What to eat before running and why
Running is a great way to get your daily dose of physical activity and boost your energy levels. If you’ve decided to start running regularly, good for you. However, even though it seems pretty simple, running is a bit more complicated than just putting on your sneakers and hitting the track.
The first thing you’ll need to learn is what to eat before you run. Proper nutrition will make your running experience much better and help you achieve the best results. The good news is, it’s not too hard. Just follow our 7 simple tips and you’ll be feeling great on every run!
Carbs are an essential source of energy for running, but it doesn’t mean you should just start binging on pasta and bagels just because you’ve picked up running. There is a right way and a wrong way to load up on carbs. Carbohydrates are one of three main sources of calories, besides protein and fat, but it’s important to understand the difference between simple and complex carbs.
Simple carbs need much less time to get digested and absorbed into your body than complex carbs. For this reason, you should eat complex carbs 2 to 3 hours before your run. Foods rich in complex carbs include whole grains, beans, and potatoes, for example. Fruit, on the other hand, is rich in simple carbs, so it should be eaten an hour before a run for best results.
2. Carbs are good but don’t go overboard
You’ve probably heard about carb-loading. Loading up on carbs is the favorite strategy of long-distance runners because it will provide enough energy for extended periods of time. However, if you are on your second bagel because you just read our first tip, stop. As a newbie, you’ll most likely start with shorter runs, so there is no need to go overboard with carbs.
An average person eats about 200 to 300 grams of carbs on a regular day. This makes about 50 percent of the overall calorie intake. Unless you are on a protein-centric or keto diet, this should be more than enough for a moderate run. Just eat a normal portion of healthy carbs like whole grains, vegetables or fruits a couple of hours before your run and you’ll be all set. If you are gluten-intolerant, choose the foods that work for you. Sweet potato, beans, and quinoa are all great gluten-free and carbohydrate-rich options.
If you are thinking about picking up running, there is a good chance you’ve already encountered a huge amount of information about what you should eat. Load up on carbs, avoid fat, eat protein but not too much… it can all be a little bit overwhelming. The truth is, these rules are not set in stone. We are all different and the same thing doesn’t work for everybody.
Feel free to experiment with foods you enjoy to see what works best for you. It won’t be long until you realize exactly which foods give you the most energy. Also, if you find yourself searching for a bathroom mid-run, consider changing your diet.
4. Don’t go too crazy with experimentation
Just like with most things in life, moderation is key. A bit of fat or processed sugar with your breakfast won’t kill you. Experimenting with different fruits, eating your favorite cereal or pastry, or adding your favorite topping to your waffle or toast are all fine, but you certainly don’t want to go with foods that will upset your stomach.
Eating spicy food before a run is definitely not a good idea, so don’t go with a huge plate of Indian or Mexican food. Don’t go overboard with fiber either, because too much fiber can cause bloating and gas. Definitely not pleasant when running.
You’ve probably heard this already, but we can’t stress the importance of hydration enough. Even though it’s the basic principle of sports nutrition, many runners still underestimate their hydration needs. Always bring a bottle of water or plan your runs in a way that you have access to water, even if it’s just a short run. You should drink at least 16 ounces of water a couple of hours before your run and 4 ounces every 15 minutes is a good measure while running. This is just a general guideline, of course, so feel free to adapt it to your needs.
The color of your urine after a run will tell you if you are properly hydrated. The color should be pale yellow. If it’s too dark, drink more water!
6. You Probably Don’t Need Sports Drinks
If you are skeptical about sports drinks, you are probably right. They do contain sugar and it’s probably too much sugar for everyday exercise. They are not all bad, though. Sports drinks were formulated for athletes after all. The sugar they contain replaces electrolytes you lose while sweating. If you are preparing for a marathon they are definitely useful. However, if you are just a beginner and/or you’re sticking to short distances, water is just fine.
With that said, if your run lasts longer than an hour or you are running in very hot and/or humid conditions, you might benefit from a sports drink. Feel free to experiment with different electrolyte mixes to see what works for you.
7. Pre-Workout supplements
Just like sports drinks, a pre-workout supplement can be a great way to start your daily run, you may think of a pre-workout supplement as something you should only take before you lift weights, there are many pre-workout supplements that will not sit heavy and only require that you mix it with a small amount of liquid. A good pre-workout will keep you hydrated and provide you with energy, give you stamina, and supply your body with essential BCAA’s these are all important for preventing fatigue and help you endure longer runs. However, if you are just going for a short 30-minute jog your best friend is still water.
8. Train your stomach
When you run, you train your legs, but you also need to train your stomach to endure the constant bouncing. Cramps and running trots (the sudden need to go to the bathroom when running) is very common for running beginners, so it shouldn’t worry you too much. If you feel a sharp pain your side, don’t get discouraged. It will get better.
The good news is that avoiding stomach troubles is not too hard. Just keep your portions in check and don’t eat too much before a run. Give yourself enough time to digest your carb snack and everything should be fine. If your stomach is still upset during your run or you are feeling uncomfortable, consider experimenting with different foods.
The best piece of advice we can give you is to listen to your body and eat what makes you feel best. Finding your perfect meal plan is a marathon, not a sprint, but it’s best to have some ground rules. Here are some simple snack suggestions to help you if you are feeling lost.
2 – 3 Hours Before a Run
It’s best to eat a snack or meal that is rich in carbs and low in protein and fat two to three hours before you run. We suggest some whole wheat toast with a slice of turkey or cheese, carrot sticks, and hummus, or a banana with peanut butter.
30 – 60 Minutes Before a Run
It’s a good idea to eat a small snack an hour or less before your run. This snack should contain very little fat. It’s best to eat your favorite fruit, a handful of raisins or granola or plain popcorn.