When it comes to nutrition, there are a lot of opinions about what you should eat and how you should eat. So as you might guess, the exact formula for nutritional success will vary from person to person. However, the overall guidelines on what you should eat before running for optimal performance are the same across the board.
There’s an easy answer and a complicated answer to whether or not you should eat before running.
Being hungry during a run won’t do you any good. Hunger is a sign that you’re getting low on fuel, and it’s not great to run when your body needs fuel. You’ll be more sluggish than you otherwise would be, and you can start to get a little fuzzy-headed. If you’re hungry before your run, go ahead and eat something.
Eating too much or eating the wrong thing right before a run can make your stomach hurt. It can make you feel heavy and it can even make you feel nauseated. Eat something that’s light and that won’t weigh you down. For example, a piece of fruit or some nut mix is a great option. Pizza is not a good option. Your pre-run food choices will have a direct impact on your running performance.
It’s best to eat a light meal about two hours before your run so that your food has some time to digest before you get going. You still don’t want this to be anything too heavy. If it’s within two hours of your run time and you’re starting to feel a little hungry, just eat an energy-boosting snack like a Clif Bar or Honey Stinger Waffle rather than a full meal.
- Fruit (fresh or dried)
- Whole grains
- Grilled fish
- Anything fried
- Baked goods or doughy snacks
- Heavy meats (hamburger, bacon, etc.)
In general, don’t eat the things on the “NO” list within two hours of any run. The things on that list are more likely to make your stomach hurt and make your run miserable. If you’re training for an important race, you won’t get the most out of your training. If it’s the morning of the race, definitely don’t eat anything on that list!
Leading up to your race day, however, there are a few more things to add to the “YES” list. In the days approaching the race, add in some more carbs and some more protein. You still don’t want to eat too much greasy, heavy food, but you can add more baked goods or doughy food. Having more bread and pasta in your diet during race week will improve your energy for the race.
Once the race is over, or if you went especially hard on a training run, make sure you eat some carbs and some protein. The carbs will help replenish your energy, and the protein will help your muscles recuperate faster. What you eat after the run does matter, but not as much as what you eat before running.