Looking to improve your performance, speed up recovery, and increase total health and fitness?
Then, you can’t neglect your pre- and post-run nutrition. If you don’t adequately address this, odds are you might not make it down the road. In fact, consuming the right nutrients at the right times is just as important as the training itself.
Would you like how to master your running nutrition? Then consider today as one of your lucky ones!
To make sure you’re eating the right things at the right times, I have gathered an extensive list of some of the most nutritious pre-run and post-run meals and snacks.
More specifically, I’ll discuss why you should address your pre and post-training nutritional needs. I’m also sharing a long list of my favorite post and pre-run meal and snack ideas.
Note: The strategies shared below might not work that well if your goal is to lose weight. For weight loss eating plans while running, check my weight loss page. Also, you might want to consult your dietitian for a monthly eating plan that suits your body composition.
What To Eat Before A Run
Proper fueling for training is all about eating the right things at the right time. Doing so is just as important as the frequency and intensity of your runs.
If you don’t power up your body with the right fuel before a run, you won’t have the energy to perform at your best. Trying to run without the right fuel is like going on a road trip without filling up the gas tank. You’re not going to get very far.
Moreover, research shows that adequate pre-training eating can help prevent low blood sugar along with its symptoms. These include dizziness, fatigue, indecisiveness, lack of coordination, muddy thinking, and blurred vision.
How Much Food to Eat Before a Run?
The answer depends on your session intensity/length, fitness level, and personal (digestion) preferences.
The bigger the meal, the longer it’ll take the digestive system to break it down. That usually translates to less than one hour for a snack, one to two hours for a small meal, and up to three to four hours for a large meal.
Training Intensity and Food Choices
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 general guideline, moderate to intense workouts—anything performed at a 5K pace or faster, requires energy. A small meal two to three hours before setting out, or a large meal the night before the run can, do the trick for most runners.
For an easy run—30 minutes or less at a relaxed and comfortable pace—a glass of water might be all you need before you head out the door—especially if you’re already following sound eating habits. I’d also suggest that you try exercising in a fasting state.
Looking for a quick boost of energy? Go for a light snack, such as a banana, an energy drink or orange juice.
If having breakfast before a morning run is out of the question, then have a small piece of fruit, a smoothie, a hypertonic sports drink, or a healthy, energy-rich, dinner the night before.
The Right Choices
Here are some of the foods and snacks I eat before my runs to help keep me energized without weighing me down.
- Banana or apple with nut butter
- Two whole eggs with peppers, low-fat cheese, and onions
- Greek yogurt with berries
- Oatmeal with fruit and low-fat milk
- Oatmeal with whey protein
- Jelly toast and peanut butter.
- Half a cup of brown rice with black beans
- Half a cup of oatmeal with berries and agave.
- Apple with a serving of walnuts
- Sweetened potato with steamed broccoli in olive oil
- Salad with roasted chickpeas and vinegar
- Burrito with beans and brown rice
- Banana with almond butter
- Quinoa bowl with pecans and blackberries
- Multi-grain crackers with hummus
- Multi-grain bread with raw peanut butter.
- Protein shake with one scoop of protein powder and a banana.
- Dark chocolate
- Yogurt and raisins
- Energy gel or energy bar.
- Apple and peanut butter
- Whole grain bread and almond butter
- Carrots and cheese
- Veggies and hummus
- Bagel with cottage cheese
- Banana and chocolate milk
- Yogurt and almonds
- Trail mix of dried fruit and nuts
- Crackers and cottage cheese
The primary purpose of a post-run meal is to provide your body with the right nutrients for proper recovery and to maximize training benefits.
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 blocks the recovery process.
Think of post-workout eating as a continuation of the recovery process.
The Right Mix
Research published in the Journal of International Society of Sports Medicine reported that consuming a mix of carbs and protein is best immediately after exercise. For the post-run meal, research recommends a 3:1 to 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein. This can be adjusted to meet your personal needs and preferences.
The timing needs not to be exact to the letter, but experts suggest that consuming these macronutrients within 30 to 45 minutes after exercise is optimal. In fact, research has revealed that postponing carbohydrate consumption by longer than two hours after exercise might reduce glycogen synthesis— your body’s process of refilling its energy stores—by up to 50 percent, compared to eating immediately after a workout.
In short, make sure you get your post-run meal, snack, or workout shake right after running as based on the research.
Note: If you have a large meal—breakfast, lunch, or dinner— scheduled after a 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. Try not to eat too much to avoid stomach upset.
The Best Choices
I highly recommend chocolate milk as it’s the ideal option for replenishing both carbohydrates and protein. Also, the high water content of chocolate milk helps replaces fluid lost through sweat and respiration.
This drink also scores high in minerals, including calcium—key for healthy bones and energy metabolism.
Here are more easily digested post-run meals and snacks to experiment with:
- Fruit and low-fat milk smoothie
- Grilled chicken with roasted veggies
- Salmon with sweet potato
- Smoothie made with low-fat milk and fruit
- Oatmeal with banana and almond butter
- Cereal and skim milk
- Tuna salad sandwich on grain bread
- Cottage cheese and fruit
- Almonds and a piece of fruit
- Baked salmon and asparagus
- Whole grain toast and almond butter
- Sweet potato with cottage cheese
- Low-fat chocolate milk
- Yogurt with berries
- Whole-grain bagel with eggs whites
- Pasta with chicken, eggplant, and broccoli
- Egg white and spinach omelet
- Pita and hummus
- Vegetables and hummus
- Whole grain cereals with banana and milk
- Protein sports bars
- Oatmeal, whey protein, almond, and banana
- Turkey on a whole grain wrap with vegetable
- Apple with almond or peanut butter.
- A handful of raisin and nuts
Everybody is Different
Don’t get me wrong here. The ideal meal-timing formula is a matter of personal preference. Everybody is different and responds differently to different types of food and nutrition plans. No suit fits all.
The keyword is “EXPERIMENT.” That’s why you have to do the work and find what works best for you in terms of performance, training enjoyment, and personal preference.
If you hit the running track after work, then make sure to eat a small snack before running, such as a banana with all-natural peanut butter, or any of the snacks option above.
Of course, you can always choose your own healthy snacks. No suit fits all. The snack ideas are nothing but suggestions.
Today’s article is by no means the full guide to proper fueling for runners. Performance nutrition is a very complicated topic, and it goes beyond my limited expertise.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.
In the meantime, thank you for dropping by.
Keep Running Strong.