Knowing what to eat before a run can be tricky.
On the one hand, you might be running in order to lose weight, so surely you want to be minimising the calories before you take to the treadmill or streets?
But on the flipside, if you fail to adequately fuel your run, you’ll inevitably underperform.
There are so many misconceptions about nutrition that it can be hard to cut through the noise and get to the substantial, evidence-backed stuff. Who are you supposed to believe?
Poor nutrition leads runners to deep fatigue, as they’re not sufficiently prepared for the activity. Fuelling up on high-energy foods is a surefire way to stop you from running out of steam and keep you going to the very end.
With this in mind, here are eight essential foods to eat before a run. Unlike the bro-science you’ve most likely heard in the gym, these tips will guarantee that you and your pistons run tirelessly.
1) Energy bars
According to Carly Tierney, health and fitness expert at Fitness First Clubs, energy bars offer a convenient energy fix that will get your wheels in motion.
“These tend to be light on the stomach and easy to digest. Avoid diet products, as these often cut the carbs, which is exactly what you’re looking for,” she told us.
Of course, not all bars are created equally. Keep a close eye on the sugar content and try to find products that use the fewest ingredients.
Bananas need little introduction, and should be a staple food in any nutrition plan. Often touted as nature’s energy bars, bananas are a great source of potassium and they are renowned for releasing energy into your body.
Studies have shown that their combination of complex carbs and natural sugars make them perfect fodder for endurance athletes.
While porridge may not seem the most exciting of foods to supercharge your efforts, oats are a great food to eat pre-run because of their slow-releasing energy potential. Carly Tierney is a big fan of oats, saying that: “While oats contain a lot of fibre, it can be a good solution for runners who can’t eat close to running, but need something small to sustain them.”
4) Oats & blueberries (with a protein shake for good measure)
Again, oats. We weren’t kidding when we said porridge is an ideal breakfast food. When you combine fruit with starchy carbohydrates, you’ll have the slow-releasing energy along with the many benefits of vitamins (and a bunch of antioxidants).
Callum Melly, healthy-eating advocate and founder of BodyIn8, commented: “I always have a source of protein as well, usually in the form of whey protein as it will help to prevent muscle breakdown and promote an anabolic state.”
5) Toast with honey or jam
A light snack like this offers enough sustenance to fuel a run without being too heavy on the stomach.
Those who are attempting to lose weight might be wary of bread, but as far as run-fuelling foods go, a round of wholemeal toast is hard to beat. Generally, 100g of brown toast carries around 56g of carbohydrate, which should be more than enough to keep you going.
6) Wholemeal bagel with peanut butter
If you’re looking for something a little heartier than toast, a bagel with peanut butter is a great alternative.
Make sure it’s wholemeal, mind. You’ll get more nutrients from wholewheat than highly-refined white bread. Carly says that this “is a little more substantial than toast, with a small dab of protein to stave off hunger”.
Natural peanut butter is highly popular in fitness circles at the moment, as it’s a strong source of “good fats”.
7) Greek yoghurt and granola
This combines simple and complex carbs to offer the best of both worlds – the simple carbs of the yoghurt raise blood glucose levels quickly, meaning a rapid boost in energy. For the granola, you’re ensured a steady supply of energy over a longer period of time.
8) Energy drinks
Glucose-rich energy drinks give the body rapid boosts of energy in short periods of time. If you want a more natural solution, just blend an apple and banana, mix it with water and sip it throughout your run.
Callum Melly added: “Liquids are absorbed up to four times faster than solid foods which can take six to eight hours to digest, so if you are going on a 10k or marathon-distance run, a convenient glucose-rich source of energy would work well.”
When should I eat before a run?
Timing is crucial. Eat too soon and you’ll be lagging well before the final lap. Eating too late, however, may result in a bloated belly, making you feel lethargic and hungry for a nap.
According to Carly, this will vary from person to person. There are some guidelines to follow:
“If you have a long run or workout that is going to take more than 90 minutes to complete, you should try and get a little something in your stomach to give you some extra fuel.
“A medium-sized snack or small meal 30 to 120 minutes before your run is optimal. The amount of time you need to eat before your run is dependent upon how you feel. Some people can run within 15 minutes of eating and others can't move for two hours. Listen to your body and do what is best for you.”
What if I’m an early-bird and run in the morning?
For those who prefer early morning workouts, you need to remember that you’re waking up from six to eight hours of fasting and your glucose levels will be low. If you’re going on a long run, it’s best to have something light.
Are there any foods that runners should steer clear of?
The usual culprits should be avoided; processed sugars, artificial sweeteners and alcohol are definitely ones to swerve.
Carly advises caution: “Anything too stodgy or filling is likely to cause cramps, lower your immediate energy levels and play havoc with your digestive system. Sticking to carb-rich small meals and medium-sized snacks at the times that suit you as an individual is key to maximising your athletic gains.”
To fight off fatigue, you need to be arming yourself with the necessary nutrients to ensure full energy capacity whether you’re on the road or pounding the treadmill.