Here’s What To Eat Before Running (And What Not To Eat)

Knowing what to eat before running is an art – you want to ensure your energy levels are topped up without overdoing it or eating the wrong thing.

Therefore you want to have a good idea of what you’re going to eat, how long before your run you’ll eat it, and how much you should eat – and all of this varies depending on the time of day and type of run you’re going to do.

For example – your fueling requirements for an early morning run are different than for a 6 pm evening session.

Likewise, a gentle recovery run needs less fueling than an intense speed session or a relaxed long run.

What to eat before running is something many runners struggle with – and get wrong. Fueling right before you put on your running shoes ensures you’re totally prepped to bag your best miles.

Ready to find out more about what to eat before going for a run?

Let’s jump in!

Eating Before Running

In order to be ready to run, you want to have your fuel reserves topped up – but not so much that you have discomfort while you’re running – and you want to ensure you’re eating the right things.

It’s important to note that every runner is different – we each have different fuel requirements, process our food at different speeds, and have different tastes.

The trick is to use each of the following recommendations as a guideline and then experiment a little see what works for you!

what to eat before running in the morning

What To Eat Before Running In The Morning

Getting up early to book some dawn miles?

Simply getting out of bed can be hard enough, so it’s important to get your fueling right – otherwise you’ll have a much harder run.

Here are our top tips for fueling those early morning runs!

1. It’s Not Mandatory To Eat Before a Morning Run

In fact, many runners find they can typically clock up to an hour of running on an empty stomach without feeling depleted.

This varies from runner to runner – some runners have no issues booking a few miles on an empty stomach, while others struggle to get their engine going.

As well as any potential early morning snack, you should consider your previous evening’s dinner . . .

2. What To Eat The Night Before a Run

Often the best way to fuel an early morning run is by doing it the night before.

Plan a dinner dish that is rich in carbohydrates and proteinpasta being the regular recommendation.

But don’t over-do it – consuming too much for dinner can compromise your sleep quality, leaving you groggy and not in the mood to run the next morning.

3. Eat Something Small and Simple

When planning your pre-morning run snack, it’s important to optimize for ease of digestion.

No-one likes getting up hours before a run to eat something that takes time to digest – you want something simple that you can snack on and go running soon afterward.

For that reason, seek out foods that are easily digestible. This means you should avoid high-fiber foods, which the body takes longer to process.

Popular morning run fuel sources include:

  • Toast with peanut butter and banana
  • Oatmeal
  • Energy bars.

Do you struggle to eat food as soon as you wake?

Runners with sensitive stomachs often turn to sports drinks and energy gels to give them an energy boost before an early morning session.

4. Different Morning Workouts Require Different Fuel

Slow, easy miles are easier to perform on an empty stomach than hill repeats, which are more intense and require more fuel to power them.

It’s important to match your fueling plans to your workout.

If your morning run is a simple, gentle exercise designed to get you ready for the day, then running on an empty stomach may work for you.

But if you’re waking up early to perform, you should fuel appropriately.

I’d recommend that anyone attempting a high intensity, or time-based, morning run eat something light before doing so.

5. Caffeine Can Boost Performance

A quick early-morning espresso before you hit the trails can make things a little easier; it actually decreases your perception of effort – just be warned that it can also cause some gastrointestinal distress and the jitters!

what to eat before a long run

What To Eat Before An Afternoon or Evening Run

When planning for an afternoon or evening run, remember that your body has been fuelled throughout the day by your regular meals of breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

If you’re running within 2-3 hours of a meal – whether that’s lunch or dinner – you likely don’t need to eat anything else.

Only if you’re training for performance – i.e. going to be running at a high rate of exertion – may you wish to take a high-energy snack 45-60 minutes before your workout.

Otherwise, your lunch or dinner should fuel you well!

On the other hand, if you’re going for a pre-dinner run and it’s been a good few hours since lunch, it’s probably worthwhile to take a small snack to give you some pep.

