What to eat before a run: best food to eat the morning and night before running - and when you should eat

Getting the right nutrition can help make your exercise a more enjoyable experience - whether you are training for Parkrun or the London Marathon

Knowing what to eat before a run is vital.

Whether you’re training for your local Parkrun or the London Marathon, getting your nutrition right can greatly improve how well you exercise, and how good you feel while doing it.

So what should you eat before a run - and how long before your jog should you do it?

Here’s everything you need to know.

Running requires energy, which means you need to consume enough carbohydrate (image: Adobe)

What should you eat before a run?

There is a whole, possibly overwhelming, world of information out there about what you should eat before a run.

Familiar terms like ‘protein’ and ‘carbohydrate’ get bandied around with less familiar ones, such as ‘isotonic’ and ‘electrolytes’.

According to high performance coach and author Alex Pedley, it’s worth sticking to the basics when considering what to eat before a run.

“What you eat leading up to exercise can impact your performance during it,” he told NationalWorld.

“Consuming a balance of protein, carbohydrates and fat will help fuel your muscles and aid recovery.”

Alex Pedley suggests meals, like eggs with wholegrain toast or chicken with brown rice and vegetables, as being ideal pre-run fuel.

Fueling your running does not necessarily mean you need to massively increase your carbohydrate intake (image: Adobe)

The British Dietetic Association (BDA) - an organisation representing UK dieticians - says the quantities you will need to eat, particularly when it comes to carbohydrates, will depend on the length or intensity of your running.

So, if you’re going out to run a half marathon or do 45-minutes of sprint work, you will need to up your carbohydrate intake.

If your run is going to be over a shorter distance and less intense, you will not need to consume much more than you usually would.

Not eating enough carbs could mean you lack energy, tire quickly, struggle to concentrate and recover slowly, the BDA says.

It recommends consuming 3g to 5g per kilogram of body weight per day if you’re someone who keeps active three to five times a week.

If you’re doing intense activity for up to three hours a day between five and six times per week, it suggests getting 5g to 8g per kg of body weight per day.

And if your exercise levels consist of three to six hours of intense running per day for five to six days per week, you would need to be getting 8g to 10g per kg per day.

The BDA says most people need not worry about consuming lots of extra protein, as a healthy diet should provide plenty of it.

But if you consider yourself to be an endurance athlete, you should aim to get 1.2g to 1.8g of protein per kg of body weight per day.

When should you eat before a run?

While knowing what to eat before your run could help you with your performance, knowing when to eat it can also have a massive impact.

Eat too early and you risk running out of energy, eat too close to your exercise time and you could find yourself feeling or - worse still - being sick.

“Aim to consume your meal anywhere from one to three hours before you run,” suggests Alex Pedley.

“Everyone will digest food differently, so it is worth experimenting to see what time frame works best for you.

“If you eat closer to exercising, choose foods that are easier to digest and contain mainly protein and carbohydrates.”

While eating is crucial, drinking enough fluid is also key (image: Adobe)

For example, Alex Pedley suggests eating a piece of fruit, like an apple or a banana, if you’re under an hour away from your run but think you need a little extra sustenance.

“But avoid eating anything substantial just before running,” he warns, “as this can cause gastrointestinal discomfort.”

If you prefer to run in the morning, knowing how to fit food in is more of a challenge given you are unlikely to have enough time to digest properly before pounding the pavements.

Some fitness experts, like Joe Wicks, suggest not eating anything before a workout and relying instead on the energy you consumed the previous evening.

However, they also say that it is down to personal preference.

If you don’t know whether or not this method is for you, it’s worth starting out small and gradually building your running up to see if fasting works for you.

How much should you drink before a run?

While eating is very important for running, drinking is also vital.

“Staying hydrated before and during your run is crucial as just 2% dehydration can affect exercise performance,” says Alex Pedley.

“Drinking between 4 to 6 ounces (118ml to 177ml) of fluid every 20 minutes is a good amount to aim for.”

He also recommends drinking a sports drink for runs of 60 minutes or more so that you can “replace lost glycogen [how muscles store carbohydrates] stores”.