It’s a question many runners—especially new runners or early morning runners—ask: should I eat before I run? In most cases, yes, you should eat before you run.
Why should you eat before you run? In short, your running performance will suffer, your run will feel harder than it should, your recovery will suffer, you will lack energy, and you may end up gaining more belly fat. There is little to be gained—and little fat to be lost—if you skip your pre-run fuel.
Many of the athletes I start coaching struggle with eating before running. The barriers to their pre-run snack include early morning wakeups, intermittent fasting and weight loss goals, and a history of GI issues when running.
I completely understand. I have had experience will all three of these issues when it comes to eating before running. Yet, they are hurdles I have overcome, have helped my athletes I coach overcome and want to help you.
There are still some times that I haven’t eaten before running and end up regretting it. My runs felt terrible—my body felt sluggish, and my legs felt like lead. And I felt tired the rest of the day.
In this article, I did research and spoke with nutrition experts to help you learn how to eat before you run so you avoid this feeling and other consequences!
I will answer:
- Should you (drink and) eat before you run and why?
- When should you eat before you run?
- What foods should you eat before you run and what foods should you avoid?
- What happens if you run on an empty stomach?
- How to eat before running
- early in the morning
- if you have stomach issues
- and if you want to lose weight
- The situations in which it is okay if you don’t eat before you run
- Key pre-run fueling tips
Is it good to eat before you run?
Yes, it is good to eat before you run. In most cases, you will want to eat 200 to 300 calories of a carb-dense snack about an hour before you run (especially for runs lasting more than an hour), advises registered dietitian Amy Stephens.
If you care about your running performance, energy levels during and after running, recovering well, and building muscle—then you want to eat before you run.
Many people think that eating before you run defeats the purpose of running if your main goal is to lose weight.
However, the opposite is true, says registered dietitian Jen Scott. If you skip your pre-run snack or breakfast:
- you will not be able to run as far
- your run will feel sluggish
- you will feel less energy after your run (not something mother runners need to deal with!)
- your recovery for your next run will be slower, and
- you may experience disrupted hormones and muscle wasting.
For the athletes I coach who are intermittent fasters, I explain how eating before running will help them run faster and farther—so they end up getting more out of each run. Skipping the pre-run fuel is short-sighted and will leave them less fit and possibly heavier in the long run (more on that below). Not eating before running can get in the way of your goals.
(Remember hydration is important for running performance, as well. Get a Hydration Guide for Runners here).
Related: Hydration Guide for Runners
Is it better to run before or after you eat?
It may seem counterintuitive to eat before running. Who wants food jostling around in your stomach? However, your body needs fuel to run. If it doesn’t have the fuel it needs to run, it will turn to sources such as your muscles for energy.
If your run is longer than an hour, it is very important that you refuel after your run within 30-60 minutes with carbohydrates and protein to optimize recovery.
(Long-distance runners also eat or fuel during their runs. I won’t get into that here, but you can read about in this article.)
What happens if you run on empty stomach?
If you run on an empty stomach for a run less than an hour, you will be okay but you may run out of energy on your run.
If you run on an empty stomach for runs longer than an hour, you face the possibility of running out of energy, also called “bonking.” Bonking, or hitting the wall, is when your legs feel like lead and won’t turn over. You may feel lethargic and light-headed.
If you regularly run on an empty stomach, you may cause imbalanced hormones, increased belly fat, and muscle wasting, among other issues.
Is it OK to eat 30 minutes before running?
Ideally, you want to eat your pre-run meal 1-2 hours before running to allow for digestion before running. However, you can eat a small pre-run snack 30 minutes before running. This pre-run snack would be about 2-300 calories of simple carbs.
To be honest, I am often eating a plain bagel as I am putting my shoes on to go running. This does not upset my stomach as I have trained my gut overtime to digest food as I run.
Related: How I Fueled by 2:54 Marathon
What foods to avoid before running?
You want to avoid foods that are highly processed, fried, greasy, high in fiber, protein-rich, dairy, and spicy before running.
Related: The Best Sports Drinks for Runners
What happens if I run after eating?
