what to eat before a run

What to Eat Before a Run

In this article, I share 23 of my favorite pre-run meals and snacks to help you choose what to eat before a run. I include several pre-run food options that are quick, easy to make, and quite tasty.

Your body can depend on its energy stores during activity for approximately sixty minutes. Proper nutrition and fueling are critical for those long runs, but even short runs can benefit from grabbing a pre-run snack or breakfast.

Fueling up before a shorter run will help maximize performance, boost your mental state, and push you faster and farther than you otherwise could have gone.

Why should I eat before a run?

Eating the proper foods before a run gives your body the energy it needs to perform at its best. Having the right snack before heading out will replenish your blood glucose and glycogen stores. It will give you the right fuel to sustain you through your workout, keep you from feeling hungry during your run, and help you recover properly afterward.

A pre-run snack should consist of highly digestible carbohydrates and should contain a moderate amount of protein. Stay away from foods that are high in fiber or are difficult to digest quickly. These foods could cause an upset stomach, bloating, or cramping, making for an uncomfortable run.

Should I run on an empty stomach?

While fasted running is known to increase temporary fat loss, studies show that fasted running also comes with drawbacks. In the vast majority of cases of runners using fasting as a long-term weight-loss strategy, studies do not support this. Fasted running at a long distance can also contribute to muscle breakdown as the body must resort to using glycogen in the muscles for fuel. It can also cause increased stress in the body leading to higher levels of cortisol.

Another downfall of skipping your pre-run snack is that it can cause an enormous appetite, later on contributing to over-eating and binging.

Should I Eat Before the Run

What if I’m not hungry before my run?

This is a common problem for many runners, especially those who run first thing in the morning. Running in a fasted state will significantly decrease your performance level and can impact how you recover throughout the day. While it may take some getting used to, having a small snack before your run will boost your speed, endurance, and overall running capacity.

Should I drink water before my run?

Yes! Hydration is essential for everyone, especially runners. Being adequately hydrated is vital for the body to perform its basic functions, plus it helps regulate your temperature, keeping you cool.

As you exert yourself, your body loses water as you sweat, which occurs even more so in hotter weather. Proper hydration before, during, and after your workout will replenish your fluid stores and keep you from feeling the adverse effects of dehydration which include: cramping, headaches, fatigue, brain fog, and excessive thirst to name a few.

Before you head out, drink 8-10 oz of water and rehydrate during your run every 45 minutes.

Should I drink coffee before a run?

If you aren’t used to drinking coffee or have sensitivities to caffeine, then indulging in a cup of java before heading out for a run isn’t a good idea. For some people, coffee before a run can cause nausea, vomiting, heartburn, diarrhea, and a racing heart.

On the other hand, if you are a seasoned coffee drinker, having a hot cup before putting on your sneakers may be just what you need to kick your workout into high gear. Consuming caffeine before any high-intensity activity can help to increase mental alertness, increase speed, enhance performance and endurance and decrease the perception of exertion. As a bonus, some studies have shown that coffee can help to boost fat metabolism, increasing weight loss in those runners who are looking to shed a few pounds. 

You can read more about the effects of caffeine and running, here.

How long before my run should I eat?

While fueling up before any physical activity is crucial, when you eat is just as important. If you eat too soon before hitting the pavement, your food won’t have enough time to digest properly. Your body will focus on processing your snack and won’t have as much energy to dedicate to fueling your workout. Also, eating at the right time will ensure that the carbohydrates that you consume are ready and available to power you for the duration of your run. 

The pre-run snacking sweet spot is 60 to 120 minutes beforehand for most runners. Here is a guide I put together on how long you should wait after eating before going on a run.

What foods should runners avoid?

While there are lots of foods that make excellent pre-run snacks, some should be avoided altogether. To begin with, stay away from any foods that you know will upset your stomach or that you have an intolerance to. Also, steer clear of eating a heavy or greasy meal right before going for a run. This could lead to indigestion, nausea, or cramping.

Other foods that should be avoided before running include:

  • High-fiber foods like legumes, broccoli, or fibrous fruits. These foods take a long time to digest and can cause bloating.

  • Spicy foods. Anything spicy could cause uncomfortable heartburn.

  • Fatty foods like cheese and meats. Fatty foods digest slowly and can leave you feeling heavy and uncomfortable.

