Eating before a run

At some point I was looking through my Google searches and saw that quite a few people found me searching for “what to eat before a run.”  I realized, though, that nowhere have I actually addressed this, though you can find plenty on what I like to eat after a run.  So here we go…I’m sure all you veteran runners have your fueling all figured out but if any newbies are out there reading, I hope my experiences help even just a little!

Discovering what works for me was very much a trial and error process.  When I first started running, I didn’t do it with any particular training in mind nor did I read running literature so I knew nothing about fueling, I just continued to eat exactly as I always had and just happened to run 5-6 days each week.  I figured the stomach cramps I had after 90% of my runs were just a side effect of being new to running and I’d get used to them.  Luckily for the future of my running, after my college classes got switched around and I had a long 2-3 hour break in the middle of my day, I changed my eating.  With my new schedule I had breakfast before I went to my first class then changed and ran after class and showered and brought water and something to refuel with me to my afternoon classes.  Suddenly, my stomach cramps went away.  This is when I learned I run best 2-3 hours after I eat so that takes care of issue number 1: timing.  I’ve since learned that many coaches and nutritionists advise waiting 2-3 hours if you’re eating anything more than a snack-sized meal before your run so it turns out, I accidentally discovered just about the ideal ratio.


Even once I mastered my timing, I found I would have GI distress on longer runs (8+) or runs where I ran particularly fast.  I was aggravated to say the least because it wouldn’t happen on any other runs and I thought I had all my eating figured out.  By now I was googling running articles and learned this was pretty common so again, I ignored it for the most part.  But I did start experimenting with different foods to see if any of them made things better or worse.  It took all of one very ill-advised run to determine cereal was a no-go.  Ditto yogurt.  My go-to breakfast of bagels were just fine.  Oatmeal was the best.  Clif bars work fine, but they are less filling so I typically eat them only 60-90 minutes before I go out.  For me, the biggest determining factor was being sufficiently fueled yet not too full, and giving myself plenty of time to digest.  If I do that, I run without any tummy troubles all the way up through marathon distance and through most foods (including doughnuts and macarons if you’re really interested haha).  If I rush my run too close to when I eat or eat too much, well, I’ve made more than one emergency run back to my car/home.  So for me, timing is way more important than the type of food unless I’m racing and really pushing my body to its limit, but if you start experimenting, you’ll find out soon enough if yours is the same.  My body has always been very tolerant of all kinds of foods.  If you’re struggling with what may be causing issues, try tracking your diet before runs until you can pinpoint what types of foods or timing may be causing you trouble.
The funniest thing about all the experimenting is, every runner I’ve met has their own method that works for them.  It truly is a trial and error process specific to each runner.  If you stumbled upon this looking for advice, the best general advice I can give is cut back on fiber before a run and make sure you have easily digestible carbs in the pre-run window.  Everything else is determining what feels best for YOU.  Track your intake until you can run without issues every time.  It turns out, I can’t run at all on an empty stomach.  I tried multiple times over the summer to get out the door quicker and beat the heat but I feel sluggish and horrible.  I have to wake up at least 90 minutes early and get some real food in or I’m an all-out disaster.  You might be different.


How about you?  What’s your pre-run food ritual?  Oatmeal or a bagel 90 minutes-3 hours before I run (I can run anytime in that window, I just procrastinate sometimes haha)

Did you have any cramping or stomach issues when you started running?  How did you learn how to fix it?

Favorite food to eat if you know you AREN’T going to run that day? PANCAKES! (I can run after pancakes, but they’re heavy so I have to wait a really long time to not feel full)



41 thoughts on “Eating before a run

  1. I usually eat oatmeal or toast about an hour/hour and a half before a run. I cant do anything salty or heavy before or else its a slow and heavy run. I think that’s why I run better in the morning. Mmm, pancakes:)

  2. When I started to workout, my coach was old school. He sorta pushed some of his believes on me, like no water during workouts and “you gotta eat at least 4 hours before your workout/race”. Up to this day, if I ate anything less than 3 hours before a workout/race, I feel sick. I know it’s likely to be psychological, but that’s how it is.
    When mI have a race at 7am, I wake up at 3am, eat and drink something and then go back to sleep.

    • I think I have trouble hydrating during races because I got used to never drinking during workouts from soccer practice as a kid and carried it through my running. Now I feel sick when I drink during runs, which probably is a terrible thing!

  3. I’m the same way about pre-run food. I almost always eat breakfast 2-3 hours before my run (usually closer to 2). Usually something involving oatmeal, peanut butter, and bananas. One time I ran a long run a couple hours after chipotle, worst life decision I have ever made.

    • Hahaha I can only imagine! I once ran only an hour after brownies for breakfast (I know, fabulous decision on all counts) and felt like I was going to puke from about 90 seconds in.

  4. I can’t believe you can run after eating a doughnut! I made the mistake of eating one three hours before a race one time (in my early running days) thinking I had enough time beforehand for it to not affect me and I was tasting it during the entire race! Since I generally run in the evenings, I usually run when I get home (around 6ish) and have a snack a few hours beforehand….generally fruit or something not too heavy. Then I just eat a big dinner afterwards.