If you run after eating a heavy meal, you could have tummy troubles including cramps, bloating, nausea, indigestion, diarrhea, gas, and bloating. This is because digestion slows or even stops when you are running. Therefore, your food is just jostling around in your stomach as you run.
Avoid tummy troubles by eating a big meal 4 hours or more before running.
What foods should I eat before running?
Eat mostly carbs before running. According to registered dietitian for runners, Kristy Baumann, good pre-run snacks include:
- pop tart
- waffles such as HoneyStinger’s waffles
- HoneyStinger’sOat and Honey Bars
- a banana with peanut butter
- or a glass of juice
Related: 20+ Snacks for Runners
Get more snack ideas from my pal Amanda Brooks over at Run to the Finish.
Related: 18 Healthy Meals for Runners
What should I eat after I run?
Aim to eat or drink something rich in carbs and protein within 30 minutes after your run. For runs longer than an hour, shoot for something with 60 grams of carbohydrates and 20 grams of protein.
Related: Top Protein Powders for Runners
Some examples of post-run fuel options include:
- chocolate milk like Fairlife with a banana
- a sandwich
- a protein smoothie
- yogurt with fruit, or
- eggs and toast
Related: 20+ Snacks for Runners
Overcoming Barriers to Eating Before Running
Here are solutions for common barriers to eating before running.
I get tummy troubles when I eat before I run.
To avoid GI distress from eating before running, you want to keep the foods simple, give yourself time to digest the food, and practice and experiment with your fueling.
Specifically, if you experience tummy troubles from pre-run fuel:
- Eat a snack 2 hours before running and any meal at least 4 hours before running
- Keep your pre-run snack simple with little to no protein or fiber, such as a plain bagel or two graham crackers
- Experiment with pre-run fuel and practice! Your stomach is a muscle that needs to be trained to digest and run.
Related: How to Train Your Gut
I wake up early to run and don’t have time to eat.
If you are a morning runner, I get it. It can be hard to wake up an hour early to eat before running. Don’t worry, you have options:
- Eat a simple and small pre-run snack such as half a plain bagel, honey stinger waffle, or crackers as you head out the door. Practice makes perfect to train your gut to do this.
- You may also have juice or a fruit pouch.
- You can also eat a bedtime snack before bed to stock your glycogen stores before your morning run.
Related: How to Become a Morning Runner
I don’t want to eat before running because I want to lose weight.
A lot of people get into running to lose weight. Therefore, they think—why should I put in calories when I am trying to burn them off? I understand that reasoning but there are facts that will help shift your view.
- Adding the stress of not eating with the stress of exercise can disrupt hormones responsible for maintaining healthy glucose levels, appetite regulation, and body composition. Therefore, not eating before running can cause thyroid issues, a lost period, muscle catabolism, and more belly fat.
- If you eat before you run, you will be able to run farther and faster allowing you to burn more calories. Studies show people who fast before running have poor performance.
- You will be able to recover faster as well which will help you hit your next workout harder (so you can burn more calories).
Please note these effects are mostly tied to people, specifically women, who fast before running.
- If you eat a meal four hours before your run, you will likely still have fuel in your system for your run—to a point.
- If you are running shorter than an hour, most people will not experience negative effects.
- If you run longer than an hour, it’s likely you’ll have poor running performance.
Read more about the impacts of fasting before running here.
When should I not eat before I run?
There are some cases in which you don’t have to eat before you run. These include:
- Short easy runs under an hour.
- You’ve eaten a meal within 4 hours of running.
- You ate a bedtime snack before an early morning run.
- You are an overweight man trying to lose weight.
Key Tips of Eating Before Running
Here are key tips for eating before running:
- Eat a small pre-run snack of 200-300 calories of carbs about 1-2 hours before running.
- A good pre-run snack includes a bagel, waffle, or crackers.
- Big or heavy meals should be eaten at least four hours before running.
- Avoid eating foods high in fat, protein, sugar, spices, and fiber before running.
- You can skip a pre-run snack if your run is less than an hour at an easy pace (if you must—but not advised).
If you want guidance with your running goals, including how to fuel your runs, check out my run coaching services. Also, be sure to check out my free training plans:
- Postpartum Training Plan
- After a Break Training Plan
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