Figuring out what to eat before a run stumped me for a long time. Nothing ruins a good run like cramping up, feeling too full and weighted down, or getting hungry and lightheaded.
During one of my first track seasons in third grade, I had practice on weeknights around 6:30. We’d always eat dinner around 5 or 5:30 and then head straight to practice. I got HORRIBLE cramps while I was running, but I had no idea why. Turns out, running right after a full meal is kind of a big no-no.
Eating afterwards is a little easier, but it still can be challenging since I don’t always feel like eating much right away. I feel like I’ve finally cracked the code for what works for me and wanted to share it in case anyone else struggles with this!
This semester, my schedule worked out so that I can run before class almost every day! I wake up and I’m out the door for my run within 15 minutes, so I have to eat something light that won’t bother me while I run, and something that’s FAST. I definitely don’t have time to eat a piece of peanut butter toast and then let it digest for an hour. (Although, on early race mornings, I do wake up about 2 hours before the race to eat breakfast to have more energy.) Within about 15-2o minutes before running, my rule of thumb is a “handful of carbs.”
It’s usually a couple handfuls of whole-grain cereal…
or half of a banana (and then I’ll use the other half in my breakfast after my run). A small glass of juice is also great for really quick energy since liquids are digested more quickly. When I didn’t have anything else on hand, I’ve even eaten plain carrot sticks at 7:30 a.m. I just need a small carb-y snack to tide me over until breakfast and give me some energy during my run.
These straight carb options aren’t all necessarily the “healthiest,” but they’re great to have just before a run since they shouldn’t give you cramps. This article talks about why it’s helpful to choose something high in carbs and low in fiber, fat, and protein before a run, but basically, it’ll help you have quick energy and avoid stomach problems while you’re running.
On the days that I run in the afternoons, I can eat a small- to medium-sized normal meal 2 to 4 hours before a run, or a substantial & carb-heavy snack 1 to 2 hours before I run.
After a run, protein is key. Refueling with protein within 30 minutes of finishing a workout helps replenish your glycogen stores (stored glucose) that are depleted during exercise and also rebuild your muscles. I don’t know about you, but my muscles need all the help they can get.
Obviously, after an easy 3 mile run, eating a lot of protein isn’t as important as it is after a long run…so no need to chug a protein shake after a short workout. This Runner’s World article does a great job of explaining how much to eat after different types of runs.
My favorite way to refuel is to eat my next meal. An omelet is the perfect post-run breakfast since eggs are a complete protein all by themselves! Since I can’t make an omelet at school, I’ll have oatmeal (6 grams of protein per serving, plus I can add protein powder if I want to!) or plain Greek yogurt.If I run right before lunch or dinner, those meals tend to naturally have lots of protein from grilled chicken, lean ground beef, cheese, beans, etc., so I just make sure I eat in the 30 minute window after finishing my workout.
So, to sum it all up, I focus on carbs beforehand & protein afterwards. Pretty basic, right?
Questions for you:
Do you like protein drinks or shakes?
I know they’re good for a quick recovery boost, but I haven’t found one that I really like so I stick while whole foods.
Do you eat differently when you run versus going to the gym?
I’ve found that I can eat pretty much whatever I want before lifting weights or doing the elliptical, which is a nice change!
Linking up with Jenn for WIAW today!