What To Eat Before A Run

by Taren Gesell

Blog ▸ What To Eat Before A Run

Proper pre-run nutrition is crucial for runners at all levels, whether you’re a beginner runner training for your first 5K or you’re an advanced runner doing your 10th marathon. Workouts will prepare you for a race, but if you want to make those running workouts much more effective, you need to know what to eat before a run.

Proper nutrition will enhance the effectiveness of every run you do by making sure you’ve got the fuel you need. 

We’ve worked with exercise physiologists who believe the right nutrition can produce the same training effectiveness with half the training hours. By incorporating the right foods into your diet, you will improve your performance and save time.

The right pre-run meals will make sure you nail your interval paces during fast runs, build as much endurance as possible during long runs, and hit your weight loss or weight management goals. 

In this blog post, we’ll explore what you should eat in the 12 hours before running workouts and races to make sure you put up the kind of performance you’re proud of.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • What foods to eat before running
  • What to eat before a race
  • What to eat the night before a running race
  • What to eat before running in the morning
  • How much to eat before running
  • Should you run fasted before breakfast
  • What if your stomach hurts after eating when running
  • What to eat to lose weight when running
  • When you should eat before a run
  • What foods should you avoid before a run
  • Sample meals and snacks

Carbs vs. Protein vs. Fat for Runners

Before we dive into pre-run nutrition, it’s crucial to understand the differences between the three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat.

  • Carbohydrates: a quick source of energy that increases muscle glycogen and blood glucose levels, allowing you to perform fast efforts and adapt to the training effects of fast efforts more easily. However, it’s important to note that when carbohydrates cause an increase in blood glucose levels, insulin is released, which can inhibit fat burning. (Carb examples: bread, cereal, pasta, starchy foods like potatoes, rice, and sugar)
  • Protein: plays a crucial role in rebuilding and repairing muscles from the stress of workouts. Protein is not a great energy source because it takes a long time to digest and doesn’t increase blood glucose or muscle glycogen much. Protein can be beneficial for feeling full before a run and keeping blood glucose low, allowing for higher fat burning. (Protein examples: meat, fish, poultry, eggs)
  • Fat: a dense source of energy, offering 9 calories per gram (compared to 4 calories per gram for carbohydrates and protein). Fat is critical for cellular function, absorbing nutrients, and a great source of long-lasting energy in the form of stored fat. However, they are not a great source of quick energy because they keep blood glucose levels low and allow the body to burn fat during exercise more easily. (Fat examples: olive oil and other oils, butter, avocado, nuts and nut butters)

Understanding these macronutrients and how they affect our bodies is essential for making informed decisions about what to eat before a run. By considering the macronutrient profile of the food we eat, we can ensure that what we eat helps achieve the desired effect of our different workouts.

What to Eat Before a Run

Different types of runs have different physiological effects, requiring different fuel types. It’s important to understand what to eat before different interval runs, tempo runs, races, long runs, or general fitness-building runs.

The outline below will introduce the concept of nutrition periodization. Just like we don’t perform the same workouts every time we train, we also shouldn’t eat the same thing every time we train. Instead, we should eat to support the unique needs of our training on any given day, always making sure you have the right fuel and enough fuel.

What to Eat Before Runs: Interval Runs, Tempo Runs, and Races

It’s well understood that carbohydrates improve exercise performance. A recent systematic review found that 82% of the included studies found carbohydrates to benefit an athlete’s performance. 

Before intense running efforts, it’s important to have a lot of muscle glycogen and higher blood glucose so you have the easiest and quickest access to energy possible. This will ensure you can hit your peak efforts relatively easily. 

To top up your muscle glycogen, eat 20-40 grams of carbohydrates prior to intense running efforts. Some sample meals could include:

  • a bowl of oatmeal with protein powder
  • toast or a bagel with nut-based butter
  • fruit with nut butters
  • yogurt with fruit
What to eat before a run. Athlete waiting to start a running race.

What to Eat Before Runs: Long Runs and General Fitness Runs

The purpose of lower-intensity runs is very different from faster runs. The desired outcome is to build aerobic efficiency, metabolic health, and endurance. To accomplish this, it’s best to run at a low Zone 1 or 2 intensity where fat burning is maximized, and to keep blood sugar levels low so we can burn fat as fuel. 

In fact, being able to burn fat as fuel has been identified as being just as important as VO2 Max for long endurance race performance. 

Before long runs and general fitness-building runs, you should eat meals based on fats or protein, with perhaps only a small amount of low glycemic index carbohydrates to ensure blood glucose levels are low and fat burning is high. 

