Choosing what to eat before (and after) a workout plagues nearly every runner—until you figure out what works best for you. And because people tolerate foods differently, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to prerun fueling. Some runners swear by eating nothing before short or easier runs, while others have to put something in their system. That said, there are some general guidelines to follow as you prepare a prerun snack or meal.
Should I Eat Before or After a Workout?
If the workout is moderate (it’s not an interval day) and under 60 minutes, you don’t necessarily need to eat; your body has enough stored glycogen to fuel that type of run. If you know your body needs fuel, though (i.e. you feel hungry before lacing up), the options below will ensure you get enough energy without an upset stomach. And, if the workout is longer, or more intense, you can and should eat something small.
After a workout, you should always eat something to replenish your stores and jumpstart recovery. It’s critical to refuel within 30 minutes to an hour of finishing a workout. Aim for a 3:1 carb-to-protein ratio. Try options such as a protein shake with fruit, a bagel with protein (such as an egg or peanut butter), or cereal and milk.
Whether you decide to eat before or after a workout, these fueling options will help energize you to run your best (and keep your stomach happy), no matter the distance.
What to Eat Before a Long Run
Long runs require more energy than shorter runs, which means your prerun snack or meal will be larger and take a little more time to digest. That’s why Kasparek recommends eating two to four hours before a long run (and eventually, your race).
“Whether you give yourself a few hours or just an hour to digest, focus on consuming mostly carbs,” she says. Your body’s What to Wear Tool—banana, oatmeal, white bagel, a honey packet—because it can be quickly turned into energy.
Yes, we know that may mean an early wake-up for morning runners, but you'll be grateful when you have the energy to push past the first hour. Plus, you can always wake up, eat a little something, and go back to sleep until run time.
Try: A small bowl of oatmeal topped with a few slices of banana
For sensitive stomachs: Half a white bagel with peanut butter or serving of white rice
What to Eat Before a Sprint/Interval Workout
Often, speedwork doesn’t last for more than 60 minutes, but the workout is much more intense than slower, longer miles. And because of this, your body needs prerun carbs, says Kasparek, who points out that some people also like a little bit of protein with this snack.
“You need to provide your body with quick carbs that give your body energy it can use right away,” she says.
Try: Plain greek yogurt with blueberries or banana with peanut butter or handful of dry cereal or Honey Stinger gel
For sensitive stomachs: Half a banana
What to Eat Before an Easy Run
Most easy runs don’t require a prerun snack—even those that are pushing 60 minutes, says Kasparek.
“If you’re going out for a quick 30- or 40-minute easy run, and you haven’t eaten in a couple of hours or it’s in the morning after an overnight fast, you’re probably not going to die if you don’t eat before that run,” she says.
The best thing to do is schedule those easy runs around your normal snacks and meals. For example, after a morning run, use your breakfast as your recovery meal, which should include carbs plus 15 to 25 grams of protein, says Kasparek.
If you’re running in the afternoon, instead of having your usual 3 p.m. snack and a 4 p.m. prerun snack, skip the prerun snack, or bump your 3 p.m. snack to an hour before your run. Then Kasparek suggests making your postrun meal your dinner.
That said, if you know that you can’t run well or safely without something in your system, have something small like half a banana or a tablespoon of peanut butter. And remember, easy means easy, Races & Places.
What to Eat Before a Race
If you’ve been training properly, you have practiced your prerace meal before your long runs, says coach and exercise physiologist Susan Paul. “Race morning is not the time to try anything new,” she says.
For shorter distances, like a 5K or 10K, your breakfast should be similar to what you’d eat before a track (interval) workout, because the intensity is higher, while the duration is shorter.
Heather is the former food and nutrition editor for Runners World and the author of half or full marathon, your breakfast—and the timing of when you have it—should be similar to what you practiced eating before your long runs during training.
As Paul and Kasparek point out, give yourself plenty of time to digest before you head to the start line. And because you might have hours between the time you have breakfast and toe the line, bring an extra snack, says Kasparek.
“You don’t want to be hungry on the start line,” she says.
Try: Bagel with peanut butter + gel or Clif bar 30 minutes prior to the start