As a runner, I know that food is fuel – and the better the fuel I put into my body, the better the performance my body gives me. What you eat 30 to 60 minutes before a run can dictate your performance; thus, it's important to make wise, healthy pre-run food choices. When training for a race, it's important to eat before your long runs (those that last more than an hour) and any key workout, such as hill repeats, a tempo run or a track workout. If you're running easy or on a recovery day, you should still have something to eat before you head out.
Generally, runners want to base their daily carbohydrate intake on their training intensity and weight. The longer and more intensely you train, the more fuel, such as carbohydrates, you'll need. An ideal pre-marathon meal consists of 50 to 75 grams of carbohydrates (depending on the distance and your weight). When training, an ideal pre-run snack or meal consists of 15-30 grams of carbs, is low in fat, low in fiber and works for you. When running easy and for less than an hour, aim for about 15 grams of carbohydrates in your pre-run snack. When running for an hour or longer or doing an intense workout, aim for 30 grams of carbohydrates. Remember, everyone is different and what works for your running buddy or even coach might not work for you. Experiment and figure out which type of food works best for you and fuels your runs.
Best pre-run foods, if you're running for under an hour and at an easy effort level: (Grams are carbohydrates.)
• Banana: 27 grams (high in carbs, but a great snack anytime)
• Half a Clif bar: 20 grams
• Peach: 14 grams
• English muffin with jelly:13 grams
[Read: A Beginners' Guide to Running.]
Best pre-run foods, if you're running for more than an hour or doing an intense workout:
• 8 ounces Greek yogurt: 30 grams (add in 1/2 cup of berries for an extra 10 to 12 grams of carbs)
• Banana with 1 to 2 tablespoons of nut butter: 33 grams (nut butter, either peanut or almond, is 4 grams per tablespoon)
• 1 cup cooked oatmeal (1/2 cup dried): 30 grams (add maple syrup or brown sugar for flavor)
• 1 medium cooked sweet potato (about 1 cup cubed): 27 grams
• 2 slices whole wheat bread with 2 tbsp. nut butter: 36 grams
• 1 cup whole wheat pasta: 30 grams
• 1/2 cup cooked quinoa: 20 grams
General tips for optimal pre-run nutrition and hydration:
1. Always, always, always hydrate. Drink 12 to 16 ounces about 60 minutes before your workout, or bring water with you if you're running early in the morning.
2. Always include some carbohydrates in your pre-run snack. It will help fuel your workout, helps the body burn fat and spares muscle protein.
3. Eat foods that are easily digested –those that are low in fat and fiber.
4. Wait 30 minutes after eating before you run. This gives the body enough time to get the digestive process started and give you enough fuel to get moving. It will also prevent you from getting a cramp or feeling too weighed down.
5. Eat until you are two-thirds full. It's an odd fraction, but you don't want to completely fill up and risk a food coma. Eat until you are satisfied, not full.
6. Foods to avoid pre-run: high-fiber foods such as broccoli, pears, apples and beans; large servings of carbs; and high-fat foods, such as cream-based soups, fries and burgers.
Remember, a cup of coffee and an energy shot is not fuel for your run. Eat well and you will run strong.
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Meghan Reynolds, a USATF Certified Running Coach, NASM Certified Personal Trainer and Yoga Instructor, is a runner, yogi and fitness enthusiast. She has run 11 marathons, numerous half marathons and sprint triathlons. In addition to coaching runners, Meghan is a yoga instructor. She received her 200-hour level certification in 2004. Her yoga teachings focus on alignment and creating space in the body, which she finds vital for runners and athletes whose repetitive motions create blocks and stress in the body. Meghan credits her running accomplishments over the last 6 years to her dedication to cross-training, yoga and allowing herself and her body to recover properly after her rigorous running schedules. Find her on Twitter and Google+.