Preparation is key for runners. If you want to maximize performance, it is important to eat properly before hitting the road.
For starters, it is helpful to know what kinds of food go best with exercise.
A study published in the Journal Nature Today found that carbohydrates were the best choice for athletes because they provide quick energy and help prevent muscle breakdown.
Protein is also good because it provides amino acids that repair muscles. Fat contains essential fatty acids that keep the brain healthy and promote healing.
But there are many different types of fats, and those that contain saturated fat increase cholesterol levels.
And even though there are some really good supplements for runners, in this article, we cover some of the basics on what to eat before running and what are the best meals and snacks to fuel your run.
Best Pre-Run Meal
If you are a regular distance runner, it is important to fuel up 3 to 4 hours in advance, particularly for longer runs. This helps avoid hunger pangs while you are out on the road.
A pre-run meal consists of carbohydrates, proteins and fats, along with some vitamins and minerals. You will want to eat something light, like fruit juice, yogurt or toast, about 90 minutes before your run.
– The food should consist of mostly carbohydrates, since your body uses those as energy during exercise. Protein is needed to repair muscle tissue and help build endurance, and fats provide essential fatty acids.
– The best foods include whole grains, fruits and vegetables, dairy products, nuts and seeds, lean meats, fish and poultry. Avoid processed foods, sugary drinks and fast food.
Examples of a pre-run meal:
– A bowl of scrambled eggs made from five whites and one whole egg, plus two slices of bread with jam and a banana.
– One serving (225 g) of low-fat cottage cheese with 150 g of blueberry preserves and one piece of whole grain bread with one teaspoon of honey.
– One serving consists of 200 g of pasta of your choice, 130 g of tomato sauce, 85 g of chicken breast, and a slice of bread with a little bit of butter. .
Best Pre-Run Snack
A pre-run snack eaten about half an hour before running provides your body with ready-to-go energy. However, there are no hard and fast rules.
You do not need a specific amount of carbohydrates, protein, fat or anything else. What matters most is that you eat an ideal pre-run snack that is healthy and nutritious keeping you fueled throughout your workout.
Bananas are packed with vitamins and minerals like vitamin B6 and potassium. Potassium helps regulate blood pressure and muscle contraction, while vitamin B6 helps convert carbohydrates into source of energy.
And since bananas are high in carbs, they provide a nice boost of energy without adding unnecessary calories.
Consuming oatmeal prior to running is suggested because it helps reduce muscle cramps and aid digestion.
Oats are rich in soluble dietary fibers which help absorb water into the system and prevent dehydration. It also contains vitamins B, magnesium, potassium, iron, and zinc. This makes oats a great as a pre-run light snack.
Blended drinks are becoming increasingly popular among runners, gym goers and cyclist. They are easy to prepare, portable, and offer a convenient way to fuel up during workouts.
Actually, blended beverages can help speed up your digestive process. Plus, the sugar in fruit juices can give you energy without causing blood glucose spikes, making it easier to run longer distances.
The key is to keep the smoothie simple. Start with a base like banana, strawberries, or mangoes, followed by a handful of greens. Then add a scoop of protein powder or Greek yogurt top off with a splash of milk or juice depending on your preference.
Like a smoothie, yogurt can be a quick and easy light pre-run snack for people who do not enjoy eating a lot before they exercise.
Yogurt has lots of carbs and water, so it’s both hydrating and easy to burn for energy. Also, top it with some granola cereal, dried fruit, or nuts.
Toast with Jam or Peanut Butter
Whole grains provide healthful simple carbs that help you burn on your runs. Also, peanut butter is packed with protein and healthy fats, making them perfect for fueling your body during exercise.
While peanut butter in a piece of toast is the most popular choice among runners, there are plenty of other options out there. Cashews, almonds, and hazelnuts are just some of the many types of nut butter that you can choose from as a great pre-run fuel.
Honey is rich in antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, amino acids, and proteins. You can eat it alone or add it to other pre-run snacks (yogurt, smoothies, toast, etc). Honey is quickly absorbed than other sugars being one of the best pre-run snacks for a run.
