It is important to have a pre-run meal or snack to maintain energy sources and delay fatigue. This is especially true if you plan on going for a long run. The challenge is finding the right type of food that you can tolerate and won’t cause stomach discomfort while you run. Here are some tips for meal planning before a long run:
First, think about the timing of the meal. If you plan on a long run first thing in the morning, have a high-carbohydrate snack with a little protein 30-45 minutes before you run. A slice of bread or banana with a little bit of peanut or almond butter may work. If that is too much, consider a liquid-based meal, like a fruit smoothie made from milk (or milk substitute) and a banana. I also recommend having a snack with some carbohydrates and protein before you go to bed the night before. Try a yogurt parfait, cheese and crackers, or some fruit, nuts and milk. (This is in addition to a healthy dinner.) If you plan on doing an afternoon or midday long run, you don’t want to eat a large meal right before you run. Main meals or larger meals are ideally consumed 3-4 hours before a run to allow for digestion. These meals should be well balanced and contain adequate portions of carbohydrates, lean protein, and some healthy fats.
Stay away from foods that are too high in fat, such as fried foods or foods with rich sauces. Although a diet high in fiber is healthy, try not to overdo fiber in the pre-run meal, as this can contribute to stomach discomfort. Various types of cereals, breads, pasta, rice, and cooked vegetables can provide carbohydrates to fuel performance without overdoing fiber.
Remember to hydrate and drink plenty of fluids in the hours leading up to running. Drink water throughout the day to hydrate. Drinking all your fluids right before the run can also cause discomfort and bloating.
Sotiria Everett is a sports nutritionist for the Women's Sports Medicine Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. She is a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD), a Registered Dietitian (RD) and a Certified Dietitian-Nutritionist in New York State (CDN). At HSS, she provides sports nutrition counseling to active individuals and athletes of all ages. She enjoys running, spinning, and trying new outdoor sports.