What to eat before running - Women's Running

What to eat before running

Author: Laura Hilton

Read Time:   |  February 28, 2022

Wondering what to eat before running? Our resident expert nutritionist shares her top tips for fuelling up...

Great as running is, it is so much more enjoyable if we feel invigorated after a run rather than completely drained. A good training schedule, adequate rest and recovery, keeping well hydrated and what you eat before running can all have a massive impact on this. So here we explain what to eat before running to ensure that you are well fuelled from start to finish.

Our bodies get energy from the food and drink we consume. That energy is used to fuel our biological processes and all of our movement including exercise. In addition to this we also lose energy by going to the loo, sweating and breathing out, because there are water molecules in our breath. This concept is known as energy balance. The more you move the more you need to consume to achieve energy balance.

There are ways to tell if you have good energy balance. One is by tapping into your hunger signals and other is by monitoring your body weight. If you’re you hungry a lot of the time or you know you are losing weight, it’s most likely that you are burning more than you’re consuming, which is called being in an energy deficit. If your meals and snacks leave you feeling satisfied or if you know your weight is staying the same, this means you are in energy balance. If you know that your weight is increasing then you know you are in energy surplus, which means that you are consuming more than you are burning.

If you have a good energy balance and you tend to run distances of less than 10k, then there will be little for you to gain from thinking too much about what you should eat before running. These are short enough distances that being strategic about what you eat would bring negligible benefits, although consuming low-fibre carbohydrates in the period leading up to your run may bring a small benefit. You can find examples of these kinds of foods below.

If, however, you suspect that you are in an energy deficit and/or you tend to regularly run distances of over 10k, then it is highly likely that being strategic about what you eat before running would be beneficial. It should be pointed out though that it’s not ideal to constantly be in an energy deficit when doing lots of long runs. This is not only because in this scenario running is more likely to leave you feeling depleted than invigorated, but also because it could lead to various health complications such as Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S). This condition can make your bones weaker, can leave you feeling low on energy, can affect your periods and even make it harder or impossible to conceive, so it’s important that it is avoided.

Nailed what to eat before a run? Here’s how to get post-run nutrition right.

So exactly what should you eat before running in order to ensure that you have enough energy to perform well and enjoy your runs? Ideally you would be best served to opt for foods that the body can quickly break down, extract and use the energy from. In order to achieve this it is best to consume carbohydrates that are low in fibre, because these foods quickly provide the body with glucose, which is the form of energy that the body can put to use fastest. The body extracts energy from all the food and drink we consume, but the process of doing so is slowed down in food and drink that contains fibre, fat and protein. This is not to say that fibre, fat and protein should be avoided, because they are vital elements of a healthy diet. It can pay to avoid them in the period before a run however.

Carbohydrates that are low in fibre:

  • Breakfast cereals such as Rice Krispies, Coco Pops or cornflakes. Most other cereals contain fibre, so check the label.
  • White pasta or rice – the brown varieties have a higher fibre content.
  • Jelly-based sweets such as Haribo, Wine Gums and Fruit Pastilles.
  • White bread.
  • Jam.
  • Fruit juice (without the bits).
  • Cheese biscuits such as cream crackers.

The other thing to be aware of is that not only do we deplete our energy stores during our runs, but also our levels of hydration. It it therefore important to ensure that we start a run adequately hydrated, especially in warm, humid weather in which we are likely to sweat more. The best way to keep an eye on our hydration levels is by keeping an eye on our wee. If it is clear and doesn’t have a strong smell we can be confident that we have a good level of hydration. If it is dark yellow in colour and has a strong smell, this is an indication that we are dehydrated and need to increase our fluid intake.

So by being mindful of our overall energy balance can help us to ensure that our bodies are well fuelled for running. Also, considering the distances that you tend to run can help to determine exactly how much being strategic about what you eat before running will make a difference to your running performance and enjoyment.

Written by

Laura Hilton

Laura Hilton

Nutritionist, personal trainer and mum of three Laura loves running in the countryside with her dog and has taken on numerous marathons

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