What to eat before a run: 3 essential tips for runners

  • Post last modified:September 13, 2020
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It can be difficult to know what to eat before a run. It can be hard to strike a good balance between food and running, but there a few tips that I’d like to share in this blog to hopefully make this process a lot easier for you.

According to a 2019 study, amateur runners are largely unaware of the current sport nutrition guidelines. Adding that overall, knowledge of the current carbohydrate and protein intakes pre- and post-exercise were poor

Food is fuel, and the type of food you eat before a run depends on a few factors, including expected run duration and how intense you expect the session to be.

What you eat before a marathon, for example, will differ from what you eat before a 5k or an interval training session because you are using two different energy systems for these activities.

Whilst the aerobic system plays a large part in both types of runs, for the 5k and interval training you will rely more heavily on the lactate and creatine phosphate (CP) energy systems.

The key components for the aerobic energy system (the system used for longer runs where you go at a low to moderate pace) are oxygen, carbohydrates, fatty acids and protein.

When you eat food, your body turns the oxygen and macronutrients into a form of energy called ATP (adenosine triphosphate).

Carbohydrates are the preferred energy source as they release energy a lot faster. This is why ‘carb loading’ is so important on the days leading up to a long race like a half marathon or marathon.

Simply put, the more carbs you eat, the more energy reserves your body will have to tap into on race day.

So, what does all this mean practically, day-to-day?

It really depends on how intense you expect the session to be and how comfortable you feel with certain foods. You don’t want anything that feels too heavy in your stomach.

In this blog, I’d like to share some essential tips for runners on what to eat before a run based on a number of factors, including the time of day in which you run and race duration. 

what to eat before a run

What to eat before a run

What to eat before an early morning run

If you’re planning a more challenging training session (like a 5k at a fast pace or interval training), you should plan to eat something substantial as your body will require fuel from carbohydrates.

Try and have something at least two hours before you plan to run so your body has time to fully digest the food. Here are some good options:

  • Porridge with bananas or blueberries

  • Wholegrain toast with avocado and scrambled or poached eggs

  • Wholegrain toast with salmon and scrambled eggs

  • Healthy granola

  • A bagel with banana and peanut butter on top

  • Freshly made smoothie

For low intensity sessions (like a long run at an easy to moderate pace or a light jog), a protein-based breakfast or even a fast will be fine.

Whatever you eat, try and have it at least 30 minutes before you head out. Here are some options:

  • Greek yoghurt with berries

  • Overnight oats

  • Flapjack

  • Energy balls

  • Protein smoothie

what to eat before a run

What to eat before a long run

As discussed above, try and eat carb-rich foods that are not too heavy on your stomach. Carbohydrates are your fuel for these long runs, so don’t try and avoid them!

If you’re training for a half marathon or marathon, for example, you should have an eating plan in place that you develop throughout your training plan.

Try and eat a meal two to four hours before the start of the run. If you struggle to eat very early in the morning, make sure you have a carb-rich meal like pasta the night before the race.

Good breakfast options for the morning of your race may include:

  • Porridge with berries or mixed nuts

  • Healthy granola

  • Wholegrain bread topped with scrambled or poached eggs

  • Greek yogurt with berries or fruit salad

  • A bagel with cottage cheese

  • Fruit juice or a fruit smoothie

Check out my post on my favourite smoothie recipes for some added inspiration! These are also great for post-run recovery!

what to eat before a run


What to avoid eating before a run

There are some pre-run eating mistakes that you should avoid as they could cause havoc with your stomach on your run.

The last thing you want is to be nipping to the toilet before or, even worse, during your run.

Try and avoid the following food types:

  • Foods very high in fibre

  • Excessively fatty foods (fat takes longer to digest so it will just sit in your stomach)

  • Beans or lentils (these can lead to an upset stomach if eaten before a run)

  • Spicy foods (these could cause heartburn or an upset stomach)

  • Caffeine

  • Alcohol

  • Sports drinks (these contain loads of refined sugar, you’re probably just better off drinking water).

what to eat before a run

Final thoughts…

When choosing what to eat before a run, it’s all about experimentation to see what works for you.

The truth is every runner is different, so what works for me may not necessarily work for you. Good luck!


Caroline Geoghegan

Caroline Geoghegan (aka Run With Caroline) helps people become faster and stronger runners. She started her blog in 2018 to share her passion for running. Caroline is a UK Athletics qualified Run Leader and Run Coach and NASM qualified Personal Trainer.

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