Now that the weather should be starting to cool down and I’m guessing some of you are training for fall races, I wanted to re-share this post from a few years ago that provides tips and recipe ideas for what to eat before and after a run (long, or not).
If you find this post about pre- and post-running fuel useful and are running long this fall, you may also want to check out this post: how to fuel a long run during the run.
Getting energy in during a long run is important to make sure you can cover the distance successfully, but eating the right things before and after running are necessary as well for optimal performance and recovery.
Read on for nutrition Q & A and some of my best recipes for before and after a long run!
Do I Really Need to Eat Before a Long Run?
I often hear from AnneTheRD nutrition clients that they run on an empty stomach because they’re not hungry for a big meal first thing in the morning, or because eating breakfast upsets their stomach during a run.
Without any fuel before a run, though, you’re likely to bonk. Even for short runs, I’d still recommend having a little something – as simple as half a banana with a smear of nut butter – beforehand to help with energy levels and performance. It doesn’t have to be anything big!
Eating before a long run serves a couple purposes.
For one, it gives your body some blood sugar to work with as fuel. Think of it like filling up the gas tank in your car – you’re nearing empty after not eating overnight, and while you can make it for a little before you’re out of fuel, you’ll want to top it off so that you can go as far as possible without worry.
You don’t need to eat a ton before you head out for your long run, but providing your body with at least some amount of fuel is important.
This is where it’s necessary to listen to your body and test things out as you go through your longer training runs – some people do great eating a slice of toast with nut butter 5 minutes before heading out the door, while others need an hour to digest half a banana or else they’ll cramp up.
What Should I Eat Before a Long Run?
You’ll want to aim for a pre-run meal that is lower in fat, protein, and fiber (because they all slow digestion), and higher in simple carbs, which are digested quickly. I always joke that running fuel is the opposite of what I’d normally recommend – but eating a meal with lots of fiber, protein, and fat is likely to upset your stomach once you start moving.
I like eating a slice of toast with a thin layer of nut butter and a sliced banana before long runs. The carbs give me a boost of energy, and the fat and protein from the nut butter are enough to keep me satisfied without making my stomach hurt.
A few handfuls of low-fiber cereal or granola or a few nut butter stuffed salty dates would work well, too.
Do I Really Need to Eat After a Long Run?
Every time you exercise, your body breaks down muscle fibers and creates tiny tears in your muscles. Then, during recovery, your body repairs these tiny tears and actually strengthens your muscle fibers for the next time you exercise – that’s essentially how you get stronger as you keep exercising.
However, repairing and rebuilding your muscles requires adequate nutrition. If you restrict calories after a long run, your muscles won’t be adequately repaired and you risk weak bones and stress fractures!
After you exercise, you have about a 30-45 minute window before your body starts working to rebuild your muscles in recovery mode. That’s when you’ll want to replenish energy so that your body can recover effectively.
If you wait too long to eat or forgo post-run fuel, you’ll be forfeiting a lot of the muscle strengthening you could be getting out of your workouts.
What Should I Eat After a Long Run?
After a workout, it’s important to replenish carbs and protein in particular.
Your body uses up glucose and glycogen (the body’s storage form of carbohydrates) while you work out, so it’s important to replenish blood sugar. Your body uses protein to rebuild your muscles during recovery mode, so getting protein in during that 30-45 minute window is also necessary to make sure your recovery is effective.
Aim for roughly a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein for after a workout. Chocolate milk (which I’m pictured enjoying below after a fun Chapel Hill run way back in the day – I miss being able to run to a creamery!) has that perfect carb to protein ratio, or a smoothie with fruit and milk could work too!
If you feel queasy right after a long run, try liquid nutrition first (like a smoothie – check out this post for ideas: Mix + Match Healthy Smoothie Recipes), then aim for a full meal after you shower and clean up.
For the rest of the day, return to a normal balanced diet, keeping in mind that you’ll need more calories to replenish those lost during your long workout!
If you’d like more ideas, here are some recipes to try!
Favorite Pre-Run Recipes:
- Oatmeal Raisin Energy Bites
- Perfect Microwave Banana Oatmeal
- Tart Cherry Pie Snack Balls
- Peanut Butter Banana Bread
- Nut Butter Stuffed Salty Dates
Favorite Post-Run Recipes:
- Banana Spinach Smoothie (if you’re not using dairy milk, make sure to add some protein powder or other source of protein in here)
- High Protein Oatmeal
- Red Lentil Granola Bars
- Lemon Ginger Berry Protein Smoothie
- High Protein Pancake
If you enjoyed this post, you’ll also love my Nutrition for Runners program! Get started for FREE here.
More running-related blog posts:
- Top 5 Nutrition Mistakes Made by Runners
- First Marathon Training Reflections
- Third Marathon Training Reflections
- My full marathon training plan, plus injury prevention & nutrition tips
What are your favorite things to eat before and after a long run?