21 Jun What Should I Eat or Drink Before and After I Run?
What you eat and drink before and after you run can not only affect your performance, but how you feel, work and think.
Preparation is important for all runners at any skill level. Fuelling your body properly will help you reach your peak physical performance and combat every runner’s enemy – fatigue!
Fatigue can be caused by a lot of things while running, we all have experienced it. But eating the wrong foods, having no food, or not being properly hydrated can all lead to cramping and your body shutting down faster.
Food is fuel!
One of the most common questions new runners have is what they should eat before and after they run. You’re not alone if you worry about eating something before you set out the door.
Many of us believe having no food before running is the best solution because we all know eating the wrong meal or snack will upset your stomach.
But in fact, food is the fuel our bodies need to maximise our results. If you properly plan or understand what food is right or wrong before you run, the nutrition benefits will boost your performance and enhance the recovery process.
Want advice from the experts?
Exercise Right have collaborated with Sports Dietitians Australia (SDA) to provide an in-depth and evidence based insight into proper nutrition knowledge for athletes.
SDA are Australia’s peak professional body for dietitians specialising in sports nutrition. Their members help active Australians maximise their exercise goals with credible nutrition.
We asked the team at SDA what a middle-distance runner (800m – 5000m) should eat while training, before running, and how to recover effectively.
Your choice of what to eat prior to running is important, since eating the wrong foods can lead you on a quest for an uncomfortable experience, or similarly not enough food may mean your tank runs out of fuel partway through your run.
Individual nutrition requirements will be determined by individualised training loads and goals, body composition goals, requirements for possible health concerns, adjustment for growth in younger athletes, and individual likes and dislikes.
Runners may have high energy requirements to maintain the training volume required, and as a result, need to ensure they eat sufficient food, and take advantage of opportunities to eat during periods of heavy training.
Carbohydrate intake should be matched to training load. This means during the high training periods, your training diet should be adapted to reflect the higher training load and need for high quality training. Conversely, during the off-season or periods of lower training, carbohydrate may need to be reduced as fuel requirements are lower.
While carbohydrates are essential for fuelling our runs, the diet of a middle distance runner should also include moderate amounts of protein (e.g. fish, red meat, poultry, tofu); a variety of healthy fats (e.g. oily fish, olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds); as well as plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables for adequate supply of vitamins and minerals.
Eating a varied and balance diet will help ensure you have sufficient energy, optimal body functions, including a healthy immune system, and muscle repair and recovery.
What you consume before a race, no matter what time of day, should be similar to what you would usually eat before a similar training session. Familiar foods and adequate hydration are important to reduce the likelihood of gut upset.
It’s important to start competition well fuelled. Each athlete is different, but runners should aim to eat a larger, carbohydrate-rich pre-race meal around 3 to 4 hours before the start of the event. This meal should also contain moderate amounts of protein and fibre, and be low in fat for easy digestion. If you are someone that struggles with gut upset, reduce the amount of protein and fibre.
Food choices will depend on the timing of the first race. For some, the main pre-competition may be breakfast, while for other events it may be lunch or dinner. Suitable pre-race meals include:
- Wrap or sandwich with tuna and salad
- Toast with avocado and tomato
- Bircher muesli with berries
- Homemade pasta salad
- Pumpkin soup with a bread roll
- Chicken stir-fry with noodles
There is also the option to have a final ‘top up’ of fuel store 1-2 before the start. This is usually a lighter snack, but still rich in carbohydrates and relatively low in fat and fibre so it is easy to digest. Some suitable pre-race snack ideas include:
- Yoghurt with fruit salad
- Small fruit bun
- Peanut butter on rice cakes
- Toast with vegemite
A liquid source of carbohydrate such as a fruit smoothie or flavoured milk can be a good option as well.
Post-race race recovery:
A single middle-distance race is unlikely to exhaust fuel stores completely, however, that does not diminish the importance of adequate recovery. If you are competing in multiple events over a day or over several days, the importance of nailing your recovery is amplified. Recovery meals and snacks should contain a combination of carbohydrate (refuel), protein (for muscle repair), and plenty of fluids and electrolytes to replace sweat losses.
A recovery meal or snack should be consumed soon after the exercise period, especially if competing again shortly after. Some recovery food suggestions include:
- Chicken, avocado and salad sandwich
- Dairy-based fruit smoothie
- Yoghurt with fruit & nut trail mix
- Homemade beef burgers on a wholegrain bun
What to drink?
It’s important to be sufficiently hydrated prior to running, but a lot of runners overdo it. The best approach is to sip water gradually throughout the day prior and day of your race. How much water to drink varies on many things, but the best indication is the colour of your urine – always aim for a pale yellow from the night before.
If you struggle to eat too close to race time, a sports drinks can be a good source of fuel as they contain both carbohydrates and fluid to help hydrate and fuel your body at the same time.
Don’t forget about fluids (mainly water) after your race – the amount required is based on your estimated sweat losses.
More about Sports Dietitians Australia:
Sports Dietitians Australia empowers you to take performance to the next level!
For more sports nutrition information and resources head to www.sportsdietitians.com.au and subscribe to the SDA ReFuel digital magazine which is a free quarterly publication that showcases the role nutrition plays in exercise performance.
Want to take your training to the next level?
Want some additional help to improving your training and performance, your local accredited exercise professional can help.
They will be able to prescribe safe and effective exercises that are tailored to your specific needs. They will also help you to set realistic goals and stay motivated.
We have partnered with Nike Australia Pty Ltd for this article series.
The views expressed in this article, unless otherwise cited, are exclusively those of the author, Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA). ESSA is a professional organisation committed to establishing, promoting and defending the career paths of tertiary trained exercise and sports science practitioners.
Nike had no role in the collection, analysis, or interpretation of data or research or the writing of this article.