If you’re a runner, there’s a chance you consider the foods you eat just before hitting the trail. Whether you’re training for a half marathon or just jogging for personal fitness, it’s important to fuel your body accordingly. After all, you don’t want to get out the door only to have to turn around halfway because you’re lacking energy or need to use the restroom sooner rather than later.
There’s any number of reasons you may have turned to running. It’s become an increasingly popular workout — and it’s easy to see why. It’s inexpensive, easily accessible for able-bodied individuals, and a good way to get fit, as noted by The Guardian. And if the weather permits, you can take your workout from the treadmill to the outside world with ease, enjoying the sites of the city or a public park. It’s no wonder that almost 60 million Americans participated in running, jogging, and/or trail running in 2017 alone.
If you’re new to running or are looking for ways to fuel your body further, Health Digest has you covered. Here’s a look at the best and worst foods to eat before going on a run.
Best pre-run food: Pasta
It’s super important to make sure you’ve eaten properly just before you go for a run because, for one thing, you want to be able to finish your full, planned route, right? To that end, registered dietitian Kyle Stansberry advises that you prepare accordingly, which may start sooner than you think. "Remember, we can begin stocking up our body’s stored energy the day/night before a big run," he told Health Digest. "Hello, pasta night!" Bring on the spaghetti and enjoy.
You may have heard of this strategy, which is called carb loading. The intention behind it is to build up your glycogen stores. Those stores are what will help you power through your run, according to Dr. Grant Tinsley, an assistant professor of exercise physiology. "Research has shown that carb loading may reduce fatigue and improve performance by 2–3 percent for exercise lasting more than 90 minutes," he penned in an article in Healthline. But if you’re just going for a super quick jog, it might not be as effective of a strategy. In any case, eating pasta the night before your run is a good idea. Bon appétit!
Worst pre-run food: Legumes
Legumes are some of the healthiest and most versatile foods out there, according to the Mayo Clinic. Whether you’re snacking on edamame at a Japanese restaurant, working through that pot of bean chili you made in your Instant Pot, or enjoying some righteous chana masala, these wonderful plant-based foods are rich in fiber, protein, potassium, folate, iron, and magnesium. They clearly pack quite the nutritional punch! They’re also inexpensive and can sit on your shelf for a long time, making them easy to acquire and store.
However, you might want to hold off on slurping up that big bowl of lentil soup before you head out for your jog, according to registered dietitian Amanda A. Kostro Miller. "Eating legumes before your run later in the day can still cause gas, bloating, and abdominal pain," she revealed to Health Digest. Instead, Kostro Miller advises that you have the black-eyed peas after your run. "While legumes should definitely be included in your diet, save them for later," she continued.
Best pre-run food: Whole grains
When it comes to foods that offer you the whole package, whole grains are high on that list, as noted by Harvard University. Whole grains includes everything from brown rice to corn to rye to oats — to name just a few of these super nutritious foods. And because they are so good for you, registered dietitian Amanda A. Kostro Miller gives them the green light for runners. However, there is one caveat.
"Whole grains like whole grain pasta, quinoa, whole grain bread, et cetera are great to keep you healthy and regular, but these contain fiber and longer-to-digest carbs," she shared with Health Digest. "I would suggest having your whole grains a few hours before your run, say, at breakfast or lunch if you run in the afternoon."
What would happen if you were to nosh on some whole wheat toast within minutes of your run? "The fiber and carbohydrates digest slower, so you may feel sluggish or full if you eat them right before running," Kostro Miller explained. And sluggish is the last thing you want to feel at that time!
Worst pre-run food: Dairy
Dairy foods are delicious — we totally get it. Few things are more satisfying than ice cream, yogurt is incredibly versatile, and who doesn’t absolutely adore cheese? However, eating dairy foods may not be the best idea before you head out for a run, according to registered dietitian Joelle Malinowski. "If you are lactose intolerant, dairy foods can set off runner’s trots," she told Health Digest. "Try eliminating dairy in the 24 hours before your run." That can save you from both inconvenience and , you know, potentially serious embarrassment.
Okay, but say you’re not intolerant to dairy. Can crushing a couple of cheese sticks help fuel you for your morning or afternoon jog? Malinowski doesn’t think that’s a very good idea either. "I do recommend that even if you’re not intolerant, consuming dairy in excess prior to a run, especially on a hot day may not leave you feeling great, or running for very long," she continued. So save that cold glass of milk for after your jog.
