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What to Eat Before a Run (and Foods To Avoid)

What to Eat Before a Run

With conflicting information across the internet, it can be hard to figure out what to eat before a run.

However, this article aims to clear up any misconceptions surrounding this topic. We’ll provide you with some handy tips and pointers regarding what you should eat before running. 

If you’re interested in learning more about how food can influence your physical health and performance, why not sign up for OriGym’s Level 4 Advanced Sports Nutritionist course

Our qualification in nutrition offers Ofqual-regulated training with full CIMSPA accreditation, and provides you with key knowledge in everything from macro and micronutrients to specialist knowledge of meal planning and preparation.

Content:

Food Groups to Incorporate Into Pre-Run Meals

What to eat before a run

With this section, we’re going to explore everything relating to what to eat before a run. Here, you’ll find helpful advice relating to whole meals that can be consumed prior to exercising.

Eating before running is the best way to increase your energy levels and prevent yourself from becoming fatigued. 

Please keep in mind that running is a high-intensity exercise requiring a lot of energy, meaning your foods should reflect that.

This activity also burns through a significant amount of calories at any given time, which is why we’d recommend focusing primarily on the following food groups:

#1 - Carbohydrates 

What to eat before running carbs

A lot of the energy used when you run comes from glycogen, which is a form of glucose stored in the muscles that’s used when the body requires more energy. 

The majority of glycogen in our body comes from carbohydrates, which many consider to be the best foods to eat before a run.

This is due to the fact that carbohydrates help with maintaining your glycogen levels, slowly feeding your body with energy over the course of a lengthy run. 

When eating before a run, we’d recommend incorporating the following carbs into your meals:

  • Fruit - Banana, Apple, Mango
  • Potatoes
  • Starchy vegetables - Beetroot, Sweetcorn
  • Steamed or boiled rice
  • Whole grain bread
  • Whole grain pasta

Pre-running foods

Therefore, if you’re questioning what to eat before a long run, we’d highly recommend choosing whole-grain foods over their alternative counterparts. 

These choices are far less processed and provide your body with additional nutrients including:

  • B Vitamins
  • Fibre
  • Zinc
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese 

For this reason, it’s advised that runners should ensure that 60% of their daily calorie intake should be from carbohydrates.

But for those of you who are interested in what to eat before a long run, you may want to consider upping this intake a little further. 

Due to the fact that sprinting requires even more energy on your behalf, long-distance runners should attempt to gain 70% of their total calorie intake from carbohydrates.

#2 - Protein 

What to eat before running protein

Similarly, protein is used to provide the body with energy and repair muscle tissue that may have been damaged during training. 

Therefore, protein-rich foods are great to consume if you’re a frequent runner, looking to reduce the risk of injury.

Incorporating a good source of protein into your pre-run meals ensures you're providing your muscles (particularly your quads and calves) with exactly what they need to recuperate and repair both during and after your run.

A further benefit of protein consumption is that it helps you feel fuller for longer periods of time, meaning that if you’re wondering what to eat before a run to lose weight, we’d advise eating: 

  • Beans
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Lean meats
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Whole grains

Pre-running foods protein

Protein should make up about 10-35% of your daily calorie intake. However, this can vary from person to person, with certain athletes and fitness goals requiring more or less protein than others.

For example, endurance athletes, such as long-distance runners or those who partake in triathlons, need more protein - ideally up to 1.2 - 1.4 grams per kilogram of body weight.

For advice on what kind of protein you should consume, check out this article debating plant vs animal protein sources.

#3 - Fats 

Healthy fats to ear before running

When investigating eating before running, the idea of consuming fats may make some runners feel apprehensive or confused. 

However, we’re not talking about harmful fats, and are instead recommending you focus your efforts on ‘good fat foods’.

Fats (namely Omega-3 fatty acids and unsaturated fats) offer a great way to help fight off the signs of fatigue you might experience during and after your runs, as well as boost both mental and physical wellbeing.

Try to ensure that you only consume between 5-20% of fats in your total calorie intake. These should be low in saturated fats and cholesterol, avoiding saturated or trans fats. 

A few suggested foods include:

  • Tofu
  • Nuts 
  • Oils
  • Fatty fish - Salmon, Sardine, Mackerel 
  • Egg whites 
  • Lean meat

Running after eating

All of these foods are vital for good health, improving your immune system, and helping prevent diseases. They also work in a similar way to carbohydrates and provide your body with energy that you would otherwise be lacking.

