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What to Eat Before a Short Run

Welcome to my Fuel Your Workout blog series! I'll be covering the ins and outs of what to eat and drink before, during, and after short (<60min) and long (>60min) training sessions and events over several blog posts. These nutrition strategies also apply to triathletes, cyclists, swimmers, Peloton enthusiasts, and other athletes. There may be some logistical differences, especially during exercise, but the fueling principles remain the same.

What to Eat Before Running: General Tips

When it comes to fueling, everyone has unique needs and preferences. We have to account for many factors, including exercise duration, intensity, and time of day, how long you have to digest and your GI tolerance, individual sweat rate and sodium losses, weather, and what food and drinks are available. Running (especially at higher intensities) jostles the stomach far more than cycling or strength training, for example, and may require greater adjustments to meal timing and/or composition.

As a general rule of thumb for eating before exercise, the more time you have, the more you can and should eat, and the more different types of foods you can include (ie carbs first, then add protein and fat). Again, everyone is different, but I typically recommend a meal or snack that is lower in fat and fiber and higher in carbs, as this combo will digest more easily and quickly. We're focusing predominantly on carbs because they're our working muscle's preferred fuel source.

If you're currently not fueling at all before exercise, for whatever reason, please remember that the guidelines that I'll be giving are GOALS. It's okay if you can't tolerate what I recommend right away - that just means you have some gut training to do. If you're having major GI issues and can't tolerate anything before running, that's a sign that something else may be going on that we need to uncover and address (e.g. gut-microbiome related or due to chronic underfueling). This is a very common issue that I work on with my 1:1 clients. and I have a whole module devoted to this in my course. So you don't need to suffer alone!

What to eat before short training session

Fueling a Short Run (<60min)

I recommend eating a meal or snack before ALL runs, even if they're short and/or easy. This helps you perform better, especially if running at higher intensities, and gives you a jumpstart on recovery. It's also a key eating opportunity - you may not feel a performance benefit in the moment, but it can make a difference to the overall picture of your eating day (e.g. energy levels in the afternoon, cravings at night, recovery, etc).

Remember, all forms of physical activity increase total energy needs, and endurance athletes in particular often struggle to keep up. Peak training / higher volume weeks can be especially challenging, making every eating opportunity count! If you're launching into your busy day immediately after a shorter session and can't get your recovery meal in right away (e.g. eating once you get to work rather than at home), your pre-workout fuel helps to serve as a buffer. (P.S. It's still key to get that recovery nutrition in - more on that later in the series.)

If you're running REALLY early in the morning, or you've had a meal within the last two hours if exercising later in the day, you may be fine not having anything but water before a short easy workout. In this case, make sure your last meal (dinner the night before, or lunch earlier in the day) is adequate and balanced, with plenty of carbs. If you're not sure what that kind of meal looks like, check out my post on building athlete performance plates.

Either way, I still encourage you to experiment with eating at least a small carb-rich snack in the early morning (e.g. half banana, applesauce, graham crackers etc), and see how it feels.

If you have 1 hour or less before a short run

If you're exercising within the hour, then aim for:

  • ~30g of carbs. If you can tolerate and want more, that's great.

  • Optional to add protein (8-10g). If closer to the 60min mark, I encourage you to try.

  • At least 8oz of fluid (water, tea, coffee, juice, sports drink etc)

Here are some examples of 30g of easy-to-digest carbs:

Simple carbs to eat before short training session

You can easily add some protein by adding 2 Tbsp of PB or 1 egg, for example, to your toast, bagel or banana. If you're really pressed for time, or you workout very early and struggle to eat, you can lean on sports nutrition products like carb-rich drinks, chews, or gels, as those are easily digestible and allow you to get out the door right away.

