A healthy running regimen isn’t just about speed and distance. To consistently get the most out of each run, you need fuel, aka: dope drinks and nom noms.
So, here’s a deep dive into what types of fuel you should be aiming for, when you should be fueling up, and how to use nutritional tips to shape the eating schedule that works for your running goals.
Running burns beaucoup calories. So, for optimal performance, it takes fueling up with ample calories as well.
Here’s how to approach eating before, during, and after your run to make your training more successful.
You should try to eat a meal about 3 or 4 hours before you “Forrest Gump” it up. Foods that have a high carb content, medium protein content, and low fat content tend to be best. Carbs break down into glucose, which your body can use as energy.
P.S. You should try to drink 17 to 20 ounces of water with your pre-run meal, according to a position statement from experts. This can increase if you’re running in particularly hot and humid weather.
Enjoy a light bite about 30 to 60 minutes before longer runs. It can help your sugar levels stay on point and may reduce your risk of a mid-run snack craving.
Pre-run snack ideas
- a banana
- a small energy bar
- a handful of crackers
- half an English muffin with a tablespoon of jam
- half a cup of cereal with low fat or dairy-free milk
PSA: You should try to avoid heavy, spicy, fatty, fried, or full-of-fiber foods before any workout, and especially a run. They’re harder to digest and can cause mid-run tummy troubles 💩.
What to eat during a run
An intra-run snack can come in clutch on longer treks. A research review showed that glycogen stores start to deplete after 1 or 2 hours of running. To keep your energy levels where you want them, eat 30 to 60 carbs per hour on runs that last longer than 90 minutes.
Mid-run snack options
- dried fruit
- power bars
- energy gels
- packets of honey
- drinks that contain sugar, carbs, and electrolytes
FYI: It’s best to spread your longer run carbs out. For example, snacking every 20 to 30 minutes is usually the average, but it varies. Also, don’t forget to hydrate while snacking.
What to eat after a run
The ideal post-run meal should help replenish glycogen stores, repair microtears in your muscles (aka soreness), and replenish electrolytes. That said, aim for a combo of carbs, protein, and fluids.
Post-run meal suggestions
- protein shake with fruit, crackers, or another source of carbs
- hummus and pretzels along with string cheese or jerky
- grilled salmon with roasted sweet potatoes or rice
- eggs with a cup of watermelon
- penne pasta with grilled chicken and broccoli
- peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole-grain bread with a glass of chocolate milk
Pro tip: Try to eat ASAP after a run. According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, muscles might be more receptive to rebuilding glycogen stores in the first 2 hours after a workout.
Not all energy foods are created equal. Your best bet is a high quality bar, gel, or chewable that keeps your energy levels up without causing a killer sugar crash. Here are our top five picks to help you go the distance.
1. Best mid-run bar: This Saves Lives Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Granola Bar
This is a solid midmorning or midafternoon snack to manage hunger between workouts/runs. Non-GMO? Check. Gluten-free? Yup. Delicious? Heck yes 😋. This tasty treat from This Saves Lives is made with cocoa powder, chicory root fiber, whole rolled oats, and hazelnuts.
2. Best bar for before a run: Bonk Breaker Real Food Energy Bar Peanut Butter & Dark Chocolate Chip
This gluten-free bar is the bomb. It boasts a 4-to-1 carb-to-protein ratio that’ll keep you energized. Reviewers love that it doesn’t have an artificial taste. Tapioca and dried cane syrups give it a kiss of sweetness, while the peanuts and rolled oats give it a satisfying texture.
3. Best energy chews: Probar Bolt Energy Chews
Energy chews are hella popular, and with good reason. They’re quick, tasty, and easy to store on the go. These chews from Probar contain vitamins C, B6, and B12. They also have 23 grams (g) of carbs per 30-gram serving for a quick hit of energy.
But wait, there’s more! They come in six tasty flavors: strawberry, berry blast, raspberry, orange, pink lemonade, and cran-pomegranate.
4. Best energy gel: GU Energy Original Sports Nutrition Energy Gel
Fuel like a winner with this vegan and gluten-free energy gel. Each packet contains 100 calories and essential electrolytes. It’s made with a mix of maltodextrin and fructose that might help put some pep in your step. What you’re essentially getting is the carbs you need (roughly 20 to 25 g, depending on flavor) in the quickest form — sugar.
The gel comes in salted caramel, chocolate outrage, vanilla bean, strawberry banana, tri-berry, and jet blackberry. All are delish, but the chocolate outrage seems to be a fan fave.
5. Best electrolyte drink: Key Nutrients Electrolyte Recovery Plus Lemonade Replenishment Drink
Move over, Gatorade! There’s a new electrolyte superstar in town. This keto-friendly supplement is sugar- and calorie-free. It’s entirely plant-based and sweetened with stevia extract. It’s also formulated with lots of vital vitamins and minerals to help support workout recovery.
So, now that we’ve covered much of the food that provides the right running fuel, let’s talk about how it should be made for the road (or the off-road).
Is there a right way to package food for on-the-go eating?
While there are some fairly consistent suggestions for what to eat for a run, it’s totally up to you when it comes to organizing what you eat.
It’s nice to have some quick snacks prepped and ready for action, so you can just grab and go. But if you like to put a little extra time and attention into your fuel prep, you can also make meals as you go.
Does cooking method matter?
Your cooking method of choice can absolutely make or break a workout meal. Eating large amounts of raw produce before you lace up might increase your risk of getting the runner’s trots. You might be better off boiling, grilling, baking, or poaching veggies instead.
You also have to watch out for fried foods or foods that’ve been cooked in tons of oil. They’re calorie-dense and high in fat, which can make them difficult to digest. No one wants to run with what feels like a pot of boiling acid in their stomachs.
It’s OK to be a salt bae
Salt is a key source of sodium — one of the electrolytes that helps your body maintain a healthy amount of fluids. It also helps your muscles contract and nerves function on fleek.
Pour some simple sugar on me
Sugar can provide a quick energy boost. But not all sweets are the same. Instead of noshing on a slice of cake, keep it natural. A spoonful of honey, a handful of dried fruit, or a piece of fresh fruit usually does the trick.
Like we mentioned earlier, there are plenty of suggestions, but running food rules aren’t written in stone. However, there are some drinks and foods runners may want to avoid — especially those that carry a lot of fat, caffeine, or cause indigestion.
- fried food
- spicy stuff
- saturated or trans fat
- full-fat dairy like fettuccine Alfredo
- heavily caffeinated drinks (e.g. diet soda, or energy drinks)
While any of the above certainly won’t be detrimental if enjoyed in moderation (we all have our indulgences, after all), they def don’t provide the right kind of fuel for optimal running condition. So, they shouldn’t be on the menu during a running day.
Running is an awesome activity that can help you slay a fit lifestyle. Just keep in mind, you need to fuel your body right before heading out. That won’t look the same for everyone — but learning what you respond to and what to avoid will give you a great head start.
Remember: Eating/snacking before, snacking during, and eating after runs is the cadence. High carbs, medium protein, and low fat is the formula. This eating baseline will give your body the nutrition it needs to keep your running consistent and effective.
P.S. Don’t forget to hydrate throughout, of course.