If you’re taking your car out for a road trip, you’re not going to just ignore that little blinking gas light that says your tank is nearly empty, are you? Much like that quick stop to the gas station to fill up your car, it’s important to know what to eat before a run in order to fuel your body properly and get the most out of your workout. It’s this pre-eating that allows you to keep going and it’s what will drive your body to perform the way you need it to.
When to Eat Before a Run
Before you head out the door, you want to get yourself to that happy medium between overly hungry and far too full. Eat too close to your run and you enter side-stitch territory; eat too far from it and you’re totally beat halfway through your route.
Your best bet to avoid both maladies is to plan to eat a light meal or snack about 1.5 to 2 hours prior to the start of your run. This will give your body enough time to process and digest so that you don’t feel weighed down or start cramping mid-way through.
What to Eat Before a Run
As our main supply of quick energy during moderate activity comes from carbohydrates, you want to fuel up on foods that are rich in carbs to avoid burning out from fatigue – a common issue that can lead to feeling light-headed or dizzy, headaches, confusion, mood swings or muscle cramping.
It’s best to eat a light but balanced meal that offers a healthy variety of carbohydrates (such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables…don’t just chomp down on a loaf of WonderBread) paired with a low-fat protein (such as chicken, beans, peanut butter or hummus). Avoid high fat foods, heavy proteins and large portion sizes as these are difficult to digest during activity.
Good options include:
bagel with peanut butter
banana and an energy bar
whole grain blueberry pancakes
bowl of cereal with milk
lean turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread
whole wheat pasta salad with arugula and feta
stir-fried chicken with veggies over brown rice
Try to avoid eating 30 minutes before you exercise as this is the point when your body will be at the peak of its digestive processes when you start your run. If the food has already passed this stage, your body can focus its efforts on your muscles instead.
What If I Forgot To Eat?
If you’re squeezing in a workout to fit your busy schedule and don’t have time to plan your meal times that far in advance, avoid those easy protein bars as they can often be loaded with sugar and provide more calories than you need. Instead, try grabbing a quick mini-meal about 5 minutes prior to exercising.
Good quick-fix snacks to eat before running include:
low-fat yogurt with banana slices
a diced apple with cottage cheese
half a sweet potato topped with low-fat cottage cheese
Should I Eat and Drink During a Run?
It’s extremely important to keep your body well hydrated while you work hard and sweat during your run. As everybody sweats at his or her own unique rate, it’s important to understand that you may need to rehydrate at a different pace than your workout partner so always have water handy and try to drink before you’re thirsty.
If you are exercising in any type of extreme climate (either overly hot or overly cold), you will lose fluid at a higher rate than normal so be sure to increase your regular water consumption when this is the case.
If you feel as though you need a quick snack during the workout, try soda crackers, pretzels or granola to give you a boost of energy.
Eating After Exercise
Once you’re done your workout, your body is going to want to act like a sponge, ready to start storing energy again, repairing muscles and rehydrating itself with needed fluids. Be sure to refuel immediately afterward getting your sweat on with a healthy shake, chocolate milk or water. You may also want to have a snack of yogurt or a whole grain energy bar.
Once you’re done hosing off in the shower, that’s probably a good time to put together a meal or snack that is high in carbohydrates with a little bit of protein and fat.
Good choices post-run meals include:
one or two poached egg whites on whole grain toast
stir-fried chicken with veggies, served over brown rice
whole-wheat pasta with meat sauce or chicken, broccoli and eggplant
vegetarian chili with potatoes and raw veggies
bean burrito with a whole-wheat tortilla, filled with black beans, salsa and a little reduced-fat cheese
steel cut oats and chia with milk and fruit