Therefore, you should attempt to include fats and complex carbohydrates in your pre-run meals. 

This will provide your body with a slow release of energy, which is required to pace yourself through long-distance bursts of energy.

 

Become a certified Sports Nutritionist

Enroll on OriGym's Level 4 Advanced Sports Nutritionist course today! 

Pre-Run Meal Ideas and Recommendations

What to eat before running meal ideas

With all of this advice in mind, we can now provide you with some meal ideas which incorporate some of the pre-running foods we mentioned within the section above. 

Reminder, a pre-run meal should ultimately serve two purposes:

  • Keep you from feeling hungry before and during your run
  • Maintain optimal blood sugar levels for your exercising muscles

The meal should also be:

  • High in carbs
  • Moderate in protein 
  • Small amounts of fat and fibre - these can slow digestion, and cause bloating or nausea when running

In terms of how many calories your pre-run food should contain, this depends on you and your overall fitness goals. 

A good baseline to aim for is around 500 calories, as this gives you plenty of energy for your run, whilst also allowing you to enjoy a hearty meal beforehand. 

To ensure you’re eating the right amount of calories you could also work with a nutritionist to create a meal plan that suits your specific needs.

Pre-running meals breakfast

What To Eat Before a Run at Breakfast Time:

  • 45g of porridge with 250ml of milk (plant-based or dairy) topped with 80g of berries or a small banana
  • 2 slices of multigrain toast with 30g of nut butter (like cashew or peanut butter)
  • 30g of granola with 125g of low-fat yoghurts topped with 80g of blueberries
  • 100g of porridge oats, 1/2 tsp of cinnamon, 400g of strawberries, 150g of natural greek yoghurt 
  • Pancakes made with: 200g self-raising flour, 1 tsp baking powder, egg, 300ml milk, and 150g pack blueberries

When questioning what to eat before a morning run, we’d highly recommend focusing on getting at least some carbs into your first meal.

Whilst you sleep, your glycogen stores get depleted, meaning it’s crucial to restore these levels before attempting any kind of physically demanding activities. 

However, some general advice that we’d like to impart is to not overdo this carbohydrate intake, as eating too much could result in stomach pains or general feelings of bloatedness. 

Instead, we’d advise opting for 30-45 grams of easily digestible foods, such as the ones we listed earlier.

Pre-running meals lunch and dinner

Best Foods to Eat Before a Run at Lunch 

  • 2 fried or scrambled eggs on a wholemeal bagel 
  • Half an avocado on a slice of wholemeal toast with a fried or poached egg on the side 
  • Green Club Sandwiches: slices wholegrain or rye bread, 3 tbsp hummus, 1 small avocado (100g), 8-12 cherry tomatoes
  • Chicken and Avocado Salad - 1 skinless chicken breast, 1/2 an avocado, 50g of quinoa

The final option we provided is a recipe from BBC Good Foods, a,d offers a really complete offering in terms of carbs, protein and healthy fats.

You'll get a good source of slow-release carbs from the quinoa, high quality protein from the chicken breast, and good fats from the avocado, all of which are necessary for creating a balanced diet aimed towards running.

Don't be afraid to get a good portion for lunch - your energy levels will have naturally depleted throughout the day and this is your chance to restore them.

You can't expect your body to run safely solely off the food you consumed several hours ago at breakfast time!

Best Foods to Eat Before a Run at Dinner 

  • One medium baked potato with half a tin (around 56g) of tuna or half a tin (200g) of baked beans and a small salad on the side 
  • 125g of cooked pasta with 85g of grilled chicken breast, topped with 30g of reduced-fat cheese
  • Moroccan chicken: skinless chicken breast, 1kg of mashed sweet potato, 200ml chicken stock, 2 tsp of clear honey
  • small sea bass (about 300g), lemon, large red chili, ½ tsp turmeric, and small handful of coriander 

As you can see, the ideas for dinner are the same as the ones proposed in the various sections above.

The main goal was to provide a mix of meals that include, low-fat content, moderate protein sources, and complex carbohydrates.

Fueling your body with this kind of energy is especially important if you’re looking to run long distances following a long day at work or school.

This is when you're body is likely to be its most tired, so this meal is your time to kick start your glycogen levels again, meaning a greater serving of carbs (like the pasta or mashed sweet potatoes).

Essentially, you need to ensure that your body is fueled with enough energy to sustain this intense level of exercise so late in your day.

What Pre-Running Snacks Should I Eat?

