Before heading out for a morning run by the lake or hitting the treadmill after a long day at work, you might want to grab a quick snack for immediate fuel that’ll still be sustainable for the duration of your workout. Running is a type of exercise that requires enough fuel in the body for the muscles to use. Without adequate nutrition and energy stores, it’ll be hard to keep propelling forward as you run with stamina, focus, and speed.
When running on empty, your body will likely begin to fatigue and your muscles may feel cramped and weak. Plus, you may even feel nauseated, lightheaded, and dizzy due to the lack of hydration and nutrients (and this can be dangerous, where you might feel so depleted in energy that you pass out).
Of course, you don’t want a snack that’s super filling or high in protein, fats, and fiber, all of which can lead to indigestion, stomach issues, and a feeling of heaviness and fatigue. Eating too much before running directly impacts your digestive system because as a cardio-focused workout, running requires more speed work and endurance.
It also elevates or spikes your heart rate — depending on your pace and activity level — which can lead to a faster fatigue. That’s why choosing a snack before a run is important in determining how well (or terrible) your performance and recovery go.
Apart from picking the best thing to eat before a run, take note of helpful pre-run snacking habits, like sticking with a small serving, timing your snack properly, and avoiding certain foods that may negatively affect your energy levels and performance. They all matter, and work together to ensure optimal performance.
Healthy Nutritional Habits for Pre-Run Snacks
When you're going for a run, you’re more prone to experience stomach cramping and discomfort if your pre-workout snack is too heavy or consists of junk. Poor pre-run snacks include high-fiber foods like beans and legumes (these are healthy, but better for post-run), baked goods and candy bars, as well as high-fat and high-protein, dense picks, like a burger and fries.
Eating large portions and the wrong foods can lead to lethargy and bloating pre-run, which together can hinder performance and even shorten your workout. So, it’s best to eat a small, light but adequately filling, and nutritious snack before lacing up your sneakers and hitting the trail — especially if you don’