What to eat before, during and after running

Every runner has their unique preferences for what they like and what works to fuel them during their runs. This is what’s worked for me.

what-to-eat-before-during-after-running

I’ll start with long runs, since I think those are the trickiest. During marathon training, breakfast was usually toast or a tortilla with peanut butter and sliced banana about 1-2 hours before I started running. On the way to the start line of the marathon, I ate my tortilla, PB & banana “roll up” … it worked well because it was portable.

Of course, I got sick of this combo. Now I have oatmeal, which is what I eat for breakfast every other day of the week. I make mine with plain oats, brown sugar, chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans) and dried fruit (cranberries, cherries or dates).

During the long run (or long race), I’ve tried a lot of things:

Luckily for me, everything has agreed with my stomach, so I can just pick what I like based on personal preference, which for me is water + sport beans. I like the more solid fuel because you can eat a few sport beans or one shot blok, and then wrap up the package and put it in your pocket. Putting half of a GU in your pocket sounds like a good way to make a mess. I also really like pretzels during a run, I find that they settle my stomach a little bit. Fig newtons are a bit dry and hard to eat while running.

When I ran my one and only marathon, I carried both pretzels and Clif Shot Bloks (margarita flavor for extra salt). Starting at mile 4 (or maybe it was 6), I took one shot blok every even mile, and then I started eating pretzels every odd mile during the second half of the race. And I took water at almost every water station (during warmer long races, I carry my own water). That seemed to work well for me. I never hit the wall and finished feeling strong. (It helped that I kept my pace very comfortable.) For the half marathon distance, I just stick to 1-2 servings of shot bloks or sport beans, spread out during the second half of the race.

After a long run, I always try to eat something. During marathon training, my CARA group had snacks post-run, so I would eat some pretzels and watermelon, and then drink my own coconut water or chocolate soy milk on the drive home. Once I got home I would stretch, and then eat a normal lunch or breakfast. A lot of times, I had eggs on an english muffin. If I’m at a race, I’ll go for pretty much whatever they have – bagels, bananas, pretzels or chips, granola bars, coconut water, pizza if they have it and beer if my stomach is settled, but I always skip the Gatorade during and after races because I don’t like the taste and I don’t train with it.

During marathon training, my favorite dinner the night before a long run was chicken fajitas. Lots of carbs and protein, plus veggies … and it’s delicious. Not too greasy (compared to other Mexican options), and I skip the cheese and sour cream. It never gave me stomach issues the following morning. I would get it to-go to avoid the temptation of margaritas and endless chips & salsa.

During the week, I usually run after work, so if I’m hungry when I get home, I’ll eat something small – banana with peanut butter, pretzels, fig newtons, or dried fruit like cranberries or dates. Most of my weekday runs are 6 miles or less so I usually don’t eat during the run. When I finish, I’ll usually eat or start making dinner as soon as I get home (before I shower), since by then it’s already after 7pm and I try to go to bed by 9:30.

The only things I’ve regretted eating right before a run is anything carbonated (even seltzer with fruit juice) and chips and guacamole. (Yes, I ate that and went running …. dumb!) And the only thing I’ve regretted for dinner the night before was a lobster roll.

What do you eat before, during and after you runs? What have you regretted eating before or during a run? 

18 thoughts on “What to eat before, during and after running

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  1. never tried fig newtons, do they all the moisture out of your mouth? before i either eat a bowl of oatmeal with fruit, cinnamon, and brown sugar or just a banana and coffee. it depends on how much time i have to digest, the banana is what i take when i have an hour or less. for me every time i think i find something that works, it quickly proves that it doesn’t. guess that means my tummy is sensitive while in motion??? idk.

    it’s a lot of trial and error i feel like because not everyone responds the same to fuels. afterwords i usually crave salty things like potato chips and cheese. mmmm, nothing like dairy after a hot sweaty run.

  2. Thanks so much, Maggie! I appreciate you writing this post on my request! =) I don’t have a sensitive stomach, and I really like how you eat. These are great tips! I love tortillas, and I never thought about one with peanut butter. I totally need to try that! I love shot bloks. Totally need to try the margarita flavor.

  3. What works for me before I run? Nothing! I have to go bland, very bland, then I still pay the price during the run. I try to eat very light the night before a long run (pasta & red sauce, small portion). Then the best thing that can happen, if I’m lucky, is for it all to leave my system before I run. Last SAT, I had 4 bathroom stops during my 20 miles. Lots of cramping. Pain. And let’s be honest, nobody needs additional issues during a 20 miler. It was tough! I think I need someone to drive behind me in Lansing while I run the marathon and they need to tow a port-o-potty. I’m soooooo in trouble! LOL!

