What to Eat Before Running

An expert coach breaks down a runner's nutritional needs in simple terms

What should I eat before running?

From novice-level newbies to experienced pavement-pounders, this is one of the most commonly asked questions among runners.

And for good reason, you want to do everything you can to make sure that you’ll have a productive and enjoyable workout.

Fueling your body with the right foods is certainly a good place to start.

Of course, nutrition, both in general and in terms as fuel for exercise, can seem complicated and confusing when you start reading about the latest fad diets and “super-powered” supplements.

In reality, though, it’s not as convoluted and complex as you probably think. Yes, your fuel might differ based on a few different factors, but at the end of the day, all you really need is to follow a few simple rules.

Below, Jason Fitzgerald, a 2:39 marathoner and the founder of Strength Running, explains what to eat before running in plain and simple terms.

What types of foods should you eat before running?
Before a run, Fitzgerald suggests fueling with foods with simple carbohydrates, like oatmeal, toast, bananas, or even energy gels or bars. These are easily digestible and provide “quick carbohydrates.” “All provide the fuel you need to run well,” he said.

What about before a long-distance run?
“The same advice [as above] applies, except you may want to eat a little more but give yourself at least two hours to digest.”

What if your workout will be shorter and faster-paced?
Fitzgerald says just like with a long run, allow for more time to digest before a speed workout, at least two hours.” Of course, we're all unique so that means you may need slightly less or more time to digest,” he added. Experiment to find out what works best for you and your body.

What foods should you avoid?
“It's best to avoid foods high in fat, fiber, and protein before a run,” says Fitzgerald. “It takes longer to digest these foods so you may experience GI problems as your body is still digesting them.”

He continues, “It seems fashionable these days for some runners to eat low-carb or Paleo, but that's a big diet mistake for endurance athletes. Most foods in these diets are higher in fat, fiber, and protein so they'll cause more digestive problems and won't give you the carbohydrate necessary to run at your best and feel energized.”

Jason Fitzgerald is a 2:39 marathoner, USA Track & Field certified coach, and his company Strength Running is one of the largest online coaching sites for runners. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Competitor Magazine, Health, Outside, and many more.