What To Eat Before a Long Run

Long runs have a different set of fuelling rules – for any run of over an hour, you want to continue to fuel as you run to top up those energy reserves.

But before you go for your long run, you can ensure those reserves are well-filled by:

  • Eating carb-rich meals the day before your long run. Aim for 60% carbs, 20% protein, 20% fat.
  • Eat a good-sized snack 2-3 hours before your long run (or as soon as you wake up if you’re going for a dawn session).
  • Take a high-energy snack just before you start running (15 minutes before) – some sports drink, an energy bar, or half a banana will do it!
  • Fuel as you run with a sports drink, energy gels, snack bars, and chew blocks.

What Not To Eat Before Running

Here’s a list of foods you should avoid before going for a run:

1. Legumes

Legumes – beans and lentils – are a great source of energy, but are also high fiber and can cause gastrointestinal distress when running.

Leave the beans until after your run!

2. Too Much Fat

Although fat is an important macronutrient – and a great source of slow-burn fuel – it often sits in your stomach for longer and is slower to digest, leaving you feeling miserable throughout your run.

3. Spicy Foods

Spicy foods are often linked with some gastrointestinal distress, and this can be worsened by the movement of running.

Save the curry til after your run!

4. Sugary Stuff and Too Many Carbs

High-sugar foodstuffs – like soft drinks and sweets – are often nutritionally bankrupt but can cause a blood sugar spike.

Every wanted to take an afternoon nap after a big lunch of pasta or rice?

That’s the same thing – a carb crash – wherein your blood sugar rushes, then drops off dramatically – and all you want to do is nothing.

Save the sweet stuff and high-carb foods for rest day.

Worried about getting the runs during your run? Here’s our guide to avoiding runner’s diarrhea.

what to eat before running long run

Rules For What To Eat Before A Run – Summary

Here are some rules to stick by when planning your pre-run fuel:

  • Avoid being either starved or stuffed before starting any run. Your stomach should be settled, and you should feel satisfied you have the energy required to complete your run.
  • Timing-wise, aim to eat a snack 30-45 minutes before a run, or a small meal 90 – 120 minutes prior.
  • Pre-run snacks: stick to digestible sources of carbs – things like peanut butter on toast, half a banana, oatmeal.
  • Food to avoid before going for a run includes raw / whole foods which can take longer to process, high-fiber foods, spicy foods, sweet and highly processed foods.
  • Early morning runs can be done on an empty stomach. However, if you’re looking to push hard, you’ll normally want to eat something beforehand.
  • A carb-rich dinner can be good fuelling for an early morning run – aim for things like pasta, rice, potatoes, whole grain foods – good sources of carbs. Just don’t eat too much!

Looking for meal ideas to fuel your marathon training?

Check out our free Marathon Training Meal Plans!

Thomas Watson

Thomas Watson

Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of MarathonHandbook.com. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Livestrong.com, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and good beer. More at his bio.

4 thoughts on “Here’s What To Eat Before Running (And What Not To Eat)”

  1. Indeed, the guidelines are practical. I do morning runs often, and mix it up with afternoon runs in between the week. Every runner is different there is no one diet fits all. Experiment and find what works for you.

    Reply
  2. I almost exclusively do first-thing-in-the-morning runs, and I generally run on an empty stomach unless I’m going really long and am completely fine. But the point to consider a bit of fuel before more intense sessions is well-taken. I may try adjusting my routine for hill/speed days. Also, I’ve noticed that if I have too much dairy or any alcohol the night before it messes me up. Now I am always careful to avoid dairy and alcohol the night before races and long runs especially.

    Reply
    • Sarah,
      I’m similar – I often do a quick run at around 0600hts while the rest of the world is asleep. For me, the only thing I need beforehand is my coffee!
      Dairy and alcohol also affect me – especially beer. Cleaner spirits don’t tend to mess things up.
      Thomas

      Reply

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