  4. I had the same question, so thanks for this post and all the tips! I am a huge fan of chocolate milk post-run, too. Before a 5–10K race, I usually eat a small bowl of Frosted Flakes or another sugary cereal, but I’m usually too anxious to finish any more than half of it. Last summer I was a big fan of the shot bloks, but this year I’m really getting into raisins and sport beans for in-run snacks. Also, I’ve tried to freeze my own bananas for post-runs in the summer, but by the time I get to them in my cooler, they have usually turned to a soggy mush. :O

  5. I came across this amazing flow chart Gracie posted about gels, it’s amazing. AMAZING. http://complicatedday.blogspot.com/2013/03/which-gel-should-i-take.html.

    Through the winter, I’ve done most of my longer runs in the mid-morning or afternoon and I just make sure not to eat anything within an hour or two of my run (but to make sure I had something sensible for breakfast or lunch). This summer when it’s hot as balls and I am forced to run in the early AM again, I’ll have a bowl of cereal right before bed the night before. That way I’m not starving when I wake up and I can go running right away without waiting for my food to digest, because AIN’T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT.

    I usually don’t eat anything during my run unless I’m doing 12 or more (which I haven’t done in a LONG TIME. Wah.)

    1. OMG that chart. So complicated. Although it only addresses gels, and I personally don’t like those. Where do my jelly beans (ahem, sport beans) fit?????

  6. I like your tips. I think that it is all about trial and error, and finding out what works best for you. Despite having a sensitive stomach, I trained for my first marathon while eating milk and cereal before every long run. I had lots of successful runs during that cycle too!

    I can’t do the gels, blocks, or beans. They ALL mess with my stomach, depending on the day. Picky Bars seem to be the only thing that my body doesn’t reject. BUY ALL THE BARS!

  7. I had mac & cheese and Puppy Chow the night before my first half marathon. True story. The real problem, though, was that I didn’t eat enough breakfast because I had a nervous stomach and didn’t realize the value of refueling during a run. Lesson learned! Great post!

  8. Pre-long-run I eat a white bagel with peanut butter. During my run I do either Clif Shot Bloks or Clif Shot Gels. I’ve tried pretzels but they just made my mouth feel dry. Otherwise, unless you count the orange slice I had at some random mile during the Milwaukee Marathon I’ve never eaten “real” food during a run.

    Post-run I usually crave something carby and sweet. Like pancakes!

  9. I’m also firmly in the banana+PB+toast camp. I change it up with a toasted tortilla or English muffin and I always add salt. I have very low blood pressure and I am a salty sweater, so I crave salt.

    I’ll also take a shot block every odd mile starting at six, and then a chocolate Clifshot around 11 and 19 for the marathon. I love that chocolate glop, it tastes like icing.

    Post run, I try to eat immediately – an apple, a boiled egg, something. Then I shower, stretch and eat whatever meal is next. It’s all very personal, of course, and I’ve written a ton on the topic as well.

  10. Thank you so much for posting this! I’m going to have to start experimenting with eating while running pretty soon, and I have no idea where to even start, so I find it so helpful to read what you and everyone in the comments is doing. I worked out for about 90 minutes yesterday, and definitely started feeling hungry and low on energy after an hour, so I’ll probably need to fuel up mid-run once I start running more. As it is, I start most days with some version of peanut butter and bananas, just because it’s tasty, and that’s never failed me for pre-workout food, so I feel like that’s a good start.

  11. Great ideas! I am so in a tunnel that I feel I always need GU or whatnot, it’s really good to see you break out of that and eat real foods like pretzels during a race. I’m going to have to mix it up this year and see if there is life beyond gu, which I hate, but can’t eat the bloks or chews because my mouth is too dry in a race and I choke on them. Fig newtons or just dried figs sound pretty good (and not as sweet as gu)

    1. Fig newtons or pretzels might dry out your mouth, especially if you find that shot bloks and chews do that. But dried fruit might be good. Look at the ingredients on a Lara bar – most are made with dates and other dried fruit and nuts – and just eat that stuff.

  12. I always have a peanut butter & banana sandwich before a long run-either on a bagel thin or english muffin. I also really love anything and everything Honey Stinger-especially their waffles and chews!

  13. Great tips! I usually eat the toast + pb + banana combination before runs. My stomach isn’t too finicky so I use a variety of fuel – Gu’s, shot bloks, gummi bears, orange slices. The longer a race is (longer than 4 hours) the more I like to eat real food (pretzels, orange slices) because I can only eat so much straight sugar. If I am eating, I don’t drink Gatorade/Powerade and only drink water, but for shorter races I will just alternate Gatorade and water.
    I love the tortilla banana combo and do that when I am running short on time in the mornings.

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