What to Eat Before Running

Written by Noleen Arendse
Reviewed by Gareth Chapman

What to eat before running depends on the type of run.

If it’s a slow and short run, you won’t need to eat anything special before, however attempting longer, higher-intensity runs without proper fueling can end in disaster.

Pick your planned run type from below to understand what to eat before.

What to eat before running

Heart rate is the number of beats per minute that your heart takes.

The most practical way to measure your heart rate during a run is to use a running watch such as Garmin Forerunner 45 or Forerunner 255.

Your maximum heart rate is the upper limit that your heart can handle during exercise. [1] It won’t physically beat any faster than your maximum rate, which gradually decreases with age.

Your maximum heart rate can be estimated by using this formula: [2]

Maximum Heart Rate = 206.9 – (0.67 x age)

The table below uses this formula to estimate the maximum heart rate for various ages. For each age, it shows the values at the different heart rate zones which are applicable for deciding how to eat before a run.

Choose the intensity your heart will be beating for most of your run. 

Age

< 50%

(Low Intensity)

< 60%

Training Low

50% to 70%

Moderate Intensity

> 70%

High Intensity

20< 90< 11090 to 131> 131
25< 86< 10786 to 128> 128
30< 83< 10483 to 124> 124
35< 80< 10080 to 121> 121
40< 76< 9776 to 118> 118
45< 73< 9373 to 114> 114
50< 69< 9069 to 111> 111
55< 66< 8766 to 107> 107
60< 63< 8363 to 104> 104
65< 59< 8059 to 101> 101
70< 56< 7756 to 97> 97
75< 53< 7353 to 94> 94

A low-intensity run is less than 60 minutes, with your heart rate staying below 50%.

You do not need to eat anything before running at low intensity. [3]

However, after your run, you’ll want to eat to refuel and repair your muscles.

The rest of your day should consist of 3 healthy meals with snacks higher in protein and ensuring you’re properly hydrated.

If running later in the day, make sure to wait at least 30 minutes after a snack or an hour after a meal.

Eat 3 healthy meals a day

Your meals should contain a fist-size pile of complex carbs, a palm-size portion of protein, and unlimited salads or non-starchy vegetables.

Complex carbs allow the slow release of glucose into your bloodstream.[4]

Examples of complex carbs to eat

Oats
eat oats before running
Sweet Potatoes
eat sweet potato before running
Root Vegetables
eat root vegetables before running
Pulses
eat pulses before running

Your meals should contain a fist-size pile of complex carbs, a palm-size portion of protein, and unlimited salads or non-starchy vegetables.

Examples of protein to eat

Eggs
eggs for protein
Chicken
chicken for protein
Fish
salmon for protein

Eat snacks high in protein

Snacks that are higher in protein will help rebuild your muscles and have also been shown to help with appetite control, keep you fuller for longer, and prevent cravings.[5]

Examples of snacks high in protein

Greek Yogurt
greek yogurt high in protein
Houmous Dip
humas high in protein
Milk Drinks
milk high in protein
Protein Shakes
protein shake

A moderate-intensity run is 60-90 minutes, with a heart rate between 50-70%.

You should eat either a snack for 30-60 minutes or a meal 1-3 hours before running at moderate intensity.[3]

It is possible to do a short run with a heart rate of 50-70% in a fasted state, i.e. before breakfast. However, running any longer than 60 minutes will become difficult as your glycogen levels start to drop.

Snacks to eat before a moderate intensity run

A Banana
Pre-run snack - a banana
Malt Loaf
Fat-free Greek yogurt
Pre-run snack - yogurt
Toast
Pre-run snack - toast

Keep the quantities small so that it’s fast to digest.

  • 1 banana
  • 1 -2 pieces of malt loaf
  • A small quantity of fat-free Greek yogurt plus 1-2 tsp of honey
  • 1 piece of toast

Meals to eat before a moderate intensity run

Scrambled Egg
Pre-run meal scrambled eggs
Breakfast Berry Shake
Berry shake for breakfast
Granola Pot
Pre-run meal breakfast granola pot
Blueberry Muesli
Blueberry muesli

Examples of pre-run meals:

  • Scrambled egg with whole-meal pita bread
  • Breakfast berry shake (almond milk, berries, oats and peanut butter)
  • Granola pot
  • Blueberry muesli

A high-intensity run is a run with a heart rate of more than 70%.

