Should you eat before a run?

Fears of gastric distress and cramping means many don't fuel adequately enough before heading out on two feet. But what and when should we be eating before a run? Nutritionist Emily Kier explains…

Young girl eating a fruit salad after a workout . Fitness and healthy lifestyle concept.

Knowing what to eat and when before doing any exercise can send even the most experienced triathlete into a spin. But before going for a run, the nutrition guidelines really are quite simple… 


Is it safe to eat before a run?

Yes! In fact it should be encouraged, not only to fuel your run but also to help maintain a healthy hormone balance. If you are heading out first thing and you haven’t eaten since dinner the night before, it’s important that you have something before your run, even if it’s a small snack.

Fasted training can lead to a spike in cortisol, which, if frequent overtime, can lead to a negative impact on performance and health. Women should be aware these can include disruption or cessation of the menstrual cycle

What are the benefits of eating before a run?

By eating a meal or snack before a run you can improve your carbohydrate availability and prevent your body from tapping into its glycogen stores straight away.

Meaning you can run further and/or at a higher intensity and reduce recovery time, due to being less likely to completely deplete your body of carbohydrate. 

What foods are best eaten before a run?

Ideally, simple carbohydrates that are easy to digest; a banana, a handful of sweets, a slice of toast with jam, or a small bowl of cereal are all great options.

If you’re eating a meal aim for 2-3hrs before running, if it’s a snack then around an hour should be adequate. Every runner is different so you should do a little bit of trial and error and find what works for you.  

Are there any drawbacks to eating before a run?

With correct timing and fuel choice you’re only going to benefit from fuelling your run. If you eat the wrong food, too much food or don’t leave enough time for digestion you could end up with some gastric discomfort.

As mentioned, experiment with your fuel and timing to find what works and doesn’t work for you.  

Does what you eat depend on the length of the run?

Yes, for longer runs you might want to increase the portion size and the gap between eating and running. For your long runs, a meal or substantial snack with complex carbohydrates will provide a more stable and prolonged release of energy, reducing the risk of ‘hitting the wall’, AKA running out of carbohydrate.

You might also need to fuel during your run. For shorter or faster runs you want to consume quick release carbs closer to training – sweets, jells or fruit juice all work well.

Fuel your training and reap the benefits in your races!

Top image: Getty Images