Best pre-run food: Peanut butter toast
An hour before you go running is the perfect time to have a balanced snack, as it will keep you energized for the long haul. Just be sure that your pre-run fuel has protein in addition to carbohydrates. "Protein is used for some energy and to repair tissue damaged during training," registered dietitian Joelle Malinowski explained to Health Digest. "However, too much might also cause [gastrointestinal] distress and cramping." To avoid those pitfalls and reap only the benefits, Malinowski stresses the importance of light consumption before you pound the pavement.
In order to get that perfect balance, Malinowski suggests eating a banana or toast with nut butter or warm oatmeal with a serving or two of berries. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics likewise suggests consuming "something rich in carbohydrates such as a bowl of cereal, peanut butter sandwich or small smoothie" about two hours prior to your run. Frankly, these options sound pretty yummy! Plus if you change it up on a regular basis, you won’t get board of your snack. Rather, you’ll look forward to it.
Plus, they’ll "help power your run and prevent hunger," the association explained. "Typically, 50 to 75 grams of easily-digested carbohydrates can be consumed two hours before a run without causing any stomach upset."
Worst pre-run food: High-fiber snacks
Believe it or not, only about 5 percent of Americans get enough fiber in their diet, as highlighted in a 2017 article for American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. Given how important fiber is, how beneficial it is for the body, experts have dubbed the fiber gap a public health concern.
For as vital as fiber is for a healthy diet, though, you should think twice about chowing down on high-fiber foods just before you jog, according to registered dietitian Joelle Malinowski. "High fiber foods can lead to [gastrointestinal] distress and cramping because they are hard to fully digest," she shared with Health Digest. That includes beans, broccoli, artichokes, and any fiber-fortified foods, like fiber bars or high-fiber breads.
That being said, you definitely need to make sure you’re getting the recommended amount of fiber every day. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), that’s about 25 grams. Just be sure to consume fiber-rich foods after your workout to avoid discomfort.
Best pre-run food: Fruit
Okay, it’s just about time to do your stretches and go run laps at the track. That’s exactly when registered dietitian Amanda A. Kostro Miller recommends grabbing a piece of nature’s candy to give your body a pre-workout energy boost. "Fruit can be a really good light snack to eat before you run," she revealed to Health Digest. "Fruits contain natural sugars for energy, and water to keep you hydrated." Specifically, Kostro Miller recommends eating blueberries, small bananas, apples, clementines, pineapple, or a piece of watermelon on the way out the door.
That is, of course, if you have a fairly regular digestive tract and aren’t prone to gastrointestinal issues. "If you’re sensitive to FODMAPs (plant-based substances that can cause gas and GI symptoms in select people), opt for low FODMAP fruits like bananas, grapes, blueberries, and raspberries," Kostro Miller continued. Also, reduce your intake of fruits like apples, mangoes, watermelon, and pears if you’re FODMAP sensitive.
Worst pre-run food: Hummus
Hummus and other bean dips are delicious protein-rich foods that have become increasingly popular in the United States in recent history, according to Today. To that end, you might be tempted to think that hummus is a good snack to chow down on a few hours before you hit the road running. Not so fast.
It’s a good idea to avoid certain bean dips, according to registered nutritionist Philip Goglia. "If you’ve personally soaked the beans prior to cooking them, then you’re releasing the mold from them," he explained in an interview with Runner’s World. "But if not … you run the risk of consuming a high-mold food that can lead to inflammation and reduction of oxygen consumption." He added that, for this reason, many athletes avoid eating prepackaged hummus and dips. Additionally, registered dietitian Mary Hartley told Shape, "Bean-based foods (such as hummus) are high in indigestible carbohydrates that may cause uncomfortable gas and bloating."
Not to mention, store-bought hummus and bean dips can also contain a lot of added oils, which aren’t really necessary. As such, you’ll either want to make your own hummus or, better yet, save it for after your run.
Best pre-run food: A high-carb snack
Mmm, carbs. When you hear the word, what do you think of? Perhaps a big blueberry muffin or some freshly-baked rolls fresh out of the dinner basket? While these foods have gotten a bad rap as of late, as noted by Harvard University, they’re not the boogeyman that some folks make them out to be.
In fact, according to experts, carbs are a fantastic dietary selection just before your run. "In regard to physical activity, such as running, carbohydrates are going to be your best friend," registered dietitian Kyle Stansberry told Health Digest. "Carbohydrates are digested quickest when compared to protein and fat." And that means that they can easily be broken down into glucose, which provides much-needed energy to your hard-working muscles.