    • I’m so practiced with the morning after breakfast thing that evenings are a disaster for me! I tried to meet a friend for a 4pm run and felt horrible the whole time, I haven’t mastered fueling for a whole day before a run yet!

  5. Great post – figuring out what to eat has taken me a lot of trial and error. What I do now is definitely unique – I eat nothing! I drink a little coffee and soy milk and then eat as I go in long runs! I run first thing in the AM so this is possible, but this has alleviated most of my stomach issues not caused by dehydration!

  6. I can run on an empty stomach if it’s early and a reasonably short run; Otherwise, I go with something small and carby. I’ve found that if I stick with a basic like toast or a bagel, I can eat it on my way out the door and be okay. Trial and error has shown me that coffee, oatmeal, burritos, and chicken sandwiches will come right back up. Ha my favorite “food” for if I’m not running later is pop!

  7. I have always found that nutrition is by far the hardest part of a good fitness routine. I usually eat oatmeal with fruit an hour before. But like you said I focus more on getting enough food and not being too full as oppose to the type of food. I also like rice cakes with peanut butter and banana 🙂

    • I know so many people who like peanut butter on toast beforehand but even though I’ve never tried it, I have a strong suspicion my tummy wouldn’t like it. I save my pb for after 😉

  8. I’m pretty lucky and have an “iron stomach” (i joke about that a lot). Cereal is the exception to that for sure. But like you, if i’m running hard, i have to pay attention to timing more than anything else. I need about 45 minutes after a meal to feel ready to run!

    • I can literally eat anything if I have several hours but I tend to stick to the same super easy things for the most part rather than risk it. That’s for morning runs though, afternoon and anything goes including ice cream or doughnuts haha.

  9. I gound out the hard way that I simply cannot run on the empty stomach. If I run first thing in the morning, I normally have a banana or a protein bar about 30-45 minutes before the run. But then, it’s important to mention that my distances are still limited to 10 km. It is very possible that when I start running longer distances, I’ll have to consume more. That being said, if I run in the evening, I normally have a normal supper but then give myself at least 1.5 hours to digest 🙂 Great post! xoxo

  10. Fun fact: People find my blog by googling “Physical Therapy Sucks” hahaha! I could not be more proud of that! Anyway, I am one of those weirdos who can run directly after eating. If it is in the morning, I need to go to the bathroom several times (sorry to be gross!) before I run. Otherwise, something catastrophic could happen. 🙂

  11. I had a fight with brunch during my run last weekend because I didn’t wake up early enough to get it out of the way before church. Toast with jelly/jam is my usual go to before long runs or a bowl of oatmeal. I had stomach issues during a half one time and luckily I was close to the port-o-potties!! I love pancakes or french toast for breakfast if I won’t be running any time soon!

  12. On the weekends before my long runs, I typically do not eat *guilty face. Sometimes I’ll eat a banana, but most of the time I don’t. Like you, I have stomach issues if I eat too close to a run. And on the weekends, I’m not waking up at 7 just so I can eat something, wait for a couple of hours, and then run 😉 Basically I’m stubborn and lazy.

  13. The timing is most important for me, too. Luckily I feel pretty good running three hours after I eat anything. Except a big salad, I discovered. And I don’t have to eat anything in the morning before a run, which I’m happy about. For some reason I always have lots of energy! Maybe I’m eating too much dinner…

  14. Fiber and coffee are a big no no if I’m running first thing in the morning, but I’m okay with a little black coffee before an afternoon run. I’m not allergic to gluten, but I’ve found that my stomach is happier with gluten free carbs on run days. My favorite pre-run snack is peanut butter stuffed dates. It’s a quick hit of sugar and healthy fat. And curbs my sweet tooth!

  15. Yeah, it’s always a process to figure out what works best for each person. I found that eating heavy the night before wasn’t good for me. So I eat the heavy fuel at least a day, maybe day and a half before the long run. Then keep it light – like sushi the night before.

  16. A topic near and dear to my… stomach?

    My genera, rule is no food. I am getting better about stomaching an easily digestible breakfast a few hours before running, but post-lunch runs are still a bit no-no.

  17. This is a really great post! For me, I feel like it has changed over time. In the past, if I was doing a shorter race, I would just have whatever I could stomach (in some cases nothing) and that was that. Now that I’ve moved up to ultras, eating is no longer optional! I usually go with Picky Bars or a ProBar and so far they have managed to do the trick.

  18. If I am not running and deciding to eat whatever I want, I usually hit up something fried, like chicken fingers and french fries.

    Fueling for the run is definitely the hardest thing for me. I will be sharing this post!

  19. When I first started running cross country in high school, my coach always told us to have a good breakfast the morning of the race. Because of this I would eat cereal or some fruit and toast (so I wouldn’t eat too much). Well I would still end up with stomach problems (usually ending in throwing up at the end of a race). So not if I have a morning race I don’t have anything for breakfast, The only time I eat is if I have more than 4 hours before a race and then I will only have something like a granola bar or half a bagel with jelly.

  20. Pingback: Weekly Faves 3/27/14 | Running Southern

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