Best Intra-Run Snack
Your glycogen stores can become drained within one to two hours after a run. To replenish those stores, it is recommended to consume carbohydrates every 20–30 minutes during exercise.
A study published in the International Journal of Environment Research and Public Health showed that athletes who consumed a carbohydrate gel every 20 minutes throughout a 60 minute run experienced less muscle soreness afterward than those who did not consume anything.
An intra-run snack could include sports drinks or energy bars, but there are some drawbacks to each option.
First, drinking too much water dilutes the concentration of nutrients in a sports drink. Second, eating too many calories slows down digestion, making it harder to absorb the remaining nutrients. Finally, eating too many carbs causes stomach issues, leading to cramping and diarrhea.
The best way to avoid gastrointestinal distress is to stick to foods rich in protein and fat, such as nuts, cheese, eggs, yogurt, milk, meat, fish, beans, and peanut butter.
If you are feeling particularly hungry, try mixing up your carbohydrate intake with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
1. Sports Drinks
Sports drinks, like Powerade and Gatorade, are designed to be consumed by athletes during and/or after physical activity to replenish fluid loss from sweat. They are mainly made up of water with a mix of simple carbs and electrolytes.
2. Energy Bars
Energy bars contain significant amount of protein and carbohydrates. Carbs help you to restore energy and proteins help your muscles repair and rebuild.
3. Energy Gels
Energy gels are highly concentrated sources of carbohydrates including sugar and other ingredients such as caffeine.They are available in small, single-use packets.
4. Other Snacks
Dried fruits, a piece of fruit, honey, and other candies work just as well as their pricier counterparts at restoring energy.
What foods not to eat before running
While it is important to know what to eat before a run, it is imperative to understand what not to eat before a run.
The best way to prepare for a long run is to make sure you are eating well beforehand. If you want to ensure you do not ruin your race day, here are 6 things you should not eat before a run.
1. Fatty Foods
You have heard the saying “Don’t put anything in your mouth unless you know how it tastes.” You will find that many runners like to snack on something sweet before a run, but try to steer clear of sugary treats.
Instead, opt for high fiber snacks such as fruit, nuts, and yogurt or Greek Yogurt. They help keep your digestive system moving smoothly during exercise.
If you are planning on drinking alcohol before a run, do so sparingly. Alcohol tends to slow digestion, and that makes it harder to process carbohydrates properly.
Plus, too much alcohol can cause dehydration, which could lead to cramps and muscle soreness.
Chocolate and ice cream are tasty treats, but they are not exactly healthy choices. Both contain lots of sugar, which causes insulin levels to spike. This leads to blood glucose levels rising quickly, causing energy stores to drop faster than normal.
When your body runs low on fuel, it starts to break down fat for energy. So, the next time you crave chocolate, think about it as a sign that your body needs fuel.
4. Leafy Greens
While a diet rich with salads and veggie is usually great, raw greens like lettuce, kale, spinach, and broccoli can be uncomfortable if you are about to start to run.
Leafy greens is high in fiber contents that can lead to gas and stomach bloating.
5. Raw Seeds
If you grab a handful of raw nuts or grains before doing your morning intense workout, they may not provide enough source of energy for you to get through your session.
Consider adding some oats to your breakfast instead. The combination of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates is the trifecta your body requires to perform at its best.
6. Spicy Foods
Capsaicin, the chemical compound that causes chili peppers to be hot, can actually cause heartburn, indigestion and generally irritate the lining of both the stomach and intestines.
Skip the curries, Mexican food, or hot wings the night before or the morning of your runs.
Can I run on empty stomach?
Some people, especially those who start running early in the morning, may want to avoid eating before their runs.
However, it really depends on your body type, your fitness level, and your goals whether running on an empty stomach is safe or beneficial for you.
While there are some advantages of running in an empty stomach, there are more disadvantages to it.
Upset Stomach Prevention: Some runners may feel nauseated or even uncomfortable if they eat or drink something besides water before going to a run. However, it is important for runners to choose their foods carefully (not eating fatty, acid, and greasy foods) not to distress their stomach.
In the case that you chose not to eat, it is recommended to engage in low-intensity run for less than 60 minutes.
