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Oct 27

What To Eat Before A Run — The Ultimate Guide

What to Eat Before a Run Kat Rentas

It’s always surprising to me how many seasoned runners are clueless when it comes to what to eat before a run.

Or just fueling properly in general!

Now, I can’t give myself too much credit because for a long time (ahem, years…) I was the worst at this.

I didn’t give it a second thought.

I just ate whatever I felt like, then proceeded to get angry when a run didn’t feel pleasant cause I decided to eat a double cheeseburger beforehand.

Yeah…I’m a class act.

This being said, I’ve come a long way in past years in learning what it takes to properly fuel my body for the miles ahead.

I know how crappy it feels to not be eating the right things pre-run, so I’m writing this article to create an easy resource so you won’t have the same dilemma.

Also, running can be hard.

Especially when you start.

The last thing you want to worry about is having digestive issues around your first mile when you already feel like crap.

So first, I’m going to cover the most common topics regarding what you should eat before a run.

Then, I’m going to give you a complete breakdown of the foods you’ll want to have handy so you can be properly fueled at a moments notice.

So, let’s get started!

What Not To Eat Before Running

Let’s get this out of the way first.

There are a number of foods that you should avoid (and a few you shouldn’t even look at) before a run.

Eating these foods will sign you up for a myriad of issues….and why put yourself through that nonsense!

Especially when it can be 100% avoided.

Here are the foods you’ll generally want to avoid:

High-Fiber Foods

Examples of high-fiber foods include:

  • Whole-grains
  • Legumes
  • High-Fiber Fruits (Apples, Oranges, Strawberries, etc.)
  • High-Fiber Veggies (Brussels Sprouts, Artichokes, Broccoli, Edamame, etc.)

It’s important to remember that just because foods are healthy, doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily benefit you during your next run.

Foods high in fiber can cause serious digestive issues during your run.

Mainly in the form of gastrointestinal distress or diarrhea.

Yes, diarrhea will be mentioned in this article.

Sorry ’bout it. 

So make sure you avoid high-fiber foods within a few hours before running, or even the night before if it’s a longer run.

That being said, if you really have the desire to feel like you have to #2 right at Mile 1 then be my guest.

Knock yourself out on that cup of broccoli.

But, if you don’t want to cut your run short listen to this advice.

High-Fat Foods

Consuming high-fat foods before a run will make you feel weighed down and just plain icky.

This is because they take a long time to digest, so instead of passing through your body, it will sit there throughout your run.

Examples of high-fat foods that should be avoided include:

  • Fried foods
  • Cheese
  • Bacon
  • Beef
  • Cheesecake

Let’s be real…most of these foods you’ll want to limit anyway to maintain a healthy diet.

All of that being said, there are some healthy, unsaturated fats that aren’t quite as bad to eat pre-run.

However, it should be noted that it still does not contribute to your running performance.

You would be better off saving those healthy fats for other meals in your day — preferably post-run!

This way you can incorporate healthy fats into your balanced diet, without compromising the comfortability of your run.

Just something to consider.

Examples of healthy unsaturated fats include:

  • Peanut Butter
  • Almonds
  • Avocado
  • Chia Seeds
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Fish (high in fatty acids)

Dairy

We already know that fats should be avoided pre-run, but it’s also important to note that lactose should be avoided as well.

SO many athletes still believe that a glass of milk before a workout is beneficial.

Turns out, our bodies can have trouble digesting lactose in general.

You don’t even have to be completely lactose-intolerant to have symptoms of bloating, gas and diarrhea after consuming it.

So tread lightly with this one!

White Sugar

While you’ll want to ensure you’re eating healthy carbohydrates pre-run, always check to see how much sugar you’re eating!

Many high-carb foods (I’m talkin’ bout you cereal!) seem healthy…but are actually filled to the brim with white sugar.

Consuming sugar pre-run can cause a spike in blood sugar, which can then quickly result in a steep drop in blood sugar.

This causes symptoms of fatigue — also known as hypoglycemia.

Opt for something with less sugar instead.

Sidenote: This is why it’s always best to avoid protein bars or sports drinks pre-run. They’re always chock full of refined sugars!

Coffee

It’s often debated as to whether coffee is beneficial before running.

The real answer is…it depends.

Most avoid coffee pre-run since it can cause severe stomach problems or diarrhea during your run.

However, if you’re a regular coffee drinker and need the caffeine boost, generally a small cup is doable.

For me personally, I do have a small cup of coffee before runs occasionally just for that extra pep in my step.

I have, however, found myself on the wrong end of the spectrum from having a little too much.

Spoiler alert: It wasn’t fun.

So this is one where you’ll have to try for yourself and see what your body can handle.

But I wouldn’t recommend testing this one out on race day.

What To Eat Before A Run

Refined Carbs

Although processed white foods (white bread, regular pasta, bagels) aren’t as nutritious as their unrefined counterparts, these foods are way easier on your stomach and will be less likely to give you issues on the road.

This is due to the whole grains already being processed and broken down, so we digest it easier.

Hence why half a bagel is such a popular pre-run food. 

Normally this isn’t something super desirable on a health scale, but for runners, it works!