Pre-run snacks ideas

When it comes to foods to eat before running you options aren’t solely limited to large meals. Snacks can work in a similar fashion, helping to fuel your hunger levels and keep blood sugars regulated.

Your pre-run snack should be built in the same way that your pre-run meal is - try something high in carbs but low in fat.

  • 100g of low-fat yoghurts with 30g of granola and 1 teaspoon of honey
  • One slice of wholemeal toast with 30g of nut butter
  • A medium-sized apple with 30g of low-fat cheese
  • A small cereal bar and a piece of fruit, such as an apple, orange, or banana
  • A granola bar with one portion (150ml) of fruit juice
  • A 100g energy bar of your choice

Your pre-run snack should be fairly light and can range from around 150 calories to 300 if you have a longer time to digest before your run. 

However, what matters more than the calories is that it is a good source of carbs and keeps you energised for your run! 

If you’re enjoying learning about what to eat before running, you may find these other OriGym articles helpful:

When To Consume Pre-Running Foods

What to eat during a run 1

Whilst knowing what to eat before a long run is beneficial, you also need to understand when to consume these foods. 

Consequently, the timing of your meal consumption is also influenced by the distance you intend to travel. 

Incorrectly timing your meals could result in severe consequences, be it undereating and having a lack of energy during your run, to overeating and feeling general discomfort or feeling unwell as a result.

If you’ve clicked on this article wanting to know more about what to eat before a big run, we’d advise you to consume any of the meals we have listed above. 

A ‘big’ run in this instance consists of any distance which requires the athlete to be running continuously for over 60 minutes, including the likes of:

  • 10 kilometre (6.2 miles)
  • Half marathon (21 km or 13.1 miles) 
  • A marathon (42 km or 26.2 miles)

When to eat before running 2

In any of these instances, it’s strongly recommended to fuel up with a high-carb, moderate-protein meal 3 - 4 hours prior before running.

However, if you want to run for less time than the long-distance recommendations we’d suggest having a light snack 30 - 60 minutes prior to your run.

However, depending on how light your snack is you could also experiment to find the best window between eating snacks and running. 

If this food sits well in your stomach after 20 minutes, you could try running sooner to see how you feel.

Regardless of the distance or time you take, you shouldn’t be stuffed before you set off, as this can make you nauseous as you run, but equally you shouldn’t be starving either – listen to your own body and wait until you reach a happy medium.

What Should I Eat During a Run? 

What Should I Eat During a Run?

Now that we have discussed some of the best things to eat before a run, we’re going to shift our focus to share some ideas of foods that can be consumed during the run itself.

This tactic is particularly beneficial if you’re interested in learning what to eat before a long run. Think of snacking during the run/sprint itself as topping up your blood sugar and energy levels, to help you run for longer periods of time. 

It’s recommended that you eat around 30 - 60 grams of carbs each hour that you’re running, which you can get from the likes of:

  • Electrolyte Drinks
  • Energy Bars
  • Running Gels
  • Dried fruits, such as raisins or dried cranberries
  • Granola bars, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • Fresh fruits, like bananas or oranges, chopped into small pieces
  • Small sweets such as gummy bears 

Like with all of the food recommendations to feature within this article, you should focus on consuming carbohydrates and sustaining your blood sugar levels.

How Much Water Should I Drink Before a Run?

What to drink before a run

Although we’re talking about what to eat before running, it's of equal importance to stay hydrated whilst exercising too. 

Much like with food consumption, the amount of water you should strive to drink can vary depending on the distance you intend on running. 

For example, if you intend on running for 60 - 90 minutes, then we’d advise drinking 500ml of water with your pre-run meal. 

As discussed previously, this should take place anywhere from 3-4 hours prior to the start of your run

In a similar fashion, if you intend on doing a shorter run you should pair 300ml with your pre-run snack. Reminder, this should take place 30-60 minutes before you begin running.

How much water to drink before a run

During long-distance runs, you should strive to stay hydrated, and consume anywhere between 500-800ml of water for every hour that you are running.

Drinking during runs can also help to regulate body temperature and prevent you from overheating.

During this period you may wish to switch from water to electrolyte drinks, as this will provide your body with an added boost of energy, acting as both a snack and hydration simultaneously. 

Throughout this article, we have discussed what to eat right before, and what to eat during the activity itself. 

However, we have yet to touch upon what you should consume afterward - as that is relatively up to you and can vary depending on what your fitness goal is.