Some sample meals could include:

  • a salad with grilled chicken and avocado
  • a hard-boiled egg with berries on the side
  • a handful of almonds with cheese on the side
  • a protein bar

By following these guidelines, you’ll make sure the desired effect from your workouts is maximized. Remember that every person is different, and you should experiment with different foods and timing to find what works best for your body.

What to eat before a run. Athlete running on a street doing a training run.

When to Eat Before a Run

What you eat the night before and in the hours leading up to a training run or race can have a big impact on your performance, progress, and recovery. Timing your meals properly is important to get the best out of your body.

What to Eat The Night Before a Training Run or Running Race

  • Training Runs: you don’t have to worry too much about what you eat the night before a training session
  • Races: Don’t gorge yourself on pasta. Just eat a meal that’s 20-40% larger than your normal dinner, focusing on low fiber carbohydrates to make sure your muscle glycogen levels are topped up. Example foods can be found later in this blog post. 
What to eat before a run.  Do not eat large quantities of fettuccine alfredo.
Carb-loading on fettuccine alfredo like Michael Scott did before the Scranton Fun Run is not advised.

What to Eat 3-4 Hours Before a Training Run or Race

  • Training Runs: you don’t have to be particular about what you eat in the three or four hours before the run. 
  • Races: get up early and have your main pre-race breakfast three to four hours before the start of the race. This will give your body another top-up of muscle glycogen while making sure the meal has cleared your stomach before the start of the race. (And yes, if you have a race at 8 am, that means waking up at 4 am to eat your small meal, then going back to bed if possible.) This should be a small carb-based meal like cereal, toast, a bagel, oats, or rice. Example meals are found later in this blog post.

What to Eat 20-30 Minutes Before Running

We absolutely do not recommend running on an empty stomach or running fasted; it’s important to have at least a small pre-run snack to give your body the energy it needs. Target 20-40 grams of total food prior to runs, which should equal a small meal of 80-360 calories, depending on how big a snack you can tolerate and whether you’re consuming carbs, protein, or fat. 

  • Fast runs in training: have 20-40 grams of carbohydrates from real food prior to the run. This can come from an energy bar, a piece of fruit, or any small meal you like to get your blood glucose nice and high, to fuel your hard workout.
  • Low intensity runs in training: have 20-40 grams of proteins and/or fats from real foods like protein bars, eggs, cheeses, meats, or nut butters to settle your stomach. This will ensure you’re not in an energy deficit while still keeping your blood glucose levels low so you can burn fat during the run.
  • Races: take a serving of the sports nutrition you’ve trained with. For running races, this should be in a liquid form, so gels, flat sodas with sugar, or liquid sports nutrition or sports drinks work best.

This may seem like a lot to remember, and it is.

This is why we have pre-workout meal recommendations inserted into every single workout in our app to make sure our athletes get the most out of their training.

Screenshot of a workout from the MOTTIV training app, with a hilight on nutrition recommendations for what to eat on a run, and before the run.
This is a sample workout from a marathon training plan in our app.
For this intense run, the athlete is given nutrition recommendations for before and during the session.
All recommendations are personalized to each athlete in our app.

Should You Run in a Fasted State?

Many people choose to run in a fasted state because they are trying to lose weight or because they don’t like how food feels in their stomach when running. While there may be a few minor benefits to running fasted, like being able to burn fat as fuel, there are also a huge number of studies showing the negative effects of exercising in a fasted state. Here are a few negatives of running fasted:

  • Increased appetite: appetite tends to be higher later in the day after exercising on an empty stomach, nullifying a lot of the weight loss effects. 
  • Poor bone health: bone health tends to be worse for people who exercise a lot in a fasted state, and immune function is also worse for people who run before breakfast.
  • Chronic stress: fasted running can also lead to chronically high cortisol and stress levels. 
  • Lowered immune function: exercising in an energy deficit has been linked to poor immune function
  • Untrained stomach: your stomach will remain untrained, leading to poor race performance. You need to train your stomach to run with food because you have to take in fuel during your race. If you don’t eat before your training runs, your stomach won’t be used to running with food in it, and you’ll end up very uncomfortable.

If you currently don’t like eating before running because you feel like food sits in your stomach or because you don’t tolerate food first thing in the morning, start with the smallest amount of food you can tolerate. Gradually eat a little bit more every week before your morning run (or any workout). Your digestion and stomach will adapt to running with food in it, just like your muscles had to adapt when you first started running.

