What should you eat before you run? It’s a common topic of conversation among even the most advanced runners. Some swear by just drinking sports drinks before short runs, while others need more fuel beforehand — especially half marathons or the full 26.2 miles.
When it comes down to it, though, you’ll find it’s a personal choice, based on your energy levels, the distance you’re running and how sensitive your stomach may be. But here’s some advice from four real runners, each with different levels of experience, who have found out what works for them.
Experience: Nine full marathons, five half marathons, several 10Ks and 5Ks, plus Ragnar Relay races
For training runs: Because Eric usually runs soon after waking up, he often sticks with an energy gel, such as GU. If he runs more than 8 miles, he brings a gel with him to consume while running. “I love eating oatmeal before long runs,” Eric says. “It's great for sustained energy, and it's pretty easy to digest.”
For races: When Eric runs a 10K or less, he often won’t eat anything beforehand. But for longer distances, he will eat bites of a Cliff Bar and drink an energy drink throughout the night whenever he wakes up to relieve himself (because he’s hydrating so much). Then, he will consume an average of five gels and as much of a sports drink as he can during the race.
Experience: 15 races total, ranging from 5Ks to a 50K
For training runs: Tanya runs on an empty stomach. “My stomach is sensitive, so trial and error has taught me that eating before a run isn’t wise. If I’m running for longer than an hour and a half, I try to drink Gatorade, though, so I don’t crash and burn,” she says.
For races: Again, Tanya won’t eat before a shorter race. But before full marathons or ultras, she will eat a bagel with peanut butter several hours before and then an energy gel right before the race starts. Then she'll drink Gatorade every few miles and consume another energy gel every 7 miles. “During ultras, I eat everything in sight! M&Ms, chips, pretzels, Coke, chocolate hazelnut butter,” she says.
Experience: Three full marathons, four half marathons, several 10ks and 5ks, plus Ragnar Relay races
For training runs: Ben doesn’t eat much unless his run is more than 6 miles. For longer distances, he will eat half a Cliff Bar and stay away from foods with high fiber. “I’m most worried that if I eat too much, I will have stomach issues during the run,” Ben says.
For races: For short races, Ben may just eat a snack bar or banana, but for longer races, he likes a bagel with peanut butter and a banana a few hours before the race starts. Then he’ll eat a Cliff Bar or something similar about 30 minutes before and gel every 40 minutes.
Experience: One half marathon, five 5Ks
For training runs: Katie usually sticks with something light, such as toast or dry cereal. “It really doesn’t matter how far I’m running; I’m afraid to have too much in my stomach,” she says.
For races: Katie prefers toast or cereal before races but feels it’s not necessary to eat before a 5K. During her half marathon, she tried the energy gels but wasn’t a fan. “I have a problem with getting nauseous after longer runs,” she says.