What To Eat Before A Run For Optimal Results

Fueling can make or break your run. See how you can perform at your best by eating right.

Whether training or racing, we all want to feel and perform at our absolute best

There’s no better feeling than finishing a challenging workout or crossing the finish line at a race satisfied with your result, whether crushing a PR, setting a new distance goal, or simply feeling strong during a morning run.

Many factors come into play to achieve optimal performance, whether training or racing, such as your current fitness level, running experience, previous and current training, how well you sleep, and, of course, your nutrition strategy. 

Day-to-day nutrition is critical to ensure you have enough fuel for everything you put your body through as a runner, but what about the specific fueling before your training runs, workouts, and pre-race? Runners often wonder, what should I eat before a run?

What to eat before running, training, or racing can make or break your running performance. 

This guide will discuss what to eat before a run to have a successful workout or race and, at the same time, enjoy yourself in the process.

A runner smiling about to eat a granola bar.

Why Should You Eat Before A Run?

What you eat before running will depend on the type, length, and intensity of your workout or race.

Of course, the longer distances and more intense runs will require more energy. But whatever type of run or workout you have planned for the day, it is essential that you are adequately fueled for the following reasons: 

First, you don’t want to feel hungry during your workout, which is especially likely if you run first thing in the morning after coming off of what is essentially a fast throughout the night.

Running with a grumbling stomach is uncomfortable, and if you feel that hungry, you are most likely under-fueled and unable to exercise properly. 

Second, your body needs adequate glycogen levels to use said stores to keep energy levels up, allowing you to perform well, feel strong, and complete the workout.

So, no matter what type of run or workout you have planned for the day, pre-workout fueling up is key! 

Toast and honey.

Let’s take a look at the different types of workouts and what is needed to prepare for each one:

What Should I Eat Before Short Recovery Runs or Easy Runs?

Some people can get away with running on an empty stomach for a recovery run or an easy run lasting under 60 minutes.

However, as a running coach and runner myself, my general rule is to always eat something before a run, even if it is just a small snack or a glass of juice. This is especially important if you run in the mornings when your glycogen stores will be depleted.

Consuming a small snack about one hour before heading out the door is ideal. 

What Should I Eat Before Speed Workouts?

Any training session involving changes in pace or high-intensity running, such as intervals and track work, threshold workouts, tempo runs, or Fartleks, will require a lot of energy

If you want to crush your workout, eating a small pre-run snack beforehand is essential.

Your snack should be consumed, ideally, 60 minutes before your run so that your body can process the food and you can avoid any unwanted discomfort as you sprint up that hill or turn the corner on the track! 

Bagels and jam.

What Should I Eat Before Long Runs and Races? 

Eating a complete yet light breakfast or small meal is ideal for long runs and races, as long as you can eat it within a sufficient timeframe to allow for digestion.

Eat your light breakfast at least 2-3 hours before your long run or race so your body has enough time to process the food, and so you don’t feel full and uncomfortable while running. 

Since this is a larger meal, more time is necessary to process it than after eating a smaller snack.

Of course, you will also be fueling during these activities, another ballgame. Distance running often includes fueling mid-run, depending on the length of the long run or race.

For more information on fueling during a half marathon, check out our article: Do I Need To Fuel During A Half Marathon? Fueling Strategy Explained.

Now that you know when you must fuel up (essentially, always), let’s look at some examples of what to eat before a run.

Waffles covered in maple syrup.

What Is The Best Thing To Eat Before Running?

All pre-run snacks and meals should be high in simple carbohydrates as your body can break down and use this source of energy efficiently. 

Also, ensure these snacks are low in fiber, protein, and fat to lower your risk of gastrointestinal problems during your run such as bloating. Protein and fat spend more time in your system, so stick to carbs, more specifically, simple carbs.

Be careful with complex carbohydrates as they are high in fiber and not ideal for processing when going out for a run. We wouldn’t want to need to take an unwanted pit stop!

Some examples of simple carbohydrates are white rice, pasta, bread, couscous, table sugar, juice, honey, maple syrup, jelly, fruit, and dairy (for those who can tolerate lactose well). For fruit, ensure you are not overloading yourself with too much fiber. 

For your shorter runs, such as a recovery run or a speed workout, you can get away with having a pre-run snack and then eating breakfast or your main meal afterward, depending on what time of day you run. 

A stack of energy balls.

Here are some examples of what to eat before a run, about an hour or so before you head out the door for any type of shorter workout: 

  • A slice or two or toast smeared with honey or your favorite jam
  • Energy balls, either homemade or store-bought (usually made with ingredients such as oats, peanut butter, syrup, and salt, but the varieties are endless)
  • A large banana or another piece of fruit (watch out for too much fiber!) 
  • A granola bar or energy bar 
  • Greek yogurt with your favorite mix-ins such as oats, granola, fruit, honey, etc.
  • Low-fiber cereals 

Let’s now take a look at what to eat before running a race or long run:

What Should I Eat Before A Race?

