When you’re training and racing, it’s not always obvious what you should eat (and when you should eat it). You have to find a balance between proper fuel and the dreaded mid-run bathroom break or stomach cramp. Always make sure you aren’t running on a completely empty stomach, and always make sure you hydrate well with 6-8oz of water before you run. Beyond that, what to eat and when depends on the time of day, intensity, your metabolism and your overall goals.
Don’t go to bed hungry or you’ll wake up already in a depleted state. Eat a banana while you’re changing and stretching—they’re 90% simple carbs and less fibrous than other fruits. A piece of toast with nut butter spread will also give you a good balance of carbs and healthy fats. If you need caffeine, stick with a shot of espresso or even caffeine chewables. Save your true morning coffee for when you’re back at home or settled at work.
If you have a few hours between waking up and starting your run, go for a more filling breakfast like oatmeal with nut butter and fruit, two pieces of toast with avocado or nut butter, or fruit with nut butter. (If you have a nut allergy, try pumpkin seed or sunflower seed butter instead.)
If you’re running in the afternoon or evening, eat as you usually would for breakfast and lunch. Time a later meal or snack for two hours before you run. Again, a mix of healthy fats and carbs is ideal—think trail mix, energy bar or simple sandwich.
Most races occur in the morning, so you can follow your morning fuel plan—but give yourself some extra time, as nerves and travel might impact your digestion. Include additional fats and calories for extra energy. Bring a snack like a bagel or bag or cereal to the starting area if you want a little extra. Don’t overeat before the race to try to stay full for longer—carry gels or easy-to-eat snacks with you on the course. Practice this before race day!
When you finish a morning run, make sure to rehydrate with water or electrolytes, and then aim to get in about 25g of protein from either a protein shake, smoothie, eggs, or meat. This is also a good time to include vegetables and dairy, since you’ll typically want to avoid those before running because of their gastrointestinal effects.
As you develop a routine, take notes on what you eat to find out what works best for you. Certain foods might make you feel like a rockstar, while others might weigh you down. Keep track and find your favorites!