Knowing what to eat before you go for a run will help you to optimise your training and/or performance for that race. Eating before you hit the tar is essential to maintaining an optimal energy availability that is needed for your run. This energy comes from the food we take in. The food we eat can be grouped into three different categories, namely carbohydrates, protein and fats.
A meal that is high in carbohydrates (preferably low GI), low in fat and a small amount of protein is recommended to optimise carbohydrate stores to fuel your run. A good example of this is a slice of bread with peanut butter or low fat yogurt and muesli. The bread and the muesli makes up your carbohydrates to provide you with the needed energy. The protein and fat found in the yogurt and the peanut butter will provide you with a sensation of feeling full and won’t weigh you down during your run. Another option is something like a banana as a pre-run snack if you aren’t going to be having a full meal 2-3 hours before your run. Bananas are high in carbohydrates, quick to eat before your run and will provide you with a quick release of energy.
Depending on the time of the day for your run, you might need to consider a liquid meal as this is digested more easily than a solid meal. Having a liquid meal 30 minutes to 2 hours before your run, like a future life shake, will rehydrate you after a night’s sleep and also help to fuel your morning run. In general it is recommended that you wait 2 – 4 hours after a full meal before you head out for a run. Some people are able to eat in the hour before they go for a run, while others don’t respond well to this, so you need to try different options and see what works for you.
What to eat before your run will depend on and be influenced by the intensity of your run. High intensity training will require you to fuel up with more carbohydrates as the body will mainly be using carbohydrates as its source of energy. Plan to eat before these high intensity sessions. For a lower intensity run or jog, the body mainly burns fat as its energy source. Thus, fuelling with carbohydrates for a lower intensity run or jog may then not be necessary. You can then decrease the amount of carbohydrates in your pre-run meal and have a small snack just before your run as this will encourage your body to burn fat as fuel.
Also important to remember for race day is to try and not eat anything new that you haven’t tried before. You don’t want any gastrointestinal discomfort during your race. All those foods or recipes you’ve heard about and would love to try are okay for your training days, but on race day you want to make it to the finish line without having an upset stomach. Avoid spicy foods, very fatty foods and foods very high in fibre as this may bring about some discomfort during the race.
It is essential to start your run well hydrated. Drink enough water throughout the day and with your pre-run meal for your training run in the afternoon. For your early morning runs, try to get in 300 -450ml of fluid 15 -20 minutes before. Water in your body is important for several reasons and, specifically for running, it is important for heat dissipation that occurs during sweating, as well as for blood flow to the working muscles.
Remember what may work for others, may not necessarily work for you. It is recommended that you test out race day meal options during your training runs to see what works for your body. You want to get the most out of your training run and enhance performance for your race and therefore it is important to eat enough to fuel your run, but don’t overdo it. Running is not an excuse to eat whatever you like all the time. Be mindful of what you take in. Ultimately, food is fuel for your body, so make conscience decisions about what you eat to get the most out of every run.
Rochelle is a qualified biokineticist at Body Innovation. Her experience over the last 12 years includes being a qualified Biokineticist, Sports Massage and strength training specifically for rowing, locally and internationally. She also presents Sports Massage Courses. Read more about Body Innovation here.