Going for a run, whether it’s a steady morning jog or a cross-country marathon, requires a good serving of energy to keep your legs and heart pumping efficiently. Of course, it’s not as simple as calories-in, calories-out. The right fuel can optimize your performance, increasing your endurance and keeping you focused from start to finish. But the wrong kind will make you feel sluggish, tired, and heavy.
While there are countless dietary tricks for runners, research shows that athletes get the best results by sticking with foods that come from natural sources high in helpful nutrients. Knowing what to eat before a run can be the difference between barely making it to the finish line and finishing with ease, and these six foods will ensure you’ve got plenty left in the tank.
#1: Complex Carbohydrates
While not strictly a specific “food,” complex carbohydrates are one of the best sources of energy for our bodies. Foods like pasta, oatmeal, and whole grains give runners your muscles a deep well of fuel to burn, and even though low-carb diets are popular, runners can’t afford to cut these high-energy nutrients out. The truth is, if you’re participating in an endurance sport, undereating carbs can be tough on your body and impact your post-run recovery.
According to Johns Hopkins, this is because running uses blood-based glucose and stores of glycogen. Lots of complex carbs ensure these energy stores stay topped up so you can perform at your best. Just be careful not to overconsume; overloading on spaghetti in preparation for a big run is probably going to hurt your time. Stick with quick snacks you can finish in a few bites.
This curved yellow fruit is sometimes referred to as a “runner’s best friend,” and there’s ample reason for it: apart from being delicious, bananas are an excellent source of quick protein. Michigan State University notes that bananas are filled with short-chain carbs, and they’re easier to digest than other foods with a lot of protein—making them ideal for a pre-run snack.
Bananas pair well with fat-laden and protein-packed peanut butter (another renowned runner’s pal), though you should be careful not to pile it too high. A full belly, even one with energy-boosting foods, will be more of a hindrance than a help.
#3: Peanut Butter
With its ample serving of high-quality fats and protein, peanut butter is great as a solo act or an accompaniment to whole grain crackers, bread, or fruit. Speaking to Runner’s World, sports dietitian Nancy Clark says, “When it comes to the food choices runners can make, you can’t do much better than peanut butter.” If you’re wondering what to eat before a run that will help get you to the next level, peanut butter may be your new secret weapon.
High-quality yogurt is loaded with essential ingredients like calcium, potassium, and protein. It can be topped with a modest sprinkle of nuts for extra crunch and an added boost to your energy levels. Just like bananas, yogurt is a stellar pre-run choice because it’s highly digestible compared to other foods with similar levels of protein. However, you should be mindful not to reach for just any yogurt at the grocery store.
Many brands are loaded with sugar, which may be added via high-fructose corn syrup. As Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association explained to Runner’s World, “Yogurts that are high in sugar could be a problem post-run for people with sensitive systems.” Overall, simpler and more natural yogurts are better, and the nutritional label will be your best guide.
#5: Nuts and Seeds
While nuts and seeds are a great part of any runner’s daily diet, they’re also a strong source of energy right before a run. Both provide a big dose of healthy fats and protein, and there are many different varieties so you can find a selection you enjoy while providing you with the vitamins and other nutrients you’re looking for. Here are some of our favorites paired with their top nutritional benefits:
- Cashews: A bona fide superfood, cashews are loaded with healthy monounsaturated fats and musculoskeletal-supporting minerals like potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
- Sunflower seeds: With big stores of thiamine, sunflower seeds help you convert the food you’ve eaten into energy. They’re also a great source of protein.
- Walnuts: What can walnuts offer? Lots of protein, healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and a diverse array of other nutrients (including the energy-supporting vitamin B6).
A pre-run meal would be incomplete without a drink menu. And what could be better than plain old water? Well, a few things, actually—though the topic is hotly debated in some circles. Some runners strongly prefer one or the other, and many have race strategies that involve transitioning from one to the other.
Turning to an electrolyte drink is fine in our book, so long as you keep it low-sugar or sugar-free. Electrolytes help your muscles and nerves stay regulated, which can potentially make each stride a little easier. Whether you usually reach for water or a sports drink, you’ll definitely feel it on the days you forget to hydrate before your run. Just be careful not to overdo it—drink before, during, and after your run in moderate sips.
Achieving Full Body Pre-Run Prep
While knowing what to eat before a run is essential, it’s equally important to equip yourself with high-performance gear. The right socks can make a big impact on your running experience, keeping blisters at bay and increasing endurance.
Fitsok offers a diverse and stylish range of high-quality socks for runners, engineered by runners. Fitsok’s products boast premium materials that easily withstand run after run, providing a consistent experience every time you hit the road.As you plan your pre-run meals and gear up for the next session, consider upgrading your sock game with Fitsok’s runner-first designs. You’ll benefit from socks with the perfect balance of comfort and high-performance durability built to meet the demands of real runners.
Explore the full lineup of expert-designed running socks at Fitsok now to complete your pre-run prep.