Getting your body fuelled up for a run is a task that we either neglect or overdo! Either way, it doesn’t have to be as complicated as you’d imagine. It boils down to a few simple rules on the right foods to eat, when to eat, and how to refuel on the go. Once you have some of these tricks up your sleeve, planning snacks, before and during your run, will be a breeze!
Foods Before A Regular Run
According to experts like the National Health Service, having a snack that has carbohydrates, some protein, and a little fat can help you perform better during a run or workout and aid recovery after. It is best to pick something that is quick to digest.1 For shorter runs, a little snack should be more than adequate. Try some of these food options an hour or two before you run.
- Fruit like bananas and a few nuts
- Wholegrain bread with nut butter
- Small serving of wholegrain cereal with skim milk
- Glass of milk/non-dairy milk
- Crackers with cottage cheese
- Hummus with vegetable crudites
If, however, you are running for under an hour or less intensely, you may not “need” to eat much or worry about food before working out.2 Of course, if you are diabetic or have blood sugar regulation issues, you will need to work out a proper pre-workout meal with your doctor and nutritionist.
Best Foods Before A Long Run Or Marathon
If you intend to run longer distances or work out more intensely, you will have to prepare your body for the rigor even more. That means consuming more calories and slightly bigger carb-heavy meals a few hours earlier. Have a proper meal at least 3–4 hours before the run – anything later than that could be counterproductive as your body tries to digest the food instead of using its energy to power your run. Avoid saturated fats and large portions of protein within a 2-hour window as these are hardest to digest.3 Some options include:
- Porridge of oatmeal with fruits and nuts
- Grilled fish and avocado wrap
- Salmon or tuna salad with vegetables
- Quinoa and chickpeas in a wholewheat wrap
- Wholewheat pasta in a tomato-based sauce with vegetables and cheese, tuna, or lean meat
- Baked beans on wholegrain toast
- Baked potato with cottage cheese and a side salad
- Tuna on wholewheat bread roll, with a portion of fruit on the side
- Brown rice and lean meat or chicken with vegetables
Closer to run time have a snack like yogurt or crackers and cheese from the earlier list for short workouts. Sports drinks and lollies can help just before or during the run.4
Eating During The Run
You will need to consume more calories from carbs during the run if you plan to run more than 90 minutes. That’s because your body’s glycogen stores begin to deplete once you have been running that long.5 Have around 30 to 60 gm of carbs for every hour that you run. A rule of thumb would be to have a 50–100-calorie snack every half hour that you run.6
Because you are running, your refueling will need to involve something quick and easy to consume. Here are some popular choices that give you the additional carbs you need.7
- Sports drink/isotonic drinks
- Sports gel/energy gel
- Honey/bread and honey sandwich
- Dried fruit
- Gummy sweets/jelly beans/lollies (while not ideal, sometimes these are most convenient) or energy chews
You will also need to hydrate and replenish lost electrolytes. Water plays a central role in maintaining normal physiological functions in the body. If you get dehydrated while running, you may run the risk of problems ranging from declining muscle function which will impact your endurance to cardiovascular issues.8
If you are running for under an hour, plain water should do just fine. However, if you run for longer, you lose a lot of salts through sweat and will need to also replenish electrolytes through an isotonic drink that is enriched with salts.9
The fluid intake will vary depending on how much you sweat and how intense your run is. However, about 500–600 ml of water about 2 or 3 hours before your run and 300–360 ml about 10 minutes before or just before you begin your run are good.10
After that, you should aim at replacing water and electrolytes lost through sweat. Take small sips of water frequently as you run. You may need more water when it is hot or during a high-intensity workout. Professional runners even keep tabs on the average sweat rate – this involves simulating running conditions and checking weight before and after.
What Not To Eat Before A Run
Certain foods may seem like a good idea but are actually not the best choice before a run. These include healthy foods that are otherwise good to include in your diet, but best avoided just before a run or on the morning of a strenuous workout.
- High-fiber foods like broccoli or nuts and seeds can be a little harder to digest due to their fiber content. This could leave you with cramps or gas.11
- Fried food or snacks like potato chips are quick to nibble and may give you the carbs you want, but they are also heavy on fats that are quite slow to digest.12
- Even healthy fatty food like avocados and nuts are best avoided due to their high-fat content. Full fat cheeses are better skipped too.13
- Spicy food isn’t the best idea before a run as it can give you heartburn or indigestion. This can weigh you down and may even mean more pit stops than you had planned for. Some runners say it makes their nose run, interfering with their running!
- Caffeinated drinks are a bit controversial. Some believe they are just what is needed to kick up energy levels while other runners express concern over stomach issues from having coffee or caffeinated soft drinks when they run. What we do know is that consuming caffeinated drinks is likely to reduce your fluid retention and cause urine output to increase – both of which are not conducive to helping your run.14
|↑1||Food and drinks for sport. National Health Service.|
|↑2, ↑3, ↑6, ↑12||Food as Fuel Before, During and After Workouts. American Heart Association.|
|↑4||Best foods to eat for long distance running. Hutt Valley Marathon Clinic.|
|↑5||Pfitzinger, Pete. Fuel management: Strategies to improve your glycogen storage. Running Times: No. 347, June 2007.|
|↑7||What to eat when running a marathon. BBC Good Food.|
|↑8, ↑10, ↑14||Proper Hydration for Distance Running-Identifying Individual Fluid Needs. Athletic Training Education, University of Connecticut.|
|↑9, ↑13||Food and drinks for sport. National Health Service.|
|↑11||Food and drinks for sport. National Health Service.|