Leslie Kay

Food for Fuel: What to Eat Before You Run

What we eat leading up to a training run or a race is imperative. And while you may have go-to foods and beverages, it's important to consider how we're properly fueling our bodies before hitting the pavement. What we eat – and how much we need – varies based on the distance and time we will be running. A light jog, short run or quick race may need only water or some sport drink with carbs and electrolytes to get you through. A longer run, like a half or full marathon, requires more carbohydrates leading up to the race, along with possibly topping off your fuel stores with goos or gels on race day.

My usual pre-race meal is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on wheat (protein, carbs, whole grains), a banana (more starches), a sports drink with water, and carrots (just because). This has treated me well for half marathons and full marathons prior to refueling on the course with water, sports drink and/or gels. Recently, I broke my routine before two races, and I definitely felt the difference. I learned my lesson, and rest assured for my next race, I will be eating what has proven to fuel me in the past!

Volunteers offer runners Powerade during the Walt Disney World Marathon.

Foods to Eat Before a Short Run (30-60 minutes)

Your body doesn't need a lot, but it may perform better with a small snack that includes protein and carbohydrates. Try one of these:

  • Graham crackers with peanut butter or honey
  • A cup of applesauce and cottage cheese
  • Fresh fruit, like berries or a banana
  • Morning runner? A bowl of cereal with milk is sufficient.

Foods to Eat Before a Long Run (90 minutes or more)

If you plan to run for 90 minutes or more, an increase in carbohydrates is necessary. Try one of these about an hour before heading out:

  • A bagel with peanut butter or jelly
  • Peanut butter and jelly on wheat bread with a banana
  • Pretzel or carrots with hummus, and cheese stick
  • Sports drinks will aid in electrolyte balance

Foods to Eat the Night Before a Race

If you're racing in the morning, time can be tight. Don't forget to properly fuel the evening before with a meal that includes complex carbs and protein. Try one of these for dinner:

  • A bowl of pasta with a meat sauce or meatballs
  • Pizza with veggies and some protein

Leave trying different foods, fuels and drinks to when you are training or running for leisure, so you can see how your body responds. No matter what you will be running, racing, how far or how hard, stick with what you know works!

Philip Grand is a health coach at Cigna®, the presenting sponsor of Walt Disney World® Marathon Weekend and Disneyland® Half Marathon Weekend.

This content is for educational purposes only and does not provide medical advice. Speak to your doctor if you have health concerns and prior to starting a new diet or exercise program.