What to Eat
When you’re running, your body needs readily available energy as fuel. The best form of that comes from carbohydrates. Great choices for an early morning run include fruit such as bananas, apples, or berries, an energy bar, oatmeal, yogurt, a bagel with peanut butter, or a simple bowl of cold cereal with milk.
Smart options for a run that happens later in the day are turkey and cheese on whole wheat bread, a quinoa and chicken wrap, or carrots and hummus.
In general, you want to avoid foods that are high in protein, fiber, and fat, but there is a caveat. Some studies show that eating protein before a workout prompts the body to continue burning fat long after you stop exercising.
Protein is also crucial in the development of lean muscle mass. Depending on your workout goals, you may want to incorporate some protein into a pre-run meal, but in this case you need to give your body a little bit more time to digest it before starting off. Better yet, eat protein shortly after working out.
Healthy fats can also be a good source of energy, but they take the longest of all to digest, so may be good only if you are going to undertake a very long run, such as a marathon.
Sources like nuts and avocados can be a nice choice, but greasy fast foods or saturated fats are definitely not recommended. Rich, fatty, or high fiber foods will most likely make your stomach hurt when you start running.
When to Eat
The goal of a run is to get out there and just go. That’s tough to do on a full stomach. So depending on what you’ve chosen as a pre-run meal, the rule of thumb is to wait 1-3 hours.
If you’ve had a big meal, wait at least two, but if you only had a snack, it may be okay to shave the wait time down to 30 minutes.
There will be some trial and error in determining your best pre-run meal and timing, as everyone’s digestive system works a bit differently. Many runners like to keep a journal of their runs, and part of that can be what was eaten beforehand and how it made you feel.
If you find that timing is tricky, for example, you want to run first thing in the morning and don’t have time to wait an hour before heading out, just make sure you get in a small snack.
Eat it in your pajamas and then brush your teeth and get on your gear, so that there will be at least a little time for digestion. Start with something light and easy digestible, like toast, a banana, or an energy bar.
Hydration is Key
And finally, don’t forget to drink water both before and after your run. Again, tanking up on it directly before you start can lead to gastrointestinal discomfort, but your cells need fluid in order to move fuel.
If you run first thing in the morning, your body will likely be starting from a somewhat dehydrated state. Let your thirst be your guide in terms of how much to drink, and then wait 20-30 minutes before you go to give your cells time to absorb it. Small drinks of water are fine to have throughout your run.
So in general, the best pre-run meal is a light one that provides ready fuel for your body. Make choices that are high in carbohydrates, low in protein and fiber, and contain as little fat as possible.
Leave yourself some time to digest before heading out, but even if you’re in a rush, you need to eat at least a little something. Keeping a running journal can help you pinpoint what works best for you. And above all, do not forget to hydrate!