Carolyn Berry, BSc., RD
Registered Dietitian & Nutrition Consultant
Eating before you exercise can help you to run longer, with more intensity and with more ease. What foods you choose and how much you eat before you run depends on when, how long, and how intense your run or event will be. With time and practice, you can find what works best for you. Remember that no two people are the same, so listen to your body.
Follow these tips to help you eat and drink your way to a satisfying performance:
Appropriately time your pre-run meal/snack:Eat 1-3 hours before you run or race. The longer you have before you exercise, the bigger your meal or snack can be because you will have more time to digest it. The aim is to eat enough to feel satisfied but not full by the time you start your exercise or event. If your exercise is intense, a smaller meal may be better because it may keep you from getting an upset stomach. If you are running a half or full marathon, a full meal is probably your best choice, as your body requires more fuel. Listen to your body. You may be able to eat more than others and/or closer to your run before you exercise.
Fuel with carbohydrate
When you run, your body uses energy from easily accessible carbohydrate (aka muscle glycogen = stored carbohydrates), and less accessible fat stores. We all have fat stores, but we need to make sure that our glycogen levels are high before, during and after our runs. The more glycogen your muscles store, the longer you’ll be able to exercise before feeling tired. This is why it is important to include carbs with all of your meals, especially 2-3 days before a long run or race.
Include carbohydrate-rich foods in your meals and snacks like breads, whole grains, cereals, pasta, starchy vegetables and fruit.
Include protein-rich foods
Protein is used to repair muscle tissues after a workout. Protein can also help you to feel satiated for longer, which can be helpful during long run. Protein needs may increase with exercise, but not dramatically.
Good sources of protein include lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans and lentils, tofu, milk, cottage cheese and greek yogurt.
Choose foods that are lower in fat
Fat is digested slowly, thus eating high fat foods before a run could impact your ability to exercise and perform at your best. Choose skim, 1% or soy milk vs higher fat alternatives, and avoid fatty meats, cheeses and greasy/oils foods.
The scoop on fibre
Fibre is digested slowly, and foods high in fibre may cause gas or bloating in some individuals. If this is true for you, choose lower fibre foods (ie. white pasta, white rice, Cheerios, etc) instead of their whole grain alternatives on the day before of morning of a long run or race.
Choose foods you can tolerate
If you are someone with a sensitive stomach, it is important for you to try different foods well before you exercise or before a race, to make sure that you don’t develop any negative symptoms. This is especially important if you feel nervous or tend to get an upset stomach before your event.
Drink enough fluids so that you can start your exercise or event well hydrated. Choose water most of the time, but 100% fruit juice, milk, tea, coffee, and sports drinks also count as fluid. Before a race, wake up early enough so that you can hydrate adequately, yet preventing
Sample Pre-Run Meals
A pre-run meal should be higher in carb, moderate in protein and lower in fat, for example:
- whole grain cereal or oatmeal with low-fat milk/soy milk and mixed berries
- overnight oatmeal (see recipe below)
- whole wheat toast or bagel with peanut butter and a banana
- smoothie with low-fat milk/soy milk, greek yogurt, fruit, and rolled oats
- whole wheat tortilla wrap with chicken or turkey, lettuce, tomato, green peppers, and cucumber
- stir-fry made with cooked brown rice or quinoa and tofu, lean beef, chicken, or shrimp, and a mix of your favourite vegetables
Sample Pre-Run Snacks
- whole grain crackers with hummus
- yogurt with fruit
- apple with almonds
- trail mix with nuts & dried fruit
- smoothie made with low-fat milk and fruit.
Almond Butter, Banana & Chia Overnight Oatmeal
Makes: 1 serving
Prep time: 5 minutes
- 1/3 cup large flake rolled oats
- 1 tbsp raisins
- ½ banana, sliced
- 1 tsp ground flaxseeds
- 1 tsp chia seeds
- 1-2 tsp cinnamon
- ½ cup plain, 0-2% greek yogurt (use soy yogurt for a dairy-free option)
- 2/3 cup 1% milk (use soy milk for a dairy-free option). More or less depending on how you like the consistency. The mixture with thicken overnight.
- Optional: 2 tsp natural almond butter
- Optional: 1 tsp honey, or to taste
Place all ingredients into a mason jar or an airtight container, and stir until combined. Cover with lid and refrigerate overnight. The oats soak up the liquid from the yogurt and milk overnight, and are soft enough to eat in the morning. Enjoy cold, or slightly warmed in the microwave.