Reduced training intensity: When you have burned through all of your stored energy, you might feel hungry and tired. According to a study conducted by the American Journal of Physiology, researchers have found that it will be difficult to maintain a fast or intense running speed for long periods of time.
Overeating: If you do not consume any calories before a workout, your metabolism will be slowed down afterwards.
You might feel extra hungry after exercise and consume more calories than usual to compensate for the energy stores that were depleted during exercise.
Sometimes, you will consume as many calories as you did before exercising plus even more.
Does not Promote Fat-Burning: Researchers found that fasted exercise does not promote more fat burning. If you do not give your body any fuel before running, your body will immediately start using its stored fat reserves for energy.
If your goal is to lose body fat, you will be burning more calories both before and afterwards with high-intensity exercise.
Muscle Loss: When you exercise without eating anything before you start running, your muscles will first burn up any glycogen they have stored.
Once that has been used up, research has found that your body will start utilizing muscle protein, which will lead to muscle mass loss.
Furthermore, the stress of not having enough fuel may cause your body to release cortisol which causes muscle mass loss.
Are eggs good before a run?
You should eat eggs before running because they contain high amounts of protein, however you should not consume them right before a race because they take longer to break down than other foods. So, yes, eggs are one of the best things to eat before running.
You want to allow yourself some time to absorb their nutrients. Eggs can be a good energy boost if you give them enough time to digest.
Eggs provide you with all the essential amino acid building blocks for muscle repair and recovery. Egg proteins help maintain muscle strength by keeping them well fueled, so they are able to stretch their muscle activity to greater limits.
If you eat an egg for breakfast before running, you will get enough protein to keep your body functioning at its best during exercise.
According to a research in the Journal of International Obesity, people who consume protein before working out tend to be able to better control their calorie consumption and weight loss.
What fruit is best for runners?
Some fruits are better for you than others. Oranges, berries, cherries (tart cherries), and bananas are one of the best fruits for runners to eat.
Bananas: The potassium contained in bananas helps with electrolyte replenishment and provides easily digestible and quick carbohydrates before and after exercise.
Berries & Cherries: Berries and cherries are high in polyphenols, anti-inflammatory antioxidants and vitamin C, which can help reduce inflammation after running.
Furthermore, research has shown that those athletes who consumed tart cherries and tart cherry juice were able to improve their performance by reducing muscle breakdown during exercise.
Oranges: Oranges are another good source of vitamin C, which helps keep your immune system strong and healthy. They are also an excellent source for runners as they help with tissue repair and hydration.
Is coffee good before a run?
Coffee before a run can help boost your energy levels. Long distance runners and endurance athletes often use caffeinated energy drinks before races to improve their performance.
Studies have shown that caffeinated pre-workout drink can help give you an extra boost of energy before running.
For best results, drink about 1 oz of caffeinated beverage for every 10 – 15 pounds of body weight (approximately 50 milligrams of caffeine per 10 kilograms of body weight).
For a 120 pound runner, this equals about 10 ounces of coffee. It is recommended to drink your coffee an hour before running. It will the caffeine to kick in so you feel energized during your intense workout.
Is pasta or rice better for runners
Not all carbs are created equal. However, carbs like pasta and rice are important nutrient sources.
A one-cup serving of pasta contains about 220 calories and 1.5 oz (43 grams) of carbs. Recently, food manufactures have started making pasta from a variety of different types of grains such as lentil, bean, and lentil flour.
They typically contain higher amount of certain vitamins, protein, and fibers but less amount of carbohydrates.
A one-cup serving of rice contains approximately 250 calories and 1.9 oz (53 grams) of carbs, a little bit higher compared to pasta. Naturally, rice contains vitamins and minerals that pasta does not such as folic acid, Vitamin B, iron, and zinc.
Rice might be easier to use than pasta for cooking, but if you’re not going to use an instant rice variety, then pasta may be better. When you are a busy athlete in training time is important.
Since they are both high in carbs, it does not really matter which one you choose to fuel your ride. On one hand, pasta offers a small boost of protein post-run. On the other hand, if you have a sensitive stomach, white rice will help since it contains lower amounts of fibers compared to pasta.