Examples of refined carbs include:

  • White bread
  • White pasta
  • White rice
  • Food made with white flour

Low-Fiber Fruits + Veggies

As we previously discussed, high-fiber foods can cause gastrointestinal issues during our runs, so they should be avoided.

Luckily, there are plenty of low-fiber fruits and veggies we can munch on instead!

Examples of low-fiber fruits include:

  • Watermelon
  • Bananas
  • Grapefruit
  • Nectarines
  • Grapes

Examples of low-fiber veggies include:

  • Carrots
  • Lettuce
  • Tomato Sauces
  • String Beans
  • Asparagus Tips

Dairy Substitutes

We also covered how not only can the fat in dairy food items make us feel sluggish, but how we can also develop an intolerance for lactose when running.

In this day and age, it’s a better time than any to be lactose-intolerant. 

There are a crazy amount of dairy-free substitutions that we have to choose from!

Examples of dairy substitutes include:

  • Soy Milk
  • Almond Milk
  • Coconut Oil
  • Cashew Cheese
  • Soy Yogurt
  • Grapes

Glass of Water

There’s only one thing you need to be drinking before a run.

It’s not pre-workout or your energy drink.

It’s WATER, GUYS.

HYDRATE YO’SELF. 

While this may seem obvious to some, so many runners forget to hydrate properly!

12-16 ounces of water should get sufficient to keep you hydrated pre-run.

Always make sure to bring additional water for during your run as well.

Really, I’m just calling myself out here!

I used to always forget to have a glass of water pre-run and it shows around 3-miles in.

Every time. 

So make sure to chug a glass of the good stuff about an hour before you start your run!

What Should I Eat Before Running In The Morning?

If you’re running early in the morning, it would make sense timing-wise to eat a proper meal the night before.

However, if you need a pre-run snack the morning of, it’s best to stick with something easily digestible.

You’d want to opt for a light snack that’s mostly carbohydrates with a touch of protein.

Examples of this include:

  • Banana (I only eat 1/2)
  • 1/2 Bagel with peanut butter
  • Low-fiber fruit 
  • Toast with almond butter
  • Small bowl of granola

Ideally, you’d want to eat this snack around 30-minutes to 1-hour before your run.

Just make sure it’s a light option that doesn’t overfill you or weigh you down.

And make sure you’re using light amounts of those healthy fats!

The key is to make sure it’s easily digestible by your standards.

And remember to always drink your glass of water beforehand.

What Should I Eat Before Running a 5K?

The most important thing to remember when fueling for a race is to never, EVER try anything new that your body hasn’t had.

Especially before a shorter distance race where you’re more likely to pick up the speed!

So make sure you’re sticking to foods you’re used to running on. 

That’s what training is for. ?

You’ll end up having two or three go-to options that you’ll ALWAYS have as your pre-race fuel. (I’m part of the bagel and almond butter club).

Instead of your average morning run, you’ll want to give yourself optimal time to digest properly.

I would shoot for eating your pre-race meal about 2-hours before.

Examples of shorter distance pre-race fuel include:

  • Rice cakes with nut butter
  • Low-fiber cereal with almond milk
  • Baked sweet potato
  • Dates with almond butter
  • Low-fiber veggie omelet

What Should I Eat Before Running a Half-Marathon?

Fueling for a longer run (10+ miles) requires a bit more preparation.

For these types of runs, you’ll want to be sure you consume foods that are easily digestible such as refined carbs and stay clear of high-fat options.

Mostly, you’ll want to ensure you’re getting enough carbs, so you’ll have plenty of energy during the race.

Some runners, like myself, would rather opt for “carb-loading” the night before and the save a small pre-race meal for the morning.

The idea behind carb-loading for endurance sports is that muscle glycogen stores are full prior to a race.

Examples of carb-loading options for the night before include:

  • Baked chicken with veggies
  • Pancakes with fruit + honey
  • Grilled salmon with rice
  • Pasta, pasta, pasta!

Some athletes also prefer to space out their carb-loading over a period of days as well.

No matter how you choose to carb-load, always make sure you eat a small pre-race meal.

Examples of  long-distance pre-race fuel include:

  • 1/2 Bagel with peanut butter
  • Low-fiber veggie omelet
  • Wrap with chicken and veggies
  • Homemade Trail mix
  • Green smoothie
  • Avocado toast

You’ll need to make sure you’re getting high amounts of carbs to fill your glycogen stores for energy during your race.

Make sure you’re bringing adequate fuel and water for during your long run as well!

You’ll want to be sure to drink more water (approx. 20 oz.) 2-3 hours before you start.

A Final Note…

So, there you have it!

Keep in mind that the pre-run fuel that works best for you might come down to personal preference!

While this article will lead you in the right direction, you’ll ultimately have to experiment with your body to see what works.

As long as you slowly implement different things into your diet (and don’t experiment on race day), you’ll be just fine!

- Kat Rentas

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The Intentional Eating Method

Kat Rentas, Eating Psych. Coach

Hey there! I'm Kat Rentas. I’m a certified eating psychology coach for women who believes that eating healthy should feel simple and sustainable. I teach hundreds of high-performing women to change their eating habits without the overwhelm. Want to change your eating habits in a way that is aligned with your needs, preferences, and goals? You’re in the right placeYou can read my full story here.