Think of your body like a car: You must put fuel in the tank to perform. Without enough fuel, you won’t make it very far. Without quality fuel, you won’t perform at your best.
For an active runner, the body needs to fuel with quality carbohydrates for energy, lean protein sources to balance blood sugar and provide nutrients to the muscle, and healthy fats to help moderate inflammation.
Before a run, focus on giving the body energy by topping off the “tank” one to four hours before with quality carbohydrates and refill fluid levels to prevent dehydration and avoid any gastrointestinal (GI) issues.
Quality carbohydrates include complex sources such as whole-grain bread, brown rice or oatmeal containing B vitamins, fiber and whole grains; or simple sources such as fruit, containing antioxidants, vitamins and water.
The recipe for a great pre-run meal: High carbohydrate plus moderate protein and low amounts of fat and/or fiber. For women training in the early morning or if you have less than 60 minutes before the run, try a liquid meal or snack for quick digestion.
Foods to avoid eating before a run
Avoid eating high-protein or high-fat food shortly before exercise, since these foods take longer to digest. High-fiber foods, higher-than-usual caffeine consumption or highly concentrated sugar (mixing sports drink powder in too little liquid) and/or dehydration can all cause GI issues.
Pre-run meal ideas
- Smoothie: 1 banana, 3/4 cup berries, 1/2 cup Greek yogurt, 5 to 8 ounces 100 percent juice (can dilute with water)
- Breakfast sandwich: 1 whole-grain English muffin topped with 1 egg, 1 slice 2 percent cheese, 2 tablespoon avocado, with fruit on the side
- Simple combination of sliced fruit with 2 boiled eggs
What to eat after a training run
After the run, focus on recovery by eating quality protein and carbohydrates. Make it a goal to consume 10 to 20 grams of protein with 20 to 60 grams of carbohydrate to start the recovery process and heal torn muscles.
Post-run meal ideas
- 12 to 16 ounces of 1 percent chocolate milk
- Yogurt parfait including 6 ounces Greek yogurt, 1 cup berries and a drizzle of honey
- Turkey sandwich on whole-grain bread, with large apple
- Drink 16 to 24 ounces water for every pound of body weight lost during the run.
Leucine, one of the most important amino acids, is crucial to muscle recovery. This amino acid is considered essential, meaning the body cannot produce it so we must consume it through food. Protein sources including meat and dairy provide sufficient amounts of leucine, making them a smart choice in the recovery meal or snack.
Bonus diet tips for runners
Include high fiber and healthy fats in the meals or snacks that are not directly before or after the run. Most high-fiber foods are also high in antioxidants, helping the body recover from stress and free radicals. Healthy fats provide omega-3s which help the body fight inflammation and improve brain health.
Foods high in fiber include: Fruits and vegetables with skin on, beans and bran (cereal). Many whole grains are also high in fiber, so be careful with portions in a pre-run meal.
Foods high in healthy fat or omega-3s include: fatty fish (salmon), nuts (almonds, walnuts) or nut butter (peanut butter), olive oil, avocado and chia seeds. While these should not be included in large portions directly around a workout, they are important to include throughout the day in other meals and snacks.
Balanced meal and snack ideas include:
- 2 percent string cheese with fruit
- Trail mix or nuts with beef jerky
- Greek yogurt with nuts or chia seeds
- Fruit with peanut or almond butter
- 4 ounces grilled/baked meat; 1 cup veggies; 1 cup fruit; 1 cup starchy veggies or whole grain
- Tacos: corn or whole-grain tortilla, 93/7 ground beef, 1/2 to 1 cup rice, 1/4 avocado, salsa, side of broccoli and fresh fruit
- Salad: Spinach, 1 boiled egg and 2 ounces grilled/baked chicken, 1/4 cup feta, 1/2 cup corn, 1/2 cup black beans, 1/4 avocado with 1 cup mixed fruit; dressing on the side
As always, listen to your body. Every runner will react differently to certain foods. Find what works for you, make a plan and fuel your run!