  • Milk and other dairy products. These foods contain high levels of lactose which can lead to digestive issues and abdominal pain.

  • Carbonated beverages like pop or energy drinks. Many people turn to fizzy, caffeinated products to give them a boost before their run, but these drinks can cause a build-up of gas and bloating, leading to cramps and sometimes nausea.

  • Protein shakes and smoothies. While a protein shake can be a great way to start your day, these beverages are best saved after you return from your run. A thick smoothie high in protein can take a long time to make its way through your digestive system and may make you feel lethargic and even nauseous during your workout. 

How to choose a pre-run snack

When choosing a pre-run snack, the options available to you are only limited by your personal preferences! There are so many incredible options that will leave you feeling satiated and bursting with the energy you need to power you through your intense run.

When choosing a pre-run snack, consider the following:

How long will your run be? The longer the workout, the more fuel you will need, and therefore the bigger your snack should be.

What foods do you enjoy the most? Forcing yourself to eat something that you don’t like isn’t going to help you get into the right mindset before your run. Stocking your fridge and pantry with the foods that you love will make fueling up your workout a much more pleasant experience. It will be something that you look forward to doing instead of something you feel you have to do.

What foods disagree with you? You may already be aware of some foods that disagree with you; if so, stay away from them, especially before setting out for a run. Also, pay attention to how you feel after eating your pre-run snack if you are trying something new.

Different people digest foods at different speeds. If something doesn’t give you the energy boost or leaves your tummy feeling funny, skip it next time and try something else. 

How many carbs do you need? Carbohydrates are converted into glucose in the bloodstream and are the most important macronutrient fueling your run. Most runners find that 30-50 grams of carbohydrates before a run is enough to give them all the energy they need to power through their workout.

23 pre-run meals and snacks for runners

Here is a comprehensive list of some of the best pre-run meals for runners. Try them all to find out which are your favorites! Or check out dozens of healthy meals and recipes for runners on our recipes page.

1. Peanut butter banana sandwich

If you want a quick, pre-run snack idea, try the classic peanut butter and banana sandwich. Not only is it simple and fast to put together, but it also makes a great energy source.

The peanut butter offers 6 grams of carbs per serving and extra protein and fats to help you fend off hunger. The banana provides carbohydrates and potassium to help fuel your run. When matched with whole-grain bread, it becomes a powerful combination.

2. Animal crackers dipped in peanut butter

Animal crackers aren’t just for kids. Animal crackers are easy to digest and provide sufficient carbs for long-lasting energy. Just like the classic peanut butter and banana sandwich, peanut butter contains the right amounts of fat and protein to stave off hunger.

3. Steel-cut oats with almond or soy milk

Steel-cut oats, almond or soy milk, and topped with your favorite fruit are packed with carbs and B vitamins. I like to add strawberries or blueberries on top for added energy and sweetness.

4. Pretzels dipped in hummus or peanut butter

Pretzels provide easy-to-digest carbs for fast energy plus sodium which is a critical electrolyte for runners. Hummus and peanut butter are packed with carbohydrates, fats, and plant-based protein for muscle repair and recovery.

5. Whole-grain waffles or pancakes with natural maple syrup, honey, jam, or fruit

Pancakes, even frozen waffles (like Eggo brand waffles ), offer fast-digesting carbohydrates. Top with maple syrup, raw honey, jam, or fruit for an added energy kick. If you are a chocolate lover, check out my healthy chocolate pancake recipe or try my gluten-free Peach pancakes.

6. Apple cinnamon O’s cereal with almond milk and banana

The cereal and almond milk provide carbohydrates for an energy boost, while the banana provides potassium, a critical electrolyte to support your muscles. The milk includes calcium for healthy bones.

7. Flour tortilla wrap with deli-sliced turkey mixed with shredded veggies

I often use this as a post-run recovery snack, but it also makes a great pre-run meal. The tortilla wrap mixed with some of your favorite shredded veggies provides the carbohydrates, and the deli-sliced turkey (or ham if you prefer) provides protein.

For veggies, I recommend carrots, cucumber, celery, bell peppers, or even a small tablespoon of smashed avocado, which is technically a fruit. Keep the avocado light or skip it altogether as it has higher fiber content and can lead to stomach issues if you are sensitive to that.

8. Toast with honey, apple butter, or banana slices

Toast is a fast, easy-to-make snack that gives you quick carbs for energy. It is also easy on the stomach. When topped with your favorite topping, it packs energy without feeling bloated or full. This is another one of my go-to early morning snacks.

