How to Eat Before, During, and After a Run (Everyday Health)

Posted: Dec 01, 2023 in In the News

This article originally appeared in Everyday Health on Dec 1, 2023.


How to Eat Before, During, and After a Run

By Elizabeth Millard

In addition to selecting the right shoes and putting together a training plan, deciding what to eat ranks high for making the most of your running. Eat too little or inappropriate types of foods and you may find yourself dragging way too soon. Eat too much and you could deal with bloating and discomfort.

That’s why it’s helpful to understand the best way to fuel up before, during, and after a run. We asked experts to share insights on top questions that can help optimize your eating for more energy and better performance.

What Should I Eat Before a Run, and How Much?

The answer depends on the kind of run you have planned, according to Kacie Vavrek, RD, a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics and an outpatient dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. If you’re planning on a run that lasts for an hour or longer, it’s helpful to have a pre-workout snack that you tolerate well. That choice is highly individual, she adds, and it takes some experimentation to figure out what works for you.

In general, a snack that has a blend of lean protein and carbohydrates tends to be best, adds Hopkinsville, Kentucky–based dietitian Elizabeth Ray, RDN. For example, a small amount of skinless grilled chicken paired with a serving of sweet potatoes. Other options include:

  • Banana or apple with nut butter
  • Toast with half an avocado and a tablespoon of honey
  • Small bowl of oatmeal and berries
  • Bagel with nut butter

Too much protein, like a whole chicken breast or more, usually isn’t advisable since it requires longer to digest when combined with carbs, per research. This means energy isn’t as readily available to your body as the energy you get from quick-digesting carbs.

Generally, says Vavrek, a snack with quick-digesting carbs like a banana or a bagel works well, provided you had a regular meal about four hours beforehand. If you’re running first thing in the morning, just the snack is probably enough.

“It really is variable, because some people can eat a huge meal right before a run and they’re fine, while others definitely can’t do that,” she adds. “Keeping a log of what you eat and how you felt on your run is the best way to figure it out for yourself.”

Is Carb Loading Still a Thing? Should I Consider It?

The theory behind loading up on carbs is that they fill the body with energy so you can maximize your performance, usually about 12 hours before a big run. For example, some runners swear by eating pasta the night before a race and may eat more white bread, rice, and starchy foods the week leading up to the race, says Ray.

“The theory of carb loading sounds delicious and seemingly makes sense,” she notes. “However, when too many carbs are eaten at one time, it’s hard on the body. You’ll see inflammation, poor digestion, energy slumps, and mood swings as a result.”

Research has shown that carb loading may delay fatigue and improve performance by 2 to 3 percent during endurance events lasting longer than 90 minutes. However, after analyzing 24 randomized, controlled trials, the authors of a review in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition concluded that there isn't enough data to support the perks of carb loading in most people besides the male endurance cyclists studied.

Instead of carb loading, Ray suggests focusing on balanced meals made of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Balanced meals do more for your energy levels than a huge bowl of pasta, says Ray.

It’s also important to include sufficient carbs in your meals to maintain muscle glycogen stores (glycogen is the stored form of carbohydrates). Running requires plenty of glycogen. If you don’t have enough, your running performance and recovery may suffer, according to a review.


Because that sweat contains minerals — mainly sodium and chloride, per the American Council on Exercise — you need to replace those as well, and that’s where the electrolytes come into play. Plenty of electrolyte powders and tablets on the market dissolve in water, but you can also make your own by adding some sea salt and coconut water to your water bottle, says Ray.


Read the full article here.

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