Fueling Your Runs {The Before}

When do you really need to eat before running?


Getting jolted awake by the morning alarm clock never gets any easier (or more enjoyable), especially as winter approaches and your bed begins to feel warmer and cozier. While you may be tempted to skip over breakfast just to get in a few extra minutes of sleep before stumbling out the door for a run, it’s sometimes in your body’s best interest to fuel up first, even just a bit. I know that when I run hungry, no matter the distance, I’m mentally not able to push myself, and would rather just pass out on the grass than attempt another mile. But don’t take it from me–here’s what the research says about eating before running. I recommend experimenting to see what works best for you, because that’s ultimately what counts.


The science: Your body’s main storage form of glucose is called glycogen, which is stored mostly in your liver and muscles. After a night’s sleep your liver glycogen is depleted and you need to consume carbohydrate-rich foods to replenish liver glycogen stores and top off muscle glycogen stores. Your liver glycogen plays a large role in regulating your blood sugar, which is especially crucial for warding off hypoglycemia on those long runs.


How far are you running?


The distance you’re running plays a big part in how much you need to eat before a run. If you’re going for an easy run or less than an hour you may be able to get away with not eating anything, but experiment on training days to see how you feel. When running longer distances, fueling before a run becomes more crucial for both mental and physical endurance. To determine how much carbohydrate you should eat, a good rule of thumb is this: eat 1 gram of carbohydrate/kilogram body weight for each hour until your run. Here is a math example for you (I know we all love math): if you wake up two hours before a race, then you should have 2 grams carbohydrate/kg. So if you weigh 140 lbs = 64 kg (divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 to get kg); 64 kg x 2 grams carbohydrate=128 grams carbohydrate. How much food is that, you ask? About 1 banana, 1.5 to 2 cups cereal with 1 cup milk, and 12 oz juice. Check the nutrition label for grams of carbohydrate per serving to figure out how much you should eat.


Even if you are always the runner who doesn’t eat before a run, it will absolutely pay off to get up a little earlier on the morning of a race, whether it’s a short 5k -10k, or a half or full marathon, and eat a carbohydrate-containing meal, your body will thank you for providing it with the proper fuel to run at its peak performance.


To carb-load or not to carb-load?


Carbohydrate-loading will only help performance when running greater than 90 minutes (think half to full marathon distances) and when you’ve had two or three days of tapered training. Having high carbohydrate meals the day before a short race will probably just make you feel bloated and cramped (sounds fun right?).


What are good pre-run foods?


My primary goal with what foods I choose to consume before running is pretty straightforward: avoid feeling like I’m going to throw-up or pass-out five minutes in. For example, I know coffee in itself is a terrible pre-run fuel for me. While I maintain my belief that it alone can cure almost any ailment of mine, coffee minus real food plus running, does not jive with my primary goal of not wanting to hurl. Good pre-run foods should consist of primarily carbohydrates: bagels, toast, granola bars, fruit, or smoothies. Protein and fat take longer to leave the stomach, so it’s safer to limit these food sources before running, unless you are willing to wake up a few hours earlier to allow them time to digest.


Ultimately deciding what, when, and how much to eat before running is a matter of personal preference. If you don’t already have that perfect meal and timing down, then experiment and find what works best for you during your day-to-day runs.


I asked my fellow running staff members at Red Coyote what they choose to chow down on before running, and answers included:

  • Bananas
  • Special K cereal
  • Clif mint chocolate protein bars
  • Eggs and toast
  • Bagels
  • Gu
  • Nutri-Grain bars


Are you like me and love coffee, but can’t stomach it before a run? Well, this recipe may be your new favorite morning fuel.



{Chocolate Espresso Running Bites}

These little no-bake oatmeal balls have concentrated coffee in every bite. They are easy to pop in your mouth right before a run. I like to eat two around ten minutes before a 3-5 mile run.

Adapted from: No-Bake Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies by chocolate-covered katie
Servings: 24 bite size balls



1 cup oat flour (make your own by blending oats in a food processor or blender until it becomes powder)

1 1/2 cups quick oats

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 tsp salt

2 Tbsp cocoa powder

1/3 cup concentrated brewed coffee of choice (see below for brewing directions)

3 Tbsp plain non-fat Greek yogurt

1 tsp vanilla



To make concentrated coffee: add 6 Tbsp of finely ground coffee into a small pot and cover with water, heat on medium-low for 5 minutes, let coffee rest 5 more minutes, then pour through coffee filter to separate grounds from liquid, reserve 1/3 cup.

Combine all dry ingredients and stir well. In a separate bowl, combine coffee, vanilla, and yogurt. Then stir to combine, and form into one large ball. You may need to add another Tbsp of yogurt if mixture is still too dry to form into a ball.

Divide dough into 4 sections, then roll each section into 6 individual balls. Store in refrigerator or freezer (they won’t freeze solid).


Nutrition info per bite: 50 cal , 10 g carb, 1.5 g protein, 1 g fat.




What’s your perfect pre-run food of choice? How about those not-so-perfect food choices?


Stay tuned for posts on eating during and after a run!


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