, your body’s stored energy will be able to get you through without additional fuel. Your normal diet will leave you with enough stored energy.
However, this does not include speed work or intense hill workouts. Short run in this context just refers to a run at your normal pace that lasts for under 60 minutes.
Speed or Hill Workouts
Even if a speed or hill running workout is under 60 minutes, it requires more energy than a short, steady run. So additional fuel will be welcome here.
For these quicker, more intense workouts, consider or drinking something with caffeine in it. Simple carbs or sugars are great for these types of workouts. Consider the following foods before a speed or hill workout:
Long runs require more complex carbohydrates, as they are a more sustainable fuel. There are plenty of options here; just make sure you are giving yourself enough time for the food to digest. Energy bars or an energy gel are usually good options before runs of long distances.
Here are just a few ideas of some pre-workout snacks before your long run:
How long should I wait after eating?
Another common question – how long do I need to wait to run after eating? Generally speaking, an hour is usually enough time for your body to digest that pre-run fuel. However, depending on your personal preferences, you might want to give yourself an hour and a half or two hours.
No matter the exact amount of time, this means you will have to plan ahead.
For example, if you normally have a light snack in the afternoon, and you’re planning a short post-work run, move that afternoon snack a bit later to one hour before you run.
This way, you’re not adding unnecessary pre-run fuel. You’re just adjusting your normal eating habits to maximize running fuel.
Planning ahead and scheduling your eating will help ensure that you feel your best while running.
If you are planning a long morning run, do yourself a favor and get up at least an hour before so that your pre-run fuel can digest, and it’s ready for your body to use.
Not only will you feel better with your food more settled on your run, but that energy will be ready for your body to use.
Take a good look at your schedules on the day of your run: your training schedule, your work schedule, your typical eating schedule. From there, adjust accordingly to make sure your pre-run fuel is tailored to that training session.
What you eat after a run or after running is just as important here. Your body needs to recover after a training session, and your post-run nutrition can greatly help the recovery process if you eat correctly. This is especially important in order to avoid injuries.
What Happens in the Body Post-Workout?
After we exercise, the body’s cortisol levels are normally high, and insulin is usually low. This happens because you have just put stress on the body, causing stress hormones (namely cortisol) to pump out more abundantly in the body.
As for insulin levels, they drop because glucose has been depleted, lowering your blood sugar levels. As a result, the body needs simple and complex carbohydrates.
Protein must also be restored, and the body absorbs protein best when it is eaten with carbohydrates. High quality carbs help drive amino acids from protein into the muscle cells where they are needed most.
These foods contain all the macronutrients and are high in vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants. They help boost immunity, ease digestion and promote better sleep. The goal is to eat them regularly, if not daily, for maximum benefit.
Keep in mind, your post-training food decision is a highly individual one. What works for someone else might not work for you.
Use trial and error from this list to refine your post-training meals and figure out what works for you.
If you are training twice a day, or running at night and then in the morning, keep in mind that your post-run nutrition is also your pre-run nutrition.
Try to find some overlap foods that will accomplish what you need. This is even true if you choose to run everyday. Figuring out how often you should run might be the first step here.
When it comes to fueling, thinking ahead is key. To perfect your sports nutrition, think about when the last time you ate or drank was, and how tough your training session is going to be.
For easy runs, no need to stray from your average daily nutrition. Adding in a small snack is an option if you prefer it, but it is not necessary for these short runs.
Longer or more intense runs require some additional fueling. Aim to add simple carbs and sugars for shorter, intense sessions, and complex carbs before long runs. Plan ahead and feel great when you run!