Here are some other fueling ideas for a larger pre-run foods for a long run or a race. 

Remember to eat 2-3 hours beforehand, if possible. If you need to wake up very early to do this, eat your meal, and then go back to bed until you have to get ready.  

Because 2-3 hours is quite a long time before you begin to run, you should have a small snack, preferably something you will also eat during the race, such as an energy gel, on hand.

You can take the energy gel just 20 minutes or so before your run if you need a quick boost before the start.

Pancakes and maple syrup, an example of what to eat before a run.

The best foods for your pre-run breakfast could be anything mentioned above in a larger quantity or: 

  • A bagel or English muffins with jam or honey 
  • Pancakes or waffles with maple syrup or honey
  • Toast with jam or honey and nut butter
  • Pasta (yes, some do have pasta for breakfast before a race!)

Try out a variety of snacks and meals to see what works best for you. The best time to practice for race day is during your long runs.

We are all different, and our bodies will react differently to these pre-run snack ideas. Once you’ve found your match, stick with it! 

As for quantity, it will depend on several factors, such as your body weight and your specific energy and dietary needs.

One of the most important things is not to feel too full. Don’t stuff yourself; it will make you feel uncomfortable, and you will not be able to run well with food sloshing around in your stomach.

The way to go is trial and error and seeing what works best for you in terms of how much and what to eat before a run.

A person drinking from a water bottle.

But what if you can’t eat before you run?

Perhaps you’ve tried to eat solid food, even 3 hours before your event, but you still don’t feel comfortable while running. 

If this happens to you, never fear; we have some alternatives for you of what to eat before a run if you can’t eat before a run:

What Should I Do If I Can’t Eat Before Running?

If you can’t get any solid food down and have a good run because it negatively affects your gut, gives you a stomach ache, or any other number of uncomfortable sensations, we have some alternatives for you: 

  • Ensure you have a carb-heavy dinner the night before, such as a bowl of pasta or rice, to fuel up for the next day. Yes, the all-famous carb loading meal.
  • Instead of solid food, drink a glass of orange juice before your run. Eight ounces of orange juice1WebMD Editorial Contributors. (2022, September 13). Are There Health Benefits to Drinking Orange Juice? WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/diet/health-benefits-orange-juice contains about 27 grams of carbohydrates and 112 calories.  
  • Drink whatever sports drink you are used to consuming while you run. This kills two birds with one stone, as you will top off your hydration and electrolytes and fuel simultaneously. 
  • Take an energy gel. If you prefer an energy gel or another type of fuel, such as gummy chews or a specific energy bar you usually eat during your long runs, go for that instead. An average energy gel has about 20-25 grams of carbs and 100 calories. 
A forkful of pasta.

What Foods Should I Avoid Before Going For A Run?

Even though what to eat before a run will vary from person to person, there are some general guidelines of what you shouldn’t do or shouldn’t eat before a run. 

Try and avoid:

  • Overeating, you don’t want to run on a full stomach! 
  • Eating too close to your start time; leave at least one hour between snacks and shorter runs, and 2-3 hours, if possible, between pre-run breakfasts and long runs or races.
  • Eating high-fiber foods such as whole grains, high-fiber cereals, beans, quinoa, lentils, veggies, and certain fruits such as raspberries to avoid unplanned pit stops.
  • Eating high-protein meals, including chicken, red meat, or other high-protein foods.
  • Eating high fat foods or fried foods as they are more challenging to digest for most.
  • Eating spicy foods as they often don’t agree well with most.
  • Don’t try anything new the days before or for your pre-run meal!

Understandably, following these fueling guidelines will not work for everyone, especially for those who follow a specific diet that excludes some of these foods or have food allergies that prevent them from eating carb-heavy food.

For example, if you are on the keto diet, you may be thinking, what should I eat before a run if I can’t eat carbs? If this is your case, speak to a sports nutritionist or sports nutrition dietitian to find the best options for your specific circumstances. 

Today’s essential takeaway is that you ensure you are adequately fueled up before all of your workouts to perform as best you can and, more importantly, enjoy your runs without the preoccupation of bonking or dealing with unexpected tummy trouble. 

If you are looking for ideas for post-run fueling, check out this next guide:


Photo of author
Katelyn is an experienced ultra-marathoner and outdoor enthusiast with a passion for the trails. In the running community, she is known for her ear-to-ear smile, even under the toughest racing conditions. She is a UESCA-certified running coach and loves sharing her knowledge and experience to help people reach their goals and become the best runners they can be. Her biggest passion is to motivate others to hit the trails or road alongside her, have a blast, and run for fun!

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