Fitness Question: Should You Be Eating Before or After a Run?

March 18, 2017 - 7 minutes read

You’ve decided to head our for a run in a couple of hours…should you grab a bite to eat before hitting the pavement? What about once you get home? The short answer is ‘yes’ to both. Here’s everything you need to know about eating before and after a run, along with a few examples of meals and snacks you can try out.

Why you should eat before a run

If you’re taking your car out for a road trip, you’re not going to ignore that little blinking light that says your tank is empty, are you? Much like that quick stop to the gas station to fill up your vehicle, eating before exercise is your body’s way of fuelling up in preparation for the tasks you’re about to ask it to complete.

By taking in a well-balanced meal or snack prior to a run, you’re not only giving your body the energy it needs to complete the workout through glycogen uptake, you’re providing it with good proteins that help improve the ability of your muscles to recover following.

When to eat before a run

Before you head out the door, you want to get yourself to that happy medium between too hungry and 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.

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 to eat before your 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 carbohydrates 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.

Here are seven snacks to try eating about an hour before you lace up your sneakers:

1. Peanut butter on a whole wheat bagel
2. Banana and a fruit bar
3. Whole grain blueberry pancakes
4. Bowl of granola with almond milk
5. Lean turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread
6. Whole wheat pasta salad with arugula and feta
7. Stir-fried chicken with veggies over brown rice

What if I forget 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:

1. Low-fat yogurt with banana slices
2. Unsweetened applesauce
3. A diced apple with cottage cheese
4. 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, 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.

Why you should eat after a run

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 after 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:

1. One or two poached egg whites on whole grain toast
2. Stir-fried chicken with veggies, served over brown rice
3. Whole-wheat pasta with meat sauce or chicken, broccoli and eggplant
4. Vegetarian chili with potatoes and raw veggies
5. Bean burrito with a whole-wheat tortilla, filled with black beans, salsa and a little reduced-fat cheese
6. Steel cut oats and chia with milk and fruit

Related: We Ask a Dietitian: What’s The Best Way To Eat Surrounding A Workout?