When it comes to trying to figure out what is the best thing to eat before you go out on your run there are several things to consider. First figure out how long you will be out running. Next, will you be doing an easy run or will you be doing a workout involving speed or hills? Finally the one that I think is most important, figure out what foods work best for your body. Everybody is different when it comes to eating. Some of us can handle coffee and an energy bar before we head out, others a piece of toast with peanut butter, a bowl of oatmeal, or maybe just a banana. It’s all a matter of trying out different foods and seeing what sits best in your stomach as well as providing you with the energy you need to run your best.
Over the years I have found through trial and error that my stomach is slightly more sensitive when it comes to pre-run fueling. I can’t eat a huge quantity before heading out or drink a whole lot (I’m prone to getting side aches easily). My pre-run fueling ritual on a typical running day includes one of my homemade pancakes that I pull out of the freezer and defrost in the microwave. I top it with a little honey and sometimes a smear of peanut butter. I have to be careful with peanut butter because too much will give me heart burn while I’m out running and that is not pleasant! I also have a couple bites of banana and a few sips of water and then I’m on my way. I stick with easy to digest carbs and not a lot of fiber. If I’m doing a long run I carry an energy gel with me to top off my fuel during the later portion of my run and make sure that there are drinking fountains or that I’m carrying water. Like I said, everybody is different when it comes to fueling and what works for me may not be the same for you. Below are a list of some pre-run snack/meal ideas to help fuel you based on how long of a run you are going for.
45-60 Minute Runs: Ideal for shorter workouts involving speed or hills
1/2 cup of oatmeal or 1 cup low fiber cereal with skim milk– This offers plenty of carbs plus protein from the milk. If you can’t handle dairy try a non dairy milk such as almond or coconut. This is best if eaten 30 minutes before running so that your body has time to absorb the carbs.
Lowfat yogurt with fruit: Again this is a good balance of carbs and protein and works well for those that can tolerate dairy before running.
1 small pancake with honey or jam on top: Pancakes are the ultimate carb filled bite of food. Make your own to avoid added ingredients that could upset your stomach. They freeze well and can be defrosted in the microwave in seconds for a quick and easy digesting snack.
2-3 energy bites/balls: I love making homemade energy bites. They are easy, completely natural, and you know exactly what is in them. They are a great balance of carbs and protein and hover around 50-60 calories per bite/ball. These are a few of my favorite recipes: Cinnamon Apple Energy Bites, Peanut Butter Mocha Energy Bites, Pumpkin Pie Energy Bites.
60-90 Minute Runs: Ideal for long runs to give you enough energy to finish strong
1 piece of toast with nut butter and banana slices: A great balance of carbs and protein! This type of snack/meal is best eaten an hour before your workout.
1 bagel topped with nut butter and either honey or jam: similar to the toast with nut butter and banana, but a way to change things up. Stick to bagels that are plain rather than loaded with seeds and other flavors.
A tortilla filled with turkey and vegetables: A savory option if you aren’t in to sweet food before a run. Be sure to experiment with the vegetables to find out which ones are most agreeable to your stomach while running.
Pretzels with peanut butter: A great combination of quick digesting carbs and sodium, plus protein in the peanut butter to help keep you full and help your muscles recover.
All of the suggestions listed above are great pre-run snack ideas to help keep you going strong through your workout. They may not all work for you, but by experimenting with the quantities, ingredients, and timing of when you eat, you will eventually figure out the best way to fuel your body before a run!