Nutrition for Runners: What to Eat Before and After a Run

Nutrition for Runners: What to Eat Before and After a Run

Written By: Charmaine Jones, MS, RDN, LDN — Superfeet Wellness Panel Member. Charmaine Jones is founder and owner of Food Jonezi, a website and nutrition counseling service dedicated to ensuring all individuals have access to proper food and nutrition education to achieve optimal health.

It’s a common question among runners, athletes, people who exercise, coaches, trainers and student: What should I eat before and after I work out?

The short answer: eat meals or snacks rich in carbohydrates with adequate protein and healthy fats, and drink plenty of fluids to maximize your workout.

Size, content and time should be determinants for the meal before a workout.  Large meals should be consumed at least three to four hours before exercising. Small meals or snacks should be eaten about one to three hours before exercising.  

Nutrition recovery (aka post-workout food) is the most critical component of your overall fitness program — it’s what determines how fast your body recovers or heals after a workout.

Your nutrition recovery should start immediately with a carbohydrate-electrolyte sport drink or small snack (like orange slices with a handful of nuts or six ounces of plain yogurt topped with banana slices).  This will replenish the fluids lost from sweat and repair any muscles damaged during exercising.

Within 15-60 minutes of your workout, your nutrition recovery should continue with a nutritious meal that includes carbohydrates, proteins, healthy fats and good sources of micronutrients.  Failing to continue the recovery within that time may result in increased feelings of fatigue and decreased mental focus.

Here are some of my favorite ideas for pre and post workout snacks:

Pre-run snack options (to be eaten 30-60 minutes before exercise)

  • Small apple and a handful of nuts
  • 4 dates and 2 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 6 ounces plain yogurt
  • 8-ounce fruit smoothie made with low-fat milk or milk alternative (i.e. almond, cashew, or soy milk)
  • Whole grain crackers with low-fat cheese stick
  • Sports drink
  • Sports gel, sport beans or gummies, sports bar
  • Piece of fruit (for quick energy boost)

Nutrition for Runners: What To Eat Before and After a Run

Pre-run large meal options (to be eaten 3-4 hours before exercise)

  • Peanut butter and honey on toast plus low-fat regular or chocolate milk
  • Whole grain toast with sliced avocado and boiled egg
  • 2 small boiled eggs plus whole grain toast with sugar-free jam or 1 cup berries
  • Fruit and yogurt smoothie plus low-fat granola
  • Oatmeal with brown sugar and almonds with skim milk and banana
  • Low-fat cottage cheese and apple butter with crackers plus fresh grapes
  • Lean hamburger on bun with lettuce & tomato plus side salad plus yogurt-fruit parfait
  • Turkey and swiss sandwich plus fruit and sports drink
  • Low-fat tuna melt sandwich plus fruit cup plus fat-free yogurt

Nutrition for Runners: What to Eat Before and After a Run

Post-run snack options:

  • Smoothies with low fat yogurt plus 1 cup frozen berries
  • Sports drink plus peanut butter crackers
  • Graham crackers with peanut butter + banana slices + low-fat chocolate milk
  • Low-fat chocolate milk and pretzels or animal crackers
  • Low-fat chocolate milk and banana or 1 cup strawberries
  • Sliced apples and 2 tablespoons peanut butter
  • Low-fat cheese stick, graham crackers and low-fat milk
  • Unsweetened apple sauce, topped with cinnamon and walnuts and half a banana
  • String cheese and whole grain crackers plus a small banana
  • 1 cup tart cherry juice plus peanut butter crackers

Nutrition for Runners: What To Eat Before and After A Run

Post-run meal options:

  • Turkey sandwich, topped with vegetables plus pretzels and low-fat milk
  • Stir fry with chicken or turkey and broccoli, bell peppers, carrots and brown rice
  • Baked salmon and 2 cups sautéed green leafy vegetables and brown pasta
  • Rice bowl with beans, brown rice, chopped broccoli and bell peppers , whole grain tortilla chips plus fruit

What to Eat Before and After a Long Run

Always keep in mind that the intensity and duration of your activity determine how often and what you should eat and drink.  If you are uncertain, consult a registered dietitian for guidance.

Charmaine Jones bio

April 15, 2019