To eat or not to eat.......such a great question, especially when it comes to a pre run meal. I get asked often, what is the best food and time to eat before running. There really isn't one single answer, and it depend on a few factors, but I will give you a few suggestions and tips to help you maximize your pre run meal.
Now first off, I'm not a dietitian and you should take my advice only as a suggestion and walk (or maybe run) away with some ideas on how you can incorporate these into your own nutrition plan. Always a good idea to talk to your doctor before making any major diet changes, so keep that in mind. This is my own approach and ideas that I've used in my own training and road tested over the years in various training situations, ranging from long runs, interval work and even running 1600KM in 60 days across Alberta, when I racked up 30KMS a day for weeks 8 weeks straight.
Often the difference between a great run and a disaster is what you eat leading up to a workout. For me I have 3 main approaches depending on the type of run I'm leading up to and the training benefit I'm looking for:
Runs Under 1 Hour - Short Window (1 Hour Before Running)
For shorter workouts and runs under 1 hour having a big pre-run meal is not necessary and in some ways can have a negative impact on your performance. Generally if I'm running for a shorter period of time, or have a short window between eating and heading out to run I look for a light, high quality snack to get me through.
As a morning runner I usually get up early for my runs, so this method is one I use quite often in order to avoid having to get up way before running so I can digest a full meal. Perhaps you like to run after work but don't want to eat a big supper before lacing up, so this approach is good if you feel like you need some energy.
Approximately one hour before your run aim for a meal that's around 150-250 calories. Pick from familiar foods that contain easy digestible carbs and just a bit of protein. Some of my go to snacks are:
- Half a Bagel with Peanut Butter
- Small Bowl of Cereal With Almond Milk
- Banana and a Granola Bar
- Clif Bar
I usually have a small amount of water or even a coffee with the above if i need an extra kick in the pants to get me going. Key thing is to keep it light and simple. Avoid foods that are spicy and hard to digest to avoid cramping and stomach issues. The window you require before running after this type of meal might vary from one person to the next. For me I have a high metabolism and a pretty bullet proof gut, so if I stick to this I can usually get going after 30 minutes. Try a couple different times and see what works for you.
Long Runs - Over 1 Hour (2-3 Hours Before Running)
For longer runs and higher intensity workouts I prefer to fuel myself with a meal 2 - 3 hours before starting. This is an average sized meal, so don't get crazy and think you can hammer back a huge feast and have a good run. Aim for the 450-600 calorie range, with quality carbs, protein and healthy fats. You want to give your body time to digest and process your meal but don't want to feel heavy or bloated by picking the wrong foods. I stay away from a lot of the obvious options before a run such as cream based soups, fried foods, onions, and high fibrous choices and opt for simple foods.
If its a post breakfast run I might go for the following:
- Fried Egg Sandwich and a glass of Almond Milk
- Whole Bagel with Peanut Butter and Coconut Oil. Banana. Coffee.
- Oatmeal with a scoop of protein powder and a handful of pumpkin seeds.
For mid day/evening runs
- Turkey Sandwich and Salad with Almonds.
- Chicken Wrap with a Spinach salad and Rice.
- Chicken Rice Bowl with veggies and sauce.
Running on an empty stomach is something I do on a regular basis. As mentioned above, I'm an early morning runner so I'm up at 6:00AM and out on the roads. Part of the reason I run fasted is that I just don't have the time to eat before I go. But more importantly I've seen a training benefit by using this strategy.
On easy runs when the intensity is lower, this works well, however I avoid not eating when I have a hard tempo run or speed work in front of me. I might have a cup of coffee in the early morning hour as I pull together my gear and wake up, but then head out the door right after.
Scientific evidence has shown that running fasted can promote fat burning when incorporated into your plan from time to time. As glycogen levels in the body are decreased from not eating through the night, your body must look to fat stores to fuel your run. Doing this on a regular basis teaches your body to burn fat more efficiently over time. It also help teach your body not to solely rely on glycogen as its primary fuel source all of the time. When you do eat or consume things like energy gels running, your body gets an extra boost from the calories it's not used to having. You also can reduce the likelihood of having stomach problems by not having that burrito rolling around in your guts as you put down the miles.
On the flip side you definitely want to use caution. It's still important to be hydrated. By running fasted you increase your chances of "bonking" so as a backup take an energy gel or two with you in case you need a boost mid run.
I often see people over eat before and during runs thinking they need the energy, but sometimes less is more and your training benefit is not fully realized. The bottom line is the goal of every run workout is to get the maximum benefit you can, so do yourself a favour and level up your nutrition approach by taking the time to have a plan well before its time to go!
What are your go to foods before a run!? Share your comments and questions below.....we'd love to chew the healthy fat with you.