You should eat a fist-sized portion of complex carbs 4-6 times in the 24 hours before running at high intensity. [3]

Carbs are a must if you’re going to be doing a high-intensity run. To get the most out of your run, you’ll need to start to eat to fuel your run 24 hours before.

High-intensity runs will also cause you to sweat more, so make sure you’ve consumed enough liquids to be adequately hydrated.

Snacks and meals to eat before a high intensity run

Porridge
High intensity run - porridge
Chicken and Rice
High intensity run - chicken and rice
Chocolate Milk
High intensity run - chocolate milk
Vegetable Soup
High intensity run - vegetable soup
  • Porridge
  • Chicken and rice or couscous
  • Banana and peanut butter sandwich
  • Scrambled eggs and pitta bread
  • Baked sweet potato
  • Berry, oats and peanut butter smoothie
  • Steak wrap
  • Rice pudding
  • Chocolate milk
  • Vegetable soup

An endurance run is more than 90 mins, at more than 60% maximum heart rate.

Attempting an endurance run without enough carbohydrates can lead to hitting the wall also known as bonking.

Hitting the wall is a complex phenomenon that has many factors. However, one of the main causes is that your body runs out of energy in the form of carbs which forces you to slow down so it can turn fat into fuel. [7]

You want to avoid hitting the wall at all costs. It will ruin your run. Apart from feeling exhausted, you’ll also experience severe muscle aches and struggle to even walk home.

One of the best ways to prevent this is to make sure you’re getting enough carbs.  You should eat a fist-sized portion of complex carbs 4-6 times in the 24 hours before doing an endurance run.[3]

You’ll also need to plan what to eat while running to help you keep your energy levels up. 

Snacks and meals to eat before an endurance run

Baked Sweet Potato
Baked sweet potato
Breakfast Smoothie
Berry oats smoothie
Steak Wrap
Steak wrap for endurance run
Chocolate Milk
Chocolate milk

Meal and snack ideas

  • Porridge
  • Chicken and rice or couscous
  • Banana and peanut butter sandwich
  • Scrambled eggs and pitta bread
  • Baked sweet potato
  • Berry, oats and peanut butter smoothie
  • Steak wrap
  • Rice pudding
  • Chocolate milk
  • Vegetable soup

As well as eating before an endurance run, you will also need to take some food to fuel you during the run. See what to eat during a run for more details.

Training low is running for more than 90 minutes with a heart rate less than 60%.

The purpose is to teach your body to fuel your runs from fat.

You should not eat before training low.[3]

Training low should only be done once a week and you must not run any faster than 60% maximum heart rate.

Studies have shown that training low helps you become fat-adapted by improving your body’s ability to convert fat into fuel.[3]

Only do one of these runs a week and keep your heart rate below 60% max.

Exceeding either of these can lead to a depressed immune system.[8]

Timing what you eat before running allows enough time for digestion so that you won’t feel sick, heavy, or bloated on your run.

Eat a snack with simple carbs 30-60 minutes before, or a meal with complex carbs 2-4 hours before your run.

 

Snacks should have a high glycemic index (GI) which means they are broken down easily and release energy quickly into your bloodstream. [9] 

Meals should be low GI which means they take longer to be digested and glucose to be released into the bloodstream. Low GI foods will give you sustained energy throughout the run. [4]

Snacks

An Orange
Pre-run snack - an orange
Energy Bar
Energy bar pre-run snack
Crackers
Pre-run snack crackers and peanut butter
Half a Bagel
Half a bagel with honey

Eat a high GI (Glycemic Index) 30 – 60 minutes before your run. 

Choose snacks that are quickly digested such as:

  • Fruit – banana or orange
  • Energy bar
  • Crackers with peanut butter
  • Half a bagel with honey

Meals

Oatmeal
Wholewheat Pasta
Wholewheat pasta before a run
Toast with Eggs and Avo
Fruit Smoothie
Fruit smoothie with yogurt

Eat balanced easily digestible meals 2 – 4 hours before your run. Meals should be low GI for a slow release of carbs into your bloodstream. 

Don’t eat fatty foods as they’ll take too long to digest and avoid hot, spicy foods or any meal that might upset your gut halfway through your run. 

Meal ideas:

  • Oatmeal porridge
  • Whole-wheat pasta with vegetables
  • Toast with eggs and avocado
  • Fruit smoothies with yogurt

If you are planning to run again within 24 hours, make sure you take in a fast-release recovery drink within 15 minutes of finishing your run. For more on this, read What to eat after running

Make sure that you have been drinking enough water throughout the day and not just before your run. 

