Have you ever been in the middle of a run and all of a sudden felt drained of energy? Or worse yet, have you thrown up during or after a run? What you eat before you go out for a run has the power to give you an energized, strong run or leave you feeling like you’ve been hit by a semi-truck.

Not only does the type of foods we eat before a run have great importance, but the timing of when we eat them is also paramount. Whether you’re going out for a casual run, training for a fast 10K, or lining up to run a marathon, the foods we eat and when we eat them has the potential to make or break the run.

Timing is Key

Deciding when to eat before you go for a run can be confusing. The timing of when to eat depends on several factors, such as the type and length of the run. The more intense or the longer the run, the more nutrition matters hours before lacing up your running shoes.

If you are running a 5K, what you ate 3 days prior probably won’t have a large impact on the performance of your run. On the other hand, if you are running a marathon, the nutrition of the week prior to the race can have a large impact on race day.

If you are running 45 minutes or less, a meal prior to the run may not be necessary. If the run is a tempo run or is intense in nature, at least one meal should be consumed prior to the workout or race to properly fuel the run.

Regardless of the type of run, focus on hydrating during the days prior to the run. Without proper hydration, you will be left weak and dehydrated.

Foods to Eat Before a Run

30-60 minutes before the run

Regardless of the type of run, a small meal 45 minutes to an hour before the run can greatly improve the results. During this time frame, fast-digesting carbs and small amounts of protein should be consumed. Some examples include:

  • Banana
  • Piece of toast
  • A small serving of hummus
  • Carrots
  • Peanut/Almond Butter and crackers

2-4 hours before the run

The few hours before the run, 2-4 hours, a slightly heartier meal than the pre-run snack should be consumed. This meal should be less than 500 calories and should contain foods that are easy to digest and include healthy fats, proteins, and carbs.

  • Bowl of oatmeal with fruit
  • Peanut butter and banana sandwich
  • Greek yogurt with nuts and berries
  • Plain bagel with almond butter

6-18 hours before the run

At this point, cut out anything that has a difficult time digesting. Start transitioning to lighter meals and eating every 3-4 hours. Avoid spicy foods or very acidic foods. Some examples of good foods to eat are:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Wraps
  • Sandwiches
  • Cereal

24 hours or more before the run

The few days leading up to the run should be focusing on filling the body’s glycogen stores. High carb meals consisting of slow-digesting carbs is key. If you are running a race, specifically a long-distance race, reduce the amount of high fiber and processed foods. This will leave you filling lighter and reduce the risk of having to run to the bathroom in the middle of the race.

Cut out fried foods, spicy, and acidic foods. If you are preparing for a long run, such as a marathon, focus on “carbing” up the days prior to the race. Have 70-75 percent of your calories be carbohydrates the day prior to the race. Make hydrating a focus point of the week of the race.

Eat To Run

Everyone has different body types and tastes. Try different foods to see what works best for you. Use training runs to experiment and don’t try anything new on race day. Experimenting during race week can leave you weak or with digestive issues. Properly fueling the body can be the key deciding factor for having a great run or not.

What works best for you? Personally, my go-to’s are a peanut butter and banana sandwich 3-4 hours before the run and a whole banana within 45 minutes of the run. Leave a comment with your favorite pre-run foods below.