What to Eat Before and After Running or Exercising

What you choose to eat and when you eat it can have a profound effect on how you feel, how you run and how quickly you recover.

The combination of sound nutrition, the amount you eat and hydration are very important to help you run at your best.

Pre-Run Food, Meal and Snack Guide

There are three key aspects to consider for this:

What foods and snacks to eat BEFORE a run
What foods and snacks to eat BEFORE a run. Source: Public Domain

You will need your own individual plan as every body is different and has different reactions to food. The plan you develop may need to change as you run longer or shorter distances at your preferred pace.

What and How Much to Eat

This will depend on several things:

Most runners consume easily digested carbohydrate snack before the start of the run. Eat a more hearty and substantial snack if you have not eaten for several few hours.

Keep to a light snack if your run is short run, you ate recently and just want a little extra fuel. Possible indigestion and how your stomach feels is also important.

Over eating can slow you down and make you feel nauseous. On the other hand, many people have trouble running with an empty stomach.

Pre-Run Snack Fuel Ideas and Options

When to Eat Before Starting Your Run

Eat well before you start (30-45 minutes) so your stomach settles before you run. This varies considerably depending on the sensitivity of your stomach and what you are intending to eat. Allow more time if you are inexperienced or if you have a sensitive stomach. To calm you stomach if you are nervous just before the start you can eat a half or a whole banana. After a while, you will discover what foods help you run at your absolute best and the ideal time to eat them. Start with simple carbohydrate snacks like a banana an apple (other fruit), crackers, wholemeal toast or rice. Keep notes on what you drank or ate or drank before your run and when you consumed them. Note how you felt during the run and use this information to refine your plan.

What to Eat After a Run or Workout

The initial focus is to replenish your energy reserves, lost nutrients minerals and especially fluids, especially after a more strenuous workout or a longer run at pace. Start by considering what your body has lost during the bout of exercise:

What foods and snacks to eat AFTER a run
What foods and snacks to eat AFTER a run. Source: Public Domain

How Run Duration and Intensity Affects the Optimum Post-Run Food and Snack Choice

Your post-run nutrition and the amount you eat depends on the type, duration and workload of your run or workout. It also depends on your fitness level, weight and the weather conditions prevailing when you run. In hot weather the initial focus is on fluid retention. Care may be needs to avoid nausea and stomach upsets by drinking too much fluid too quickly and eating a large meal or snack of the wrong type.

After a short duration, low-intensity run or workout you can easily resume your regular healthy eating habits after re-hydrating and consuming fruits such as oranges, apples or mandarins for fluid and quick energy restoration.

After long or very intense runs or workouts, a staged approach is best. Initially focus on fluids such as water or a sports drink. Next you focus on carbohydrates to quickly replenish energy stores. Finally, the focus is on protein rich balanced meals such a power bowls to help with the repair and replenishment process.

What to Drink After a Run or Workout

Drinking fluids should be your immediate priority after a heavy run, especially if you were unable to drink fluids while running or working out. Plain water is just fine if you ran for less than 90 minutes. After a long or very strenuous run, a good quality sports drink can provide extra benefits by replenishing electrolytes sugars and glycogen. However, it is wise to avoid drinks with a high sugar load and those with high caffeine contents, as these could cause stomach upsets and 'high's. The best strategy is to drink before, during, and after exercising. Carry water on your short run or jog. For longer runs, plan a route with stops in parks with water fountains. However, do not overload with water. The best practice is to listen to your body and to drink when you need it.

When to Eat After a Run

Try to eat a snack or a meal about half an hour after completing your run. This is after your cool-down ends and you have re-hydrated properly. The idea is that eating sooner can reduce muscle soreness and the tiredness. Research studies suggest that your muscles are primed to replenishing their glycogen stores immediately after exercise, in a period up to two hours post-workout. You don't have to eat a big meal. Start with a snack containing high levels of carbohydrates and protein, but choose whole foods rather than energy bars and chocolate. Aim to have a small to medium size meal within an hour or two after your run, before resuming your normal meal pattern.

For short and less intense runs or workouts, quick re-fuelling, beyond a small snack such as a piece of fruit is not necessary. You will still need a healthy meal within 1-3 hours rather than right away. Some runners experience stomach upsets when they eat after a long run. The best way to overcome this is to start with a smoothie or cold, nonfat chocolate milk and to delay the consumption of solid foods.

Good Protein Sources for a Snack (21 g; 3/4 oz of protein)

Look for natural protein sources rather than protein powders or summplements

Good Carbohydrate Sources for a Snack

Look for nutrient-rich natural non-processed whole food sources of carbohydrates rather than artificial foods loaded with glucose or sucrose. Some examples are such as:

Common Mistakes to Avoid with Post-Run Food

Thirty Good Post-Run Food and Ingredient Choices