Of course, you’ll want to make sure that the carbs you’re eating best prepare you for a jog, so reach for pretzels, an English muffin, or even a sports drink, registered dietitian Amanda A. Kostro Miller recommended when chatting with Health Digest. These foods are high in carbs and low in fiber, so they won’t slow you down.
Worst pre-run food: Anything fried
One of the nice things about running is that it burns tons and tons of calories. According to Harvard University, a 155-pound person running at a speed of 5 mph burns approximately about 300 calories in just a half hour, which is pretty impressive. The faster you run, the more you burn, too, which means you can enjoy a hearty meal here and there without gaining unwanted pounds.
However, if there’s one time not to indulge in your favorite fried foods, it’s right before jogging, according to registered dietitian Amanda A. Kostro Miller. "Limit these for both health and running ease," she told Health Digest. "Nothing is going to slow you down and make you feel gross like a fatty, fried meal!"
So if you have a hankering for pizza and wings, save them for a dinner option after your afternoon run. You might enjoy them more after your run anyway, as you’ve just revved up your metabolism and are likely famished.
Best pre-run food: Dark chocolate
When you think of your favorite indulgent snack, there’s a good chance that chocolate pops into your mind. However, chocolate isn’t just for indulging with abandon, as it can actually motivate you right before you go running, according to strength and conditioning coach Ryan Johnson. "Giving yourself a little treat of dark chocolate before your workout starts to create positive feedback loop," he revealed in a chat with Runner’s World. "At some point, you can’t tell if excitement comes from the chocolate or the workout, which can help form a habit-based solution to fitness."
That’s not all, either, as noshing on a square or two of dark chocolate before a jog has other benefits. For one, it can increase your aerobic capacity. Chocolate can also decrease inflammation, boost your serotonin levels, and help you to run longer distances. That’s a host of benefits from one little bite of food — and a super delicious one at that.
Worst pre-run food: Whole seeds
Raw seeds like pepitas, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and flax seeds can be a super healthy addition to your diet, according to Healthline. These small yet mighty foods are excellent sources of fiber, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and plenty of different vitamins and minerals. They also can help you decrease your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels, which is, of course, good news for your heart.
As fantastic as these nutritious little snacks can be, however, eating a handful of seeds before your run can cause bloating and stomach discomfort, registered dietitian Katie Serbinski explained. You don’t have to totally remove them from your pre-run routine, but you aren’t going to want to eat them on their own. "It’s all because of their fat content, which can be limited when you combine them with other foods that are lower in fiber," the expert revealed in an interview with Runner’s World. "Consider mixing just a teaspoon or two of your favorite seed with a half cup of oatmeal." This balanced snack will help you attain peak performance — sans the bloat.
Best pre-run food: A green smoothie
We get it. Some of y’all are determined to eat clean and green as much as possible. Kudos to you, for sure! But definitely keep this pro tip in mind: You’ll want to avoid eating salads before a run, as noted by registered nutritionist Philip Goglia. "Thanks to their high-fiber content, leafy green vegetables are almost guaranteed to cause abdominal distention — a.k.a. gas and bloating," he explained to Runner’s World. And that’s definitely not something you want to be dealing with out on the trail.
That doesn’t mean you have to abstain from all things green before you pound the pavement, though — you’ll just want to keep your blender handy. "If you’re in the mood for something light before your workout, swap a green salad for a green smoothie," registered dietitian Katie Serbinski shared with the publication. "Just mix your favorite fruit with a half a cup of greens, water, and some dried oats or granola." That way it will go down — and stay down — much easier!
Worst pre-run food: Spicy dishes
While there are some wonderfully spicy dishes you can order while dining out at your favorite Asian restaurant, you should think twice if you plan on going for a run after dinner. "Foods with that much flavor and seasoning require a great deal of digestion time, setting you up for a nap rather than a heavy workout," registered nutritionist Philip Goglia shared in a chat with Runner’s World. Yes, even if your panang curry leftovers are calling your name, hold the phone.
Rather than filling your stomach with all of that goodness pre-run, Golgia suggested toning things down a bit while still satisfying that craving. "If you’re craving something bold and savory, opt for some chicken or turkey jerky that is packed with protein and low in mostly everything else," he continued. That is, except for sodium. Be sure to opt for a lower-sodium brand or, if you’re feeling fancy, make your own at home.