There is often a lot of conflicting advice surrounding sports nutrition as the science is still developing; however it’s still important to know what to do when it comes to what to eat before a run. So we wanted to offer some advice on what sort of snacks you can eat before a run as well as the ideal pre-run meal.
Whilst we could discuss specifics such as calories, grams of carbohydrate etc. The exact amounts and types of food depend on each individual runner and covering them in this article would be too complex. So we will outline the basics so you can calculate and experiment with what works best for you.
What Meal to Eat Before Running
With most runner’s busy lifestyles, it can be hard sometimes to ensure that an adequate meal is eaten before going for a run. Furthermore the timing of the meal can also be difficult, this is where pre-run snacks can make the difference between a good and bad running experience, as well as good and bad performance.
The idea is to eat a meal that will provide your body with a good supply of energy for your workout; however the timing is very important for optimal performance. Meals should be:
- Not so soon before your run so that they can’t be correctly digested and therefore leave you feeling tired and/or bloated.
- Not so long before your run that the energy from the meal has gone completely into storage and you are feeling hungry.
For most people this will mean eating around 2-4 hours before your run, but this depends on the meal and the person. Everyone will have slightly different rates of digestion. This is something to experiment with and see what your personal sweetspot is; however bear in mind that bigger, more complex meals will take longer to digest than smaller, simpler meals.
The objective of a pre-run meal is to fully top up your glycogen supplies to sustain you through the run. As well as making sure you have good levels of blood glycogen so that you feel energised for the run. To achieve this whilst maintaining a healthy diet will take some planning, so being organised is the key. The meal should have the following attributes:
- Contains vegetables or salad for nutritional benefits
- Contains a reasonable amount of fairly low GI carbohydrates
- Contains some fat if you are planning on a steady run over 2 hours long
- Protein is also a good idea for muscular repair if you are training at a high intensity
Ideas for good meals that can be made up in advance as a packed lunch for convenience are:
- A flavoured rice sachet, mixed with can of tuna and some pre-steamed vegetables
- Wholemeal Pittas Stuffed with salad and chicken or other well balanced filling
- Tortilla wraps stuffed with salad and chicken
- Asian-style salad with noodles and prawns
- Pre-cooked pasta salad with dressing and chicken
In terms of calories, investing in a good heart rate monitor to estimate how many calories you use per run will enable you to tune your meals to your calorie usage so you don’t over consume energy; which will inevitably result in weight gain.
If you are unable to eat a meal that will ensure your blood glycogen levels are optimised for your run (either because of the meal content or the timing of the meal) then snacks can be ideal. You can look at sports specific snacks such as energy bars or there are plenty of healthy snacks you can also use that don’t involve sports nutrition. Pre-run snacks should be eaten around 20 minutes before your run to allow the stomach to settle and some of the carbohydrates to be digested.
Sports Nutrition Snacks
The advantage with sports specific snacks is that they are formulated with the needs of people exercising in mind. So you know they only contain what they need to contain and you also don’t have to think about what you can and can’t eat. Secondly sports nutrition is highly convenient, as you just need to open a wrapper and eat. They are easily stored and don’t require any preparation.
Energy Bars – The preferred choice for most runners as they come in sizes that are ideal for the correct amount of calories before a long run, they are easily digested and don’t need any preparation so can be eaten anywhere. Great choice if you are a little low for energy, consume one about 40 minutes before a run for the optimal energy release.
Energy Sweets – Ideal if you have a sweet tooth and like to consume something very light on your stomach, again as with energy bars they are very convenient and easily digested; however they don’t offer as much sustenance. These can be eaten as close as 15 minutes before your run.
Other pre-run snacks
You don’t need to use sports specific snacks, there are plenty of good snacks that you can eat before running. Obviously depending on the length of the run you are going on, some of our favourite pre-run snacks are:
- Banana (ideal for hour long runs)
- Wholemeal toast with peanut butter (ideal for longer runs)
- Small bowl of muesli with milk (ideal for longer runs)
- Cereal bar (ideal for runs up to an hour long)
- Greek yogurt with honey and chopped nuts (sweet treat before a short run)
- Crackers or Carrots dipped in hummus (ideal before a longer run)
What snacks do you eat before running? If you have any good ideas, why not share them with your fellow runners in the comments below?