9. Cereal

Cereals can be a great option for runners because they are loaded with carbohydrates and are typically fortified with vitamins and minerals. Avoid eating cereals high in fiber as this could lead to gastrointestinal issues while running. Muesli is a great option as it contains a mix of oats, dried fruit, and nuts but watch the fiber content if you are sensitive to high-fiber foods.

I usually eat dry cereal (usually Cheerios) and avoid milk because in my case, milk tends to bother me on runs. If you do like milk with your cereal, wait two hours before running if possible to avoid any stomach issues.

10. Baked granola apples

While not the quickest snack to make, baked apples topped with sugar and cinnamon tastes amazing! Add granola for extra carbs.

And if you add a tablespoon or two of natural Greek yogurt on top, you can get an added protein boost.

11. Applesauce

Applesauce can offer a quick, low-fiber source of fuel for short runs.

12. Energy bars

Energy bars are a great option if you are pressed for time or need something as a backup when you are low on groceries. I always try to have a box or two in my pantry for a quick snack.

13. 6 ounces plain greek yogurt with one medium peach or fresh fruit

This is a great pre-run for any runner who is on the go. It is super quick to fix, and if you love peaches, it is a great snack option for the Summer, either before or after your run.

If you don’t have greek yogurt, low-fat yogurt will work. Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries make great alternatives when in season.

14. Fig Newton cookies

Fig Newtons make a great fuel source. The cookies are easy to digest and densely packed with carbs, vitamins, and minerals, and they are easy to carry, making them perfect for any runner to take with them on long runs.

15. Potato with freshly grated parmesan

Sweet potatoes contain carbohydrates and include vitamins A, C, and B6. They also contain as much potassium as a banana per cup. I like to add a ⅓ cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and sprinkle it with chopped fresh chives, oregano, and thyme for added flavor.

16. Open-faced smoked turkey sandwich with mashed avocado

This is a fast snack and is one of my go-to pre-run meals. Simply take one slice of whole-wheat toast and cover it with 1/2 mashed avocado. Then add a grind or two of black pepper, 1-2 slices of tomato, and 1-2 slices of smoked turkey. This also makes a great post-run recovery snack.

17. Scrambled egg and avocado over brown rice

This one is a great choice when you have some time before a run to prepare the ingredients. Brown rice packs the same carbs as white rice but without the energy spike and drop-off typical of processed carbs. Whole-grain brown rice provides a slow-burning energy source.

Simply top the rice with the scrambled egg, add a little salt and pepper, and some sliced avocado.

18. Dates

Dates pack a lot of punch in a small size. However, they contain fiber, so you may want to test these on shorter runs to see how you handle them. A 1/4 cup isn’t much but contains a lot of stored energy.

19. Quinoa and chickpea wrap

I love wraps. One of my favorite wraps is to fill a whole grain wrap with quinoa and chickpeas. I toss in a few dried cranberries and raisins to provide just the right level 0f sweetness.

Sometimes I will add a few fresh veggies, mostly what I have available in my refrigerator. If I don’t have much, I add extra quinoa.

20. Banana and a small handful of cashews

Bananas and almonds are two of the best food choices because both are filling and packed with nutrients. The sweetness of a ripe banana mixed with the salty crunch of almonds complements one another well.

21. Five scrambled egg whites and one whole egg with two pieces of white toast with jelly and a banana

This is one of my post-run snacks but can also make a great pre-run meal if eaten in advance. I like it for a post-run snack due to the higher protein from the eggs and the carbohydrate and potassium from the toast and banana.

22. One cup of low-fat cottage cheese with one cup of blueberries and a slice of white toast with one tablespoon of honey

Ok, I will admit I do not like cottage cheese. However, I know many of you do, so I included it. The toast and honey provide energy, and the cottage cheese provides vital proteins and fats.

23. Mediterranean Breakfast Burrito Wraps

Mediterranean Breakfast Wraps (or Mediterranian Breakfast Burritos as they are sometimes called) are a relatively new addition to my pre-run breakfast or post-run meal. They are simple to make and taste amazing. With 27 grams of carbohydrates and 19 grams of protein, these wraps will keep you properly fueled for pre-run energy and post-run recovery. View the full recipe here.

breakfast wraps on a plate