For fluids, your 8oz or more can be water, juice, coffee, tea, sports drink, or a combo. If you choose sports drink or juice, that counts towards your carb goal. If you're a heavy sweater (i.e. lose >1.5 L/hr), you should aim for closer to 16oz fluid. You may want to include some sports drink, especially if you're also a salty sweater and if it's warm out. Not sure if you're a heavy sweater? Learn how to measure your sweat rate here.

If you have 1-2 hours before a short run

If you have a bit more time to digest, then aim for:

  • At least 30g of carbs (30-60g is a good range)

  • 8-10g protein - or slightly more, if tolerated

  • At least 8-16oz of fluid (water, tea, coffee, juice, sports drink etc)

Let's revisit those 30g carb examples and add some protein:

Simple carbs to eat before short training session

If you have 2-3+ hours before a short run

With a longer period of time to digest, that means you should aim for a larger, balanced meal that is rich in carbs. More specifically, aim for:

  • 1-2g/kg or at least 60g carbs

  • 0.5g/kg or 20-40+g lean protein

  • Some fats (e.g. oil, avocado, nuts/seeds, egg yolk, etc)

  • Some color (fruit/veg)

  • 16-24oz fluid (water, sports drink, juice, coffee, tea, milk etc)

If you eat your meal 3+ hours before starting a short run:

  • Add a carb-rich snack 30-60min before your session (banana, fig bar, etc)

Let's do a quick example with a 150lb runner. To get your carb goal, we need your weight in kg (divide by 2.2 to get 68kg). So if the recommendation is 1-2g/kg, then you need at least 68g carbs.

As for what types of carbs, keep individual tolerance in mind here, as well as what type of session you're doing (e.g. high intensity, easy, running vs non running etc). With 2-3+ hours, you may be fine including whole grains, fruits, and other carbs with fiber if you're not overly sensitive to that before exercise, and especially if doing a lower intensity session. Experiment and see what sits well for you.

We also want to include lean protein, since this is an important eating opportunity in the greater context of your day. You can calculate your approximate protein grams per meal using 0.5 g/kg of bodyweight, or a general range to use is 20-40+g.

Fat is another key component of your meal, as it keep you full, gives you energy, and helps you absorb other nutrients. There's no g/kg rec here - 1-2 servings is a good amount, something like 2 Tbsp of peanut butter, or 1 Tbsp olive oil in your pasta or veggies, or 1/2 a small avocado, to name a few examples. But this will really depend on your energy needs.

And lastly, we want some color in there too (i.e. fruits and veggies). Fruits will add to your carb amount, as will starchy veg like potatoes, peas, and corn. You may wish to cook your veggies to make them digest easier, or skip them if they cause stomach discomfort, especially if training at a higher intensity. You can always save any foods that aren't best tolerated before a workout for your recovery meal after your session.

If you run later in the day

If you're doing a short and easy session, then just focus on eating consistent, balanced meals and snacks throughout the day. If you're not sure what that means, check out "How much do I need to eat as an endurance athlete?" to get a sense of how to approach everyday fueling.

If you're doing a higher intensity session and/or you have a sensitive stomach, then we may need to make some adjustments to the last meal prior to your workout. For instance, you may want to avoid raw veggies, reduce other high fiber foods (and choose lower fiber, easy-to-digest carbs instead), and slightly reduce fat intake. All of this will help ensure that you digest your food more quickly and feel more comfortable during your run.

Lastly, regardless of what type of workout you're doing, make sure you include a carb-rich snack within 60-90 minutes of your session (around 1g/kg carbs) along with some fluids. If tolerated, you can include a small amount of protein with this snack.

Questions? Let me know! I'll be covering what to eat before a long (>60min) run next!

If you found this post helpful, you will likely enjoy my self-paced course Peak Performance for Endurance Athletes: Your Ultimate Guide to Strategic Fueling. This 7-part series is packed with evidence based, easy to understand information with tons of visuals covering everyday nutrition, hydration, intraworkout fueling, training the gut, performance and micronutrient supplementation, and preparing for race day. Preview the course, the full curriculum, and get all your questions answered here.


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