What you eat before a run can be the difference between a botched run and one that you’re excited to upload to Strava. The former takes a long Strava title to explain what went wrong, and the latter leaves that typing time for geeking out on the numbers. There’s nothing worse than going out for a 6 mile run on an empty stomach and bonking 2 miles in, riding the struggle bus home for the last 4 miles. On the other hand, downing a Chipotle sleeping pill, cleverly disguised as a burrito, also doesn’t bode well for many runs.
So what do people eat before a run? We asked coaches and team members what they prefer to eat before a run, how much time in between eating and running, and what changes about the routine before a big workout or a race.
The 3 Most Common Foods
- Coffee – Brew it strong, drink it black, and if you’ve prepared ahead of time, cold-brewed. Jillian Shumaker keeps cold brew concentrate on hand for early morning runs to cut down on prep time and maximize sleep before a morning run. #genius
- Banana – This simple, no mess, no fuss fruit is a runner’s best friend. Bananas not your jam? Try sweet potato with maple syrup and sea salt, like Mandy Raithel or watermelon like Mark Droge.
- Nut Butter – Straight out of the jar in a heaping tablespoon like Carrie-Ann LaBrecque or on some sort of vehicle, like toast or an english muffin.
Our personal favorite that seems to pack the perfect punch? Meghan Lelonek tends to run in the early morning and her go-to meal is 1-2 Dates dipped in PB and shot of espresso. #rocketfuel
Short on time or want it even simpler? Heather Park loves tailwind + water for her workouts and Jami Barrett always keeps a gel handy in case she needs it before a run.
Time Between Eating and Running
It only takes one time to learn that going for a run 4 hours after a light breakfast is a good recipe for bonking, so most runners have this dialed in fairly well. The consensus for the team?
20-30 minutes between eating and running with a simple pre-run meal
30-60 minutes if it’s a workout or a race, or if you ate a larger meal, increase that to 90 minutes
Coach Dan Lyne prefers a small meal of banana, oatmeal and coffee pre-run, but he’ll increase his meal size and wait 60 minutes before a morning workout and 90 minutes before a marathon start.
Eating before a Long Run or a Workout
This is where people tend to diverge a bit, as the stakes are much higher for eating the wrong food for your body before a big effort. It’s easier to shuffle through a 3 mile run on a full stomach vs. a 20 minute tempo run or a 20 miler, so most people are dialed in on what works for them. It takes trial and error to find out what works for you so that come race day, long run day, or big effort days, you’re fueled up, psyched up, and ready to go.
Heather Park has a unique take on a classic Congee, except with oatmeal, combining oatmeal porridge with kombu powder for flavor + umami, and she adds an egg in last for protein, along with a splash of soy sauce. If a sweet breakfast isn’t your thing, check out her recipe below and tweak as needed to make the perfect pre-long run meal.
When Coach Stephen Littlewood is heading out for an ultra, he goes for the Chipotle style approach with bacon, egg, cheese, jalapeño, and guacamole burrito, leaving 60-90 minutes between eating and running. His recipe? Just be sure to be heavy on the guac.
When it comes to deciding what to eat before a run, what do most runners do? They keep it simple, keep it small, and test and re-test before race day.
Recipe for Savory Oatmeal Porridge with Egg
- 1/4 cup thick-rolled oats
- 1/2 teaspoon of homemade kombu powder (dehydrated kombu sheets in the oven that I grind into a powder)
- 1.5 cups of water
- pinch of salt
Combine above into a saucepan — bring to boil, then let it simmer. Stir occasionally. Oatmeal should start getting a porridge consistency — “gooey”. Add egg in and turn off heat, stir so the heat of the oatmeal gently cooks it.
Serve with a splash of soy sauce (if needed). If you want to add extra flavor, one or two drops of toasted sesame oil and/or toasted sesame seeds!
A special thanks to all the runners and coaches on the team who helped contribute to this article. Onward!