For a long time, one of the most mystifying things about running to me — and exercise in general — didn’t even involve the action itself, it had to do with what you’re required to do before and after (and sometimes during) a workout.
I’m not talking about stretching or drinking water (although both are vital for a safe workout) … I’m talking about figuring out what to eat. There are a lot of myths and opinions surrounding what you’re supposed to eat before a run, the most common of which is the “carboload”: the idea that you should load up on a ton of carbohydrates like pasta before working out. Distance runners, marathoners, and tri-athletes may need to load up the night before a race, but the majority of us can actually take it pretty easy. The only thing that eating a big plate of pasta the night before a run will do is make you feel sluggish during the run itself.
So, what should you eat before a run? The answer to that largely depends on how long you plan to run for. In general, you’re looking to strike the right balance between just enough carbs to keep you energized, a small amount of protein to keep you full, and electrolytes to balance your fluids. If you’ve been feeling stumped, I’ve created these two graphics to help you pump up your pre-run food game:
If you’re planning to exercise for anywhere between 30 to 90 minutes, or between 1 and 4 miles, you’re probably ok as-is, so long as your stomach isn’t grumbling. If you run in the morning and don’t have time for breakfast before you go out the door (you should wait about 30 minutes to exercise after eating to avoid upsetting your stomach), try having half a banana and your morning cup of coffee or caffeinated tea. The banana will provide plenty of carbohydrates and potassium, which prevents muscle cramps and replaces the potassium lost through sweat, while the coffee provides energy and has been shown to aid in endurance.
If you prefer running in the evening, a small snack beforehand can help you get through your run and on to dinner. An hour before you go out, try two dried dates topped with nut butter, a slice of gluten-free or sprouted toast topped with a bit of honey, or a handful of berries.
For runs up to 90 minutes in length, or 5 to 7 miles, you’ll most likely want something more substantial (like the overnight oats below). That banana can now go from a half to a whole and be topped with almond butter, or try one of the combinations above. Longer runs require more fuel, which equals more electrolytes and carbohydrates. Have one of these small meals 30 to 60 minutes before you lace up your sneakers.
If your run is on the longer side, you’ll also likely want to stash a little extra fuel in your pocket in case you start to feel fatigued. Carb-rich foods like dried fruit are a great alternative to the processed snacks marketed towards runners (and can be easily transported), but you should find what works best to provide the boost of energy you need (I’ll admit to preferring natural fruit snacks for mid-run power).
For both short and long distances, go easy on protein which can upset your stomach and fiber which can weigh you down. What do you like to eat before a run?
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More food posts from the BLDG 25 blog.