Proper hydration before, during, and after your run will prevent dehydration which can impact your performance, cognitive skills, and mood. [10]

Dehydration impairs your body’s ability to regulate heat. This can lead to an elevated heart rate which will make any run more difficult to do. You’ll also tire more easily. 

Ideal hydration levels can vary depending on the amount you sweat, the weather, and more. 

Generally, it has been shown that men should drink about a gallon (3.7L) and women 91 fluid ounces (2.7L). [10] 

However, it’s best to check your level of hydration before and after your run. 

How to check your hydration levels

A simple test is to weigh yourself before and after your run. Any difference you see on the scales is purely caused by dehydration, so this gives you an idea of how much you typically sweat during a run. For every pound of weight lost, drink 16 – 24oz of water. 

Check the color of your urine. You should be aiming for a light straw color. If your urine is dark and smells strong, then you need to drink more fluids. 

 

Runners urine chart

What to eat before running urine chart

Budget electrolyte drink

A cost-effective electrolyte-rich beverage is orange juice mixed with an equal part of water plus 1 tsp of salt. 

Your gut needs blood flow to digest and process food properly. Running diverts blood flow from the gut to the muscles, lungs, and heart which is why it’s important to eat foods that are easy to digest. 

Tip – If you’ve overindulged, avoid trying to “burn off” your meal in a run. You might regret it halfway through. Rather reduce your calorie intake by eating less over the next few days to balance out the extra calories. 

About 30 – 50% of athletes in endurance events experience gut issues. This has been attributed to eating and drinking the wrong foods before a run, a lack of proper hydration, changes in nervous activity, hormones, and blood flow in the GI system. [11] 

Avoid eating any foods that are hard to digest or that your body might react to. For example, if you usually experience bloating after eating salad, it’s best not to have salad in your pre-run meal. 

What not to eat before a run

High-Fiber Foods
High fiber foods
Fatty Foods
Spicy Foods
What not to eat - spicy foods
Dairy
Dairy - Ice cream

High-Fiber Foods

These foods take longer to digest and can lead to bloating, cramps, and diarrhea during your run. 

  • Beans of all types
  • Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale
  • Berries
  • Apples
  • Lentils
  • High-fiber, wholegrains

Fatty Foods

Fat takes a long time for your body to break down. Your body will divert energy from your run to digestion, resulting in you feeling uncomfortable and sluggish. 

  • Cheese
  • Red meat
  • Bacon

Spicy Foods

Spicy foods irritate your stomach and can lead to heartburn and gastrointestinal distress. 

  • Chili
  • Curries
  • Anything spicy and hot

Dairy

If you find dairy hard to digest and generally don’t do well with dairy, it’s best to avoid it before a run. 

  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Ice cream

Sugary Drinks and Foods

While sugary drinks and foods like candy and pastries give you a burst of energy, you can quickly crash, leaving you feeling drained and shaky during your run. 

  • Sodas
  • Candy
  • Pastries and cakes
  • Donuts

Coffee and Tea

While a moderate amount of caffeine can improve performance, too much can upset your gut, and leave you feeling jittery and anxious. [12] 

Stick to one cup of coffee or tea in the hour before your run. 

Your body converts food into three main types of energy sources: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Carbohydrates get broken down into glucose, which enters the bloodstream and serves as the primary fuel for muscle contraction. 

This glucose is then converted into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the cell’s “currency” for energy. However, unlike batteries, your body only stores a small amount of ATP, necessitating its continuous production, especially during exercise. [13] 

Two paths to ATP:

At a cellular level, muscle contraction is performed by ATP. However, your body can’t store much ATP, so it needs to be continuously created during exercise. [14] 

The method your body uses to create ATP depends on the intensity and duration of your exercise. Here’s how it works:

Without oxygen

During short, high-intensity bursts (think sprints), your body quickly converts glucose already in your bloodstream into ATP without needing oxygen. 

This rapid process creates lactic acid, which contributes to the burning sensation you feel in your muscles during intense exercise. [15, 16] While fat is also burned to some extent even in short bursts, glycogen serves as the primary fuel source.