Weight

With this in mind, there is a somewhat blanket rule when it comes to hydration after exercise.  This is referred to as the ‘sweat reset calculation’, and refers to the process of replenishing the body’s fluids that have been depleted during exertion.

To calculate how much water you need to drink following a run simply follow the steps below:

  • Weigh yourself naked beforehand - Ideally first thing in the morning after going to the toilet.
  • Once you finish your run, weigh yourself again (naked)
  • Calculate how many grams you have lost and then multiply this by 1.5
  • Example: If you lose 100g you’ll need to then consume 150ml of water

There is a slight risk of drinking too much before you run - doing so could cause a sense of general discomfort in your stomach and bladder area.

Foods and Drinks to Avoid Before a Run

Foods and Drinks to Avoid Before a Run

When thinking about what to eat before running, whilst there are plenty of beneficial foods as listed throughout this article, there are also several things you should consider avoiding.

Just keep in mind that this list isn’t prescriptive – you can have small amounts of all of these things in your pre-run food, but they shouldn't take up an entire meal.

#1 - High Fibre Foods

Starchy foods pre-running meals

High fibre foods can hold fantastic qualities that improve your overall health and wellbeing. However, the same beneficial properties don't translate into being the perfect pre-running foods. 

When it comes to eating food before running, we’d advise avoiding the likes of:

  • Beans
  • Legumes
  • Broccoli
  • Popcorn 

This is due to the fact that high-fibre foods can slow down your digestion and promote a sense of fullness for longer periods of time. 

You don’t want to be running on a heavy stomach and instead will want to strive for fast-release carbs to bump up your energy levels.

pain pre-run snacks

These high-fibre foods can still help to normalise bowel movements, and reduce overeating or snacking throughout the day by promoting a sense of fullness.

Therefore, they aren’t entirely useless and we aren’t recommending avoiding them entirely, but we’d advise to not eating pre-run meals or snacks which contain high quantities of fibre. 

Instead, consider eating them following your run, or during a time of the day you know you won’t be exercising in. 

#2 - Sugary Foods 

Eating before running sweets

While they might seem like a good source of fast-releasing carbs, sugary foods are also something we’d advise avoiding when you’re looking for the best food to eat before a run. 

Whilst they will give you a quick burst of energy, you’ll soon crash, which isn’t ideal if you’re going to be running for a long period.

Foods which fall under this category include: 

  • Chocolate 
  • Full-Sugar Fizzy Drinks
  • Cakes
  • Sweets

Drinking juice before running

Some argue that fruit juice should also fall into this category, and whilst it is somewhat high in sugar, it is also packed with high carbohydrate content, making it an ideal partner for a pre-run snack. 

Furthermore, if you want to avoid sugar entirely, sugar-free options of your favourite juices are always available.

If you want a bit of a sugar kick before your run, stick to natural sugars found in fruit and honey, or the sugar in energy bars and cereal.

Try not to add too much sugar to your pre-run food, as you’ll run out of energy a lot sooner than you plan to. 

#3 - Fatty Foods 

Eating before running fatty foods

While small amounts of healthy fats are good to incorporate into your pre-run food, large amounts of unhealthy saturated fats should be something that is cut out of your diet. 

Much like high fibre foods, fatty content can take a long time to digest, leading to feelings of bloating and general discomfort during your run. 

This can include the likes of:

  • Deep-fried foods 
  • Large amounts of cheese
  • Fatty meats 

Again, we’d like to stress that these foods can be great for the occasional treats, but they don’t make for the ideal pre-run snacks or meals. 

Where possible, try to get the reduced-fat versions of your favourite foods, and incorporate small amounts of healthy fats such as avocados and nuts into your diet. 

#4 - Dairy 

Avoid eating dairy before running

When considering what to eat before a run, certain dairy products can be a viable option, whilst others have the opposite effect. 

Yoghurt, for example, is a great choice for a pre-run snack, as it’s packed with proteins and can be paired with the likes of granola or fruit to increase your carbohydrate intake.

However, we strongly recommend opting for low-fat options, as their high-fat counterparts will slow down your digestion and can impair your running.

If you’re interested in avoiding dairy altogether there are a plethora of alternatives available to you. For more advice on this matter, check out our blog post dedicated to discussing the benefits of oat milk.

 

Become a certified Sports Nutritionist

Enroll on OriGym's Level 4 Advanced Sports Nutritionist course today! 

FAQ

#1 - Can I Eat a Banana Before a Run?