Also, experiment with different foods to see what your personal best foods are. Something as simple as a small banana or a big spoonful of peanut butter can be a great way to make sure you eat something before you plan to run. It doesn’t have to be a full meal. A light snack that’s easily digestible totally qualifies.

Teaching your body to accept food before a run will help you avoid the negative effects of fasted running and enable you to perform better and be healthier. And if you follow the guidelines we provide on how to periodize your nutrition, you’ll still be able to train your body to burn fat as fuel. You’ll get the benefits of fasted running without the risks.

What to eat before a run: athlete holding hydration bottle during a running race.

Pre-Run Hydration

Hydration before you head out to train is an important aspect of preparing for a successful run or workout. According to generally accepted guidelines, athletes should aim to consume around 500ml of fluids in the 60 minutes to 90 minutes before exercise. This ensures that your body isn’t dehydrated and can perform at its best during your workout.

One of the best ways to make sure you’ve had proper hydration is to drink a large glass of water or a light electrolyte drink with less than 20 grams of sugar. Consuming a drink with more sugar than this can lead to a blood sugar spike, followed by a crash which can make for a very unenjoyable run. 

If you’re running in particularly hot weather or performing a big race, and you’re a very salty sweater, you can consume a pre-load hyper-hydrator with drink mixes that feature as much as 1000mg of sodium to make sure your electrolyte levels are topped up. You’ll know you’re a salty sweater if your skin feels gritty or dark clothes have white stains after a run.

Hyper-hydrators can help prevent cramping, fatigue, and other issues arising from an electrolyte imbalance. We’ve found this can be especially helpful for athletes who are very salty sweaters, as it helps to keep their electrolyte levels in balance.

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What to eat before a run: vegetables, fruit, and healthy fats.

The Worst Pre-Run Foods

Many runners have sensitive stomachs that can cause gastrointestinal distress during runs, even after training their stomachs to run with food in them. This can be a frustrating and embarrassing issue, but it’s important to understand that it’s often a result of eating foods you may be sensitive to.

To give yourself the best chance of avoiding this problem during a run, it’s important to avoid certain foods in the 12 hours prior to your run. These include:

  • High-fiber foods: high fiber foods can cause gas and make you feel bloated, so it’s difficult to run comfortably. Examples include beans, lentils, broccoli, and whole grains.
  • Dairy: Some people are sensitive to lactose, the sugar found in milk and other dairy products. Consuming dairy products can cause bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
  • FODMAPS: FODMAPS are a type of carb found in certain fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy products. They can cause problems for people with sensitive stomachs, including gas, bloating, and diarrhea. 
  • Spicy foods: Spicy foods can cause stomach pain and increase the risk of diarrhea.
  • Caffeine: Caffeine is a stimulant that can cause stomach discomfort and increase the risk of diarrhea.

Some people can tolerate the above foods just fine, but every runner is different. If you’re sensitive to any of these foods, it’s best to avoid them in the 12 hours before you start running to give yourself the best chance of avoiding gastrointestinal distress. Instead, focus on eating simple, easy to digest foods such as rice, potatoes, white bread, and cooked vegetables.

What to eat before a run: three plates with healthy meal options displayed.

Best Foods to Eat Before Running

Example Carb Load Pre-Race Dinners

  • pasta
  • pizza
  • potato/sweet potato
  • rice
  • quinoa

Example Race Day Breakfasts

  • cereal
  • toast
  • bagels
  • pancakes
  • muffins
  • oatmeal

Example Pre-Race Snacks

  • flat soda
  • gels
  • concentrated liquid drinks

Example Pre Fast Training Run Snacks

  • energy bars
  • fruits
  • toast
  • small muffins
  • a small amount of toast
  • a small bowl of cereal or oatmeal

Example Pre Low Intensity Training Run Snacks

  • omelets
  • meats
  • protein bars
  • nut butters
  • protein powder


These guidelines of what to eat to fuel your runs will ensure you can execute your workouts to the best of your ability while also maximizing the training effect from each workout. Using these principles, you’ll perform better in your races and be healthier.

Of course, periodized pre-run nutrition can be complicated and tough to remember. That’s why we’ve included recommended pre, during, and post workout nutrition for every single workout in our training plans to make sure our athletes get the most out of the hours they put in.

If you’re looking for a training plan for any running race from 5k, 10k, half-marathons, marathons, and ultramarathons, or any triathlon distance, check out our training app.

About The Author

Photo of Taren Gesell

Taren Gesell is the world’s leading authority on helping adults take up endurance sports successfully. Taren is an accomplished age group athlete and a respected amateur triathlon and running coach. Taren wants to help you become the best version of yourself.