eating before running

What you should be eating before running

Figuring out what you should be eating before running can be a challenge, especially if your duration varies from day to day. 

What you eat before a short easy jog will be different from what you eat before a long-distance training run. It’s not as difficult as it sounds. We’ll go over some basics so that you make good decisions before running.

Customize what you eat before running

It’s important to customize your eating to the type of running you’re doing. It can be broken down into three main groups: easy jogs, sprinting and speed work, and long-distance training run.

  • Easy jogs. Some fluids and electrolytes. A small piece of fruit or whole-grain crackers.
  • Sprints. Simple, clean burning carbs like sports drinks, whole-wheat toast with jam or bananas will do the trick.
  • Long distance training runs. Complex carbs will help to keep your energy up. Eat a carb-heavy meal a few hours before your long run, with some protein and healthy fats.

What you should be eating before running an easy run

Sometimes you just want to do something easy, like a nice jog through the park. Easy runs are the lowest-intensity workouts in your training plan.

The key to these easy runs is running at a conversational pace. That just means that your running should allow you to carry on a conversation with a running buddy. If you can, then that’s your easy running pace. So if your running is conversational and easy, your food intake should also be easy.

Running easy, less is more

A shorter duration of an easy jog means you don’t need a lot of carbs or calories to sustain you throughout your run. When you’re running easy, less is more. 

Here are a couple of guidelines when fueling up for an easy run.

  • Some fluids with electrolytes 
  • Small piece of fruit
  • Handful of whole-grain crackers
  • Small bowl of cereal

For these short runs, 16 ounces of water, Gatorade, or banana should be enough.

What you should be eating before running sprints

Sprints and speedwork are an important part of your training program.

If you’re brand new to the sport, or if you’re training for your third marathon, speed work is an integral training tool. Since these workouts are short bursts of speed, you’ll need the right fuel to carry you through.

Sprinting requires quick-burning fuel to keep you going. The goal is to consume easily digestible carbs that give you the fuel you need for your workout without diverting energy to digestion.

Here are some ideas for pre-sprint eating.

  • Gatorade with sugars for the simple carbs
  • Bananas
  • Granola bars

You can also eat an energy gel or grab some chews before a speed workout for the same power boost. The goal is to tap into the calories quickly for high-intensity energy output.

What you should be eating before running a long-distance run

The longer the run distance, the more calories you’ll need to fuel your body. 

Long-distance training runs also require a different type of fuel than you need for sprints.

Training runs are about endurance. You’re running at a slower pace for a longer time. This means you can tap into your body’s own fat storage for fuel. This doesn’t mean you should eat greasy, fatty foods before your run.

Long distance run means eating a meal

If you eat a meal 3-4 hours before your run you should get the right amount of food while giving your body adequate time to digest and begin to use for fuel.

Here’s what you should be eating before a long duration run.

  • Complex carbs, like rice, whole grains, potatoes, pasta
  • Small amount of protein like chicken or fish
  • Good fats, a tablespoon of nut butter or a couple of eggs 

Eat enough to feel satisfied but don’t overdo it. Drink plenty of fluids to wash it down. 16-20 ounces of water should do it.

Short on time? 

Oatmeal, topped with fruit, honey, and some chopped nuts or seeds will give you quality, sustainable carbs for your run.

What you should be eating before running a race

Distance of the race is a big factor in deciding what you should be eating before a race. The foods you eat before a marathon are going to differ from your consumption before a 5k. Food consumption and race intensity and duration go hand in hand.

What you should eat before a 5k

For shorter distance runs, like a 5k, your pace and speed will typically be higher than longer duration races. This means you should grab a full sugar sports drink, you could also eat a gel packet to get you through the race.

What you should be eating before a half marathon

For longer distances, eat what you eat before a longer duration training run. This includes complex carbs, pasta, grains, rice, etc. with some protein and healthy fats.

What you should be eating before running a marathon 

You’ll notice that before marathons there’s typically a carb load meal like spaghetti or other pasta. Consuming these pasta, with meat sauce or sausage will give you the carbs, proteins, and fats you need to carry you through the race.

Is caffeine something you should be eating before running a marathon?

There are a few schools of thought when it comes to caffeine consumption. Those that are for it and those against it.

Caffeine can have a performance-enhancing effect on your race. A cup of coffee could give you the physical and mental boost you need to run your best. There are gel packets that contain caffeine as well as some sports drinks. 

However, for some, caffeine can cause upset stomachs or headaches. If you fall into that camp, steer away from caffeine before a race.

The bottom line is, find what works best for you and stick with it on race day.

Quantity you should be eating before running 

Now that you know what to eat, it’s time to talk about the quantity of food you should be eating. And this is really determined by timing.

When to eat is different for everyone. Some people like to eat and have bowel movements before they run. Others are fine to run and wait to poop until they get home. It really just depends on the speed of your individual digestion.

Here are some general guidelines to help determine your pre-run consumption.

Eat a full meal three to four hours before you run. This should give you enough time to digest before heading out the door. 

Eat 200 calories every hour before you leave for a run.

1 hour or lessless than 200 calories (drink)
1 hour200 calories (snack)
2 hours400 calories (small meal)
3 hours600 calories (meal)

Figure out what works for you as you run more and change intensity and duration. 

Carbs are what you should be eating before running

Carbs give your body an easy-burning fuel source. Unless you’re in ketosis.

Foods high in fat, fiber, and protein, as well as spicy foods or fried foods, can cause stomach problems.

Carbs are the go-to source for many runners looking for fuel for their run.

Final take on what you should be eating before running

What you eat before running really boils down to a personal choice. There are some guidelines to help, but in the end, it’s what works best for you.

Practice following the general guidelines while you train. You’ll learn what, when, and how to consume before any training duration or intensity level. The goal is to fuel your body to enable the best possible outcome. It may take some time to learn what that looks like for you. But once you do, it’ll take your running to the next level.

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