Thinking about what to eat before running

We’re all brought up to believe that bananas are one of the best things to eat, and this sentiment rings true when looking at what to eat before running.

Bananas are not only high in vital carbohydrates, containing around 28 grams per serving, but they are also low in fat, calculating in at around 110 calories.

When questioning what to eat before a morning run, a banana is, therefore, a viable option to pair with the likes of granola or low-fat yoghurt. 

But it can also act as a great mid-run snack, helping to restore depleted energy levels during long-distance travel.

We’ve explored this in more detail with our report on eating a banana both before and after a workout.

#2 - What is Carb Loading?

 What is Carb Loading?

When looking into the topic of what to eat before running, you’ll naturally come across the term ‘carb loading’. 

Athletes typically begin to implement carb loading the week before a high-endurance event - training for a marathon, for example.

If you’re interested in trying this for yourself, you should increase your carbohydrate intake to 8-12 grams per kilogram of body weight. This dietary change should take place 1-3 days prior to the event

You should also scale back your training process during this period too. The combination of eating more carbs and tapering activity appears to boost muscle glycogen stores. 

However, studies have shown that this is mainly effective in increasing the performance of long-distance runners by 2-3%, with no evidence to suggest carb loading is effective for short distance runners (less than an hour per run).

#3 - Is It Beneficial to Run on an Empty Stomach?

Is It Beneficial to Run on an Empty Stomach?

Deciding what to eat before a run to lose weight can be somewhat of a challenge, as overeating will defeat the entire purpose of your fitness goal. 

Undereating, on the other hand, puts you at risk of becoming tired at a faster rate, and even injuring yourself.

Exercising on an empty stomach is sometimes referred to as ‘fasted training’, a concept that is believed to help burn fat and increase weight loss. 

This study, for example, found that fasted exercise was scientifically linked to calorie burn. In contrast, another piece of research stated that there was no discernible difference between whether eating or not eating before exercise affected calorie loss. 

Is It Beneficial to Run on an Empty Stomach? 2

Instead, calorie loss appears to vary from person to person, and whilst some may respond well to fasted training, others won’t.

At OriGym, we’d advise you to listen to your own body - try fasted running on a short-distance basis and see how you respond. 

If you become lightheaded or uncomfortable at any point, stop running immediately and fuel your body with sustenance as possible.

We’d also like to stress that fasted training can be dangerous for long-distance runners, as your body physically needs fuel in order to exercise for long periods of time.

#4 - Is Eating The Night Before A Run A Better Option?

 Is Eating The Night Before A Run A Better Option?

If you enjoy running in the morning but don’t want to wake up extra early for a proper meal, you can think about what to eat the night before a long run

In this instance, we’d advise following the advice that has already been presented before you in this article. Ensure that your meals are:

  • High in Carbohydrates
  • Moderate in Protein 
  • Low in Fat

By eating a high-carb meal the night before a long run, you won’t burn through as much glycogen as you typically would during your sleep. 

This will increase your energy levels in the morning, and help to sustain your current fitness progress. 

Before You Go!

This article has sought to answer some of the questions our readers have regarding what to eat before running. 

Remember that the best food to eat before running depends on what you prefer, but should be typically high in carbohydrates and low in fat. This combination will provide you with an added boost of energy to ensure you exceed your current personal best. 

Remember, if you're interested in learning more about nutrition and its affects on the human body, you should consider enrolling on OriGym’s Level 4 Advanced Sports Nutritionist course.

Upon graduating, you will be fully equipped with the vital skills and knowledge required to find success within your specialist area of nutrition.  

References:

  1. Murray, B. Et Al. (2018) Fundamentals of glycogen metabolism for coaches and athletes, Nutrition Reviews.
  2. Hawley, J. Et Al. (1997) Carbohydrate-loading and exercise performance. An update, Sports Med.
  3. Iwayama, K. Et Al. (2017) Exercise before breakfast increases 24-h fat oxidation in female subjects, PLOS ONE
  4. Schonfeld B. (2014) Body composition changes associated with fasted versus non-fasted aerobic exercise, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition

Written by Lauren Banks

Content Writer & Fitness Enthusiast

Lauren is a history graduate with a first-class degree from Lancaster University and is currently completing her Masters Degree. She worked on the university paper Scan for her 4 years there, eventually becoming the Carolynne Editor, overseeing 5 sections underneath her. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her lifting weights at the gym, trying to beat her current 5K personal best, or with her head in a long book.

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