As runners, we all know that food is energy—and when we nourish our bodies with the best food that nature has to offer, the better the performance our bodies give us. That’s simple.
That’s why, as runners, we have to put extra thoughts into everything we put into our stomach. We know that proper diet can make or break us—for the both the short run and the long run—literally and figuratively.
And the whole running nutrition thing can be broken down into two major chunks and parts: Pre-run nutrition and post-workout nutrition: one is fuel, and the other is recovery. That’s it.
The fact is, whether you are going for a short run or looking to finish off a marathon, the food you eat and the fluids you drink pre and post training can make or break your performance.
The primary purpose of your pre-workout meal/snack is to provide you with the energy you need to push yourself during a running workout.
On the other hand, you eat immediately following your workout to repair the damage and micro tears done to your muscles, helping you rebuild damaged muscle tissues and recover faster.
Proper fuel is king.
And timing it right is when the magic happens. This is something I struggled with for quite some time before I started to get the hang of it.
Therefore, today I’m sharing with you this short diet guide to help when and how much to eat for optimal running performance and enjoyment. Of course, these diet guidelines are not perfect, but they work for me, and chances, you’ll find them useful yourself.
As a result, make sure to put them into practice.
And always remember that the key to success—in all areas of life—is experimenting with different methods, finding what works the best, and sticking to it for the long haul.
The 3 Keys to Pre- and Post-Run Eating for Runners
To run your best, your calories intake should reflect the total volume and intensity of your workouts.
As a runner, your nutrition plan should normally be divided into three sections:
- Easy training days—short and/or recovery runs,
- Moderate days—most of speedwork and hill running, and
- Intense days—long runs, and workouts exceeding one hour.
1. Easy Training Days
Follow these nutrition suggestions for your easy training days:
For an easy run—30 minutes or less at a relaxed and comfortable pace—glass of water might be all you need before you head out the door—especially if you’re already following sound eating habits.
Nevertheless, if you are looking to get a quick boost of energy, go for a light snack, such as a banana, an energy drink or orange juice to restore glycogen in your muscles, and give you the energy burst you need.
With that said, make sure to have the light snack at least an hour before heading out.
If you run in the morning and don’t have time for it, then, for good measures, have a sound and healthy dinner the night before. Your glycogen stores will provide enough fuel for the morning run.
Make sure to take in something immediately after you finished the easy run. That’s the golden rule of proper running diet—regardless of how far or intense you ran.
Downplaying the importance of post-run eating can only lead to lethargy, mediocre performance, and sugar cravings later in the day, and weak recovery—since you are not providing your body with the building block it needed for the recovery process.
2. Moderate Training Days
It doesn’t matter whether you are hitting the 400m track or tackling a steep hill—any kind of a run that zaps your energy tanks—eating something before you head out the door is vital.
As a result, make sure to take in a few hundred calories for fuel; otherwise, you’re more likely to feel weary, lethargic or nauseous during your workout.
Nonetheless, choosing the right kinds of food can prove tricky. You will need the right amount of energy without upsetting your stomach.
That’s why, as a golden rule for pre-run eating, opt for easily digestible food. And steer clear from high fiber foods, which take longer to digest, and can lead to all sorts of GI issues and health troubles.
Here are some ideas:
- Toast with peanut butter
- Fruit and Yogurt Smoothie
- Fruits with almonds and mixed seeds
- One slice of toast with almond butter
- Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie
- Toast with bananas
- Energy bar
For more pre-run snack ideas check my post: 11 Yummy and Nutritious Pre-run Meals and Snacks.
I hate to sound like a broken record…but as I have already stated, eating within the recovery window—the hour following the run—is key for both performance and recovery.
Therefore, after a hard run, make sure to supply your muscles with carbs (to replenish energy tanks), protein (for the healing process) and plenty of water.
I love chocolate milk. This awesome drink has been by proven by study to be the best post-workout snack.
Note: If you have a large meal—breakfast, lunch or dinner— scheduled after the hard run, all the best. If not, don’t keep on the day on empty. Make sure to eat something—even a small snack to replenish your body and aid recovery.
This is not something you can push to the side.
3. Intense Days
Long runs are going to take a toll on your energy tanks, so you’d better get ready for them by consuming enough QUALITY calories to sustain your energy needs throughout the workout.
To make the most out of your long runs, make sure to have a full meal—breakfast, lunch, or dinner (if you are going to run at midnight )—three to four hours before you head out to slog through the miles.
Carbs should make the staple of your menu.
Doing this will provide your body with enough energy to sustain it throughout the long miles.
Also, avoid any food that may cause gastrointestinal problems, such as high fiber or fatty foods, spices and the rest.
Note: The key here is to never go on a long run with an empty stomach, period. You will always need to have some fuel in the tank before you set out.
If you run long in the early morning, then this is going to be a bit of a problem because I don’t think that anyone has the time nor the desire to wake up at 2 AM for a full meal.
But there is always something you can do…
The solution is simple.
Have a sound dinner the evening before, then have a light snack a half an hour before you head out the door—or a bit earlier if it’s possible.
Also, have a good hydration and fueling plan for the run. Try to take in between 200 to 300 calories per hour during long runs. Supplement your energy needs with gels, sports drinks, or whatever energy source your body can handle.
Same rules apply here.
You should always eat after a run. If you don’t have time for a full meal, then something light is better than nothing.
Go for anti-inflammatory foods, such as walnuts and avocados, to fight off inflammation caused by running’s high impact nature.
Then have a big meal a few hours later.
What Works the Best
As I have already stated, diets are not created equal. They really depend on the runner and their unique needs and preferences.
So no suit fits all.
Just keep in mind that every runner is different and responds differently to different kinds of foods and energy.
That’s why you have to find out what works the best for you over the long run—both figuratively and literally.
The key word here is EXPERIMENT.
Here you have it.
Hopefully, you liked it.
Thank you for reading my post.
For more pre-run snack ideas check my post: 11 Yummy and Nutritious Prerun Meals and Snacks.
Image Credit –Brian Lynch – Flickr