How Pre-Run Meals Can Make Or Break Your Workout

Photographed By Caroline Tompkins.
While many runners daydream about what they're going to devour post-workout, the food that you put into your body before a run, jog, or race is worth thinking about, too. The right fuel gives you energy that allows you to push through that dreaded "wall" that's common during a cardio workout, and ensures that your muscles can recover properly.
With running in particular, it's important to plan ahead in order to avoid eating foods that could trigger runner's trots, or running-induced diarrhoea. Foods that are high in fat can sit heavily in your stomach, "which makes running less fun," while fibrous foods may add an unplanned toilet stop on your run or race, says Tiffany Chag, MS, RD, CSCS, a performance coach and registered dietician at Hospital for Special Surgery. Whether you're trying to shave time off a 5K, or just running in the morning to help your anxiety, the last thing you want is an upset tummy.
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So, ahead, Chag shares some of her go-to pre-run meals, for any type of runner and goal. As you'll learn, bananas and carbs are often the way to go:

Before an easy run...

"Lower intensity runs will require less fuel as you won’t be using up what you consumed as fast," Chag explains. Aim for easily digestible carbs, for example, PB&J on whole wheat toast. In general, runs less than 60 minutes don’t require much, if any, added carbohydrates during the run, she says. And some people find that they can work out on an empty stomach, aka "fasted workouts," but it's totally a matter of preference.

Before a morning run...

On early mornings, when Chag heads out for a short run (30-60 minutes) before work, she prefers drinking a cup of coffee with milk, and a cup of water. That not only provides a caffeine boost, but also helps your bowels to get out the door before you do. But this might not be enough fuel for everyone: If you're feeling hungry, have half a banana, she says. "Once I get home, I have a real meal, which is often two eggs with veggies, and a slice of toast with peanut butter," she adds.

Before a longer weekend run...

If you're running for longer than 90 minutes, then you'll need extra fuel, Chag explains. On the weekend, when you don't have to rush out the door, have a carbohydrate-rich meal an hour or two before, so you have time to digest, she suggests. For example, oatmeal and a banana or pancakes and nut butter, would be plenty.

Before a race...

Pre-race jitters might make you apprehensive to eat, but depending on the length of the event, you might need a little something in your stomach at the starting line — and while you're on the course — Chag says. Running races that last two to three hours (like a half marathon) might require up to 60 grams of carbs per hour, she explains. Anything more than three hours would need even more, about 90 grams per hour. "These numbers depend on a lot of factors, so pay attention to how your body feels as you go," she says. "If you’re running out of steam you likely need a bit more." And, as the saying goes, don't try anything new on race day.
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