With oxygen

For longer exercise sessions (lasting more than 2 minutes), your body switches gears and starts using oxygen to break down both carbohydrates and fat to produce ATP. This aerobic method is slower than the anaerobic approach but provides a more sustainable energy source. [17] 

However, it still relies on some glycogen, especially when exercise intensity rises and oxygen delivery to muscles lags behind the demand.

Training for better burn

The good news is that regular exercise can improve your body’s efficiency in using both anaerobic and aerobic pathways. By building more capillaries, your body becomes better at delivering oxygen to your muscles, allowing them to burn fat more effectively during prolonged exercise.

Carbohydrates are stored as glycogen in your muscles and liver. [18] 

During higher-intensity runs, this glycogen is used to create ATP to fuel your muscles.

When fully fueled, most people have 90 mins – 2 hours worth of glycogen.

Your muscles and liver hold precious energy reserves in the form of glycogen, stored from the carbohydrates you consume. During higher-intensity runs, your body primarily taps into this glycogen bank to generate ATP, the fuel that powers your movements.

How much glycogen do you have? Most folks store around 375-500g of glycogenyou can see from the calories per gram calculator that works out to 1,500-2,000 calories. [3]

This translates to an estimated 90 minutes to 2 hours of running at moderate to high intensity before your glycogen tank may run low.

Factors impacting glycogen depletion:

factors affecting glycogen depletion
  • Individual training: Trained athletes with larger glycogen stores and efficient utilization can last longer.
  • Intensity: Harder runs deplete glycogen faster than leisurely jogs.
  • Pre-run fuel: Skipping meals or relying on low-carb diets can put you at a glycogen disadvantage.
  • Sex: Studies suggest women might rely more on fat for energy during long runs, potentially conserving glycogen. [19]

Beyond simple carb-to-glucose: While glucose breakdown contributes to glycogen synthesis, other metabolic pathways also play a crucial role.

Calorie burn during running: It’s more than just weight and speed! Terrain, running form, and even genetics influence how many calories you torch. While the provided examples offer a helpful guideline, individual results will vary.

Your rate of calorie burn will be influenced primarily based on your weight and speed.

Use the calories burned running calculator to understand your own rate, for example:

  • Someone of 140lbs running 12 miles at a 10 min/mile pace (2 hours) burns 1,400 calories.
  • Someone of 190lbs running  12 miles at a 8:45 min/mile pace (1h 45mins) burns 1,700 calories

How to avoid glycogen depletion

  • Pre-run carb loading: Focus on smaller, frequent meals rich in complex carbohydrates in the 24 hours before your run. Aim for a fist-sized portion 4-6 times throughout the day.
  • Mid-run refueling: For runs exceeding 90 minutes, consider taking snacks or gels containing 30-90g of carbs every 45 minutes after the first hour.
  • Slow down! Lowering your run intensity allows your body to shift from carb-burning to utilizing fat as fuel, conserving your precious glycogen reserves.

By understanding and managing your glycogen stores, you can optimize your running performance, fuel your training, and conquer those longer distances. Remember, individual variations exist, so listen to your body and adjust your strategies accordingly. Happy running!

Additional tips

  • Experiment with different fueling strategies to discover what works best for you.
  • Use online calorie calculators and running pace trackers to gain a better understanding of your individual fuel needs.

Remember, fueling for your runs is a science and an art.

Use this information as a starting point, experiment, and discover what works best for your body and running goals!

There’s no “one snack for all” when it comes to what to eat before running.

If you have specific dietary needs or considerations, there are plenty of options out there. 

Try alternatives but stick to your familiar snacks and pre-run meals before a big event or race, where you want to be at your best.

Dietary restrictions

While fat-free Greek yogurt with honey is a great snack for some, if you’re allergic to dairy, you’d want to avoid it.

Here are a few alternatives for common food allergies or dietary restrictions:

  • Choose rice cakes instead of wholewheat toast if you’re allergic to gluten or wheat.
  • Almond butter instead of peanut butter for peanut allergies.
  • Oats milk instead of cow’s milk.
  • Coconut yogurt instead of dairy yogurt. 

Personal preferences

Some runners might prefer lighter, easy-to-digest snacks and meals. While others might prefer something more substantial. 

Choose meals and snacks that help you to feel your best when running. For example, some runners might find that a big pasta the night before gives them loads of energy. Others might find they feel heavy and bloated. It comes down to personal preference and what works for you. 

Also, experiment with pre-run meal or snack timing to see what works best for you. 

Digestive sensitivity

Avoid snacks and meals that you know you’re sensitive to, even if it’s just a slight intolerance. You don’t want to be far away from a bathroom if you experience a reaction. 

The best pre-run ritual is the one that works for you. 

Develop a pre-run ritual that not only fuels your body but also prepares your mindset for the run. 

Charge your phone

While you’re preparing for your run, make sure that your phone is fully charged.

If you are running a new route and you’re using Strava, make sure you’ve turned on Strava Beacon so that you can share your location with your safety contacts. 

Fuel up

Eat your favorite pre-run meal or snack 1 to 2 hours before your run. If a chocolate chip cookie or two with a cup of coffee gets you fired up for your run, make it part of your pre-run ritual. 

Get your gear ready

Get your comfortable running gear and shoes ready. Don’t forget comfortable socks that fit you well. 

Make sure you have sun protection gear or sunscreen. If you’re running in the tropics, don’t forget the insect repellant. 

If you’re running at night, make sure your gear is reflective so that motorists can see you easily. 

Lastly, for longer runs, pack in a water bottle and snack. 

 

Dynamic warm-up

Before every run, warm up properly with dynamic stretching. This will prepare your body for the run ahead and minimize the chance of injury. 

Mindset rituals

Practice deep breathing to help you focus on the run ahead.

Visualize your run and what you hope to achieve by the end of the run. For example, do you want to hit a personal best or just relieve stress from the day?

Think positive thoughts about the run and your ability to complete the run. A positive, optimistic mindset will not only help you enjoy your run but perform your best.  

Common mistakes when eating before running include eating too close to the run, eating rich or fatty foods pre-run, or not eating enough. 

While there is some experimentation in working out what works best for you before a run, there are some common mistakes that you can easily avoid. For example, eating fatty, spicy foods just before your run can have a disastrous result halfway through so it’s best to keep the curry for a post-run meal. 

Here are some of the most common mistakes:

Eating too soon before a run

Timing your pre-run meal or snack can make a world of difference to your run. Eating just before you run off into the sunset can leave you feeling heavy and bloated. 

Eat light-easily digestible snacks for 30 – 60 minutes before you run. Meals should be at least 1 – 2 hours before your run. 

Not eating enough before a run

While running in a fasted state can help with burning fat, not eating enough before a run can cause you to feel tired and you might even hit the wall. 

If you are trying to lose weight, the best way to go about this is to eat a healthy, balanced diet with a slight calorie deficit throughout the week. Before your run, refuel with a healthy snack that is part of your diet. 

Overloading on carbs

Excessive pre-race fueling can lead to you feeling bloated and sluggish. Choose moderate portions of easy-to-digest carbs.

Relying solely on sugary snacks

Sugary snacks will give you a quick boost in energy but they will also drop you very quickly, leaving you feeling exhausted. Refuel 24 hours before your run with complex carbs in every meal or snack to prevent this. 

Drinking too much water

Drinking too much water can dilute electrolytes and also cause sloshing during your run.

Hydrate in the days leading up to your run and sip strategically during your run. 

Eating protein-heavy meals

Proteins take longer to digest so eating a protein-heavy meal before your run can leave you feeling full and heavy. 

Ignoring food sensitives

If you are sensitive to a particular food or food group, the sensitivity won’t magically disappear during your run. It’s best to avoid eating any food that you’re sensitive to. 

Not drinking enough liquid

Not drinking enough liquid can lead to dehydration during and after your run. Proper hydration before, during, and after your run can prevent this from happening. 

If your run is less than an hour and you’ve already had something to eat for the day, there’s no need for a pre-run snack, especially if it’s a low-intensity run. However, if you are hungry, it’s best to have a small snack about 30 minutes before your run.

Complex carbohydrates with a palm-size portion of protein are ideal for sustained energy. Eat 4-6 meals or snacks during the 24 hours before your run.

Fatty foods or greasy foods are hard to digest and may feel heavy in your stomach. High-fiber foods like broccoli or beans can cause bloating or cramps. Avoid any food that you’re allergic to. 

Yes, small portions of proteins are a good option before a run. However, make sure it’s a palm-sized portion and that it’s not a heavy protein. 

Yes, drinking a cup of coffee before your run can be beneficial. Drink only 1 cup and hour before to prevent any stomach upsets or jitters. 

Sources

Articles on CaloriesBurnedHQ are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

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