What to Eat Before Running to Avoid Bonking and Finish Strong
What you eat before running can have a big impact on fatigue and recovery. If you’re a beginner runner and simply want to stick to short jogs, you may not need to worry much about what you’re eating. But, as any serious athlete can attest, proper nutrition and hydration make a world of difference to performance as you level up the mileage!
Even if performance is off your radar — maybe you only run to lose weight, boost energy, or blow off steam — choosing the right foods can affect how you perceive those runs. If you can dread running a little less, that’s still a sign of success.
Trying to decide what to eat before running? Below are some rough guidelines for how to fuel up on the right foods.
What to Eat Before A Short Run
Ask yourself: How long is your short run? Is it OK to run on an empty stomach?
“If you are planning on going on a leisurely one-mile run, you might not need to fuel up before at all,” explains Brittany Crump, MPH, RD at Savor Nutrition. Running burns calories, but those can come from today’s pre-run snack or yesterday’s large dinner.
Runs less than 30 minutes
For up to 30-minute runs, you can probably skip eating altogether, especially if you’re running for weight loss. After all, it is easy to overestimate how many calories we burn during exercise.
Runs longer than 30 minutes
If you plan to hit the 30- to 60-minute run mark, graze on a pre-run snack. How long before a run should you eat? To avoid tummy issues during the run, choose light snacks and eat them at least 30 minutes before you exercise. Doing so also gives your body enough time to digest, absorb, and make those nutrients available to you during the run.
The best light snacks to eat before a short run are those high in carbohydrates:
- 1 piece of fruit (e.g., apple, banana, orange)
- 2-3 tablespoons of dried fruit (e.g., raisins, prunes, dates)
- 1 slice whole-wheat bread or half a bagel
- 1 breakfast bar
- 1 ounce of whole-grain crackers
- 6 ounces of low-fat yogurt
High-carb foods make great pre-run snacks because they supply glucose, a sugar and the main fuel source during exercise. Says Crump, “Right before a run, it’s best to avoid high-fat proteins (think: cheese or nut butter) since they can sit in the stomach and lead to GI distress. And, avoid fried, greasy, or spicy foods, which can cause heartburn.”
What to Eat Before An Endurance Run
For longer endurance runs (60+ minutes), Crump suggests, “you can opt for a meal 3-4 hours before your run that is rich in carbohydrates and contains some protein for muscle recovery. If you’re short on time, eat an easy-to-digest carbohydrate-rich snack 1-2 hours before your run, such as a fruit smoothie.”
Assuming you’ll eat 3-4 hours in advance, the best meals to eat before an endurance run combine carbs and protein; for example:
- PB&J whole-grain sandwich + hard-boiled egg
- Turkey and cheese sandwich + fruit juice
- Fruit and yogurt smoothie + granola
- Oatmeal with almonds + milk + banana
- Low-fat cottage cheese + crackers + grapes
- Chicken breast + side salad + fruit yogurt
For endurance runs that go beyond 90 minutes, add a pre-run snack (see above) to the plan as well. Why? Most folks have about 90-120 minutes worth of glycogen (the body’s backup glucose supply) to work with before they “bonk” or “hit a wall.” It’s that feeling when you’re mid-run but can’t muster enough energy to keep going.
What to Eat for a Marathon Race Snack During A Run
A marathon is a really long endurance run that will take 4-5 hours (unless you’re godly fast) to complete. Because the human body has not evolved to supply optimal fuel for such a long event, bonking is more common here. No worries — you’ll just need to plan for success.
In addition to eating a pre-run meal and snack, you’ll want to eat a high-carbohydrate dinner the night before the race and carry sugary snacks during the race to fuel up mid-run. Time your pre-run meal based on the start time of your marathon race. For example, eat the pre-run meal at 6:00-6:30 a.m. if your race starts at 8. (Adjust your timing accordingly.)
For a marathon, the best snacks to carry during your run are portable sugary foods, for example:
- Dried fruit (e.g., raisins, prunes, dates) or fruit leathers
- Small cookies, crackers, or pretzels
- Energy gels or chews
- Hard candies, gummies, or fun-size candy bars
During a race, reach for straight sugar snacks because you need easy-to-digest foods that make glucose quickly available to your moving muscles.
What to Drink Before a Run
Although this article covers what to eat before running, staying well-hydrated is equally important. For short runs, you may not need extra fluid at all — let your thirst guide you.
For endurance runs (marathons included), drink extra water the night before your run. How much fluid you need during the race depends on your sweat rate, which is affected by your genetics and the weather. It’s a good idea to carry your own handheld water or sports drink, so you can sip fluid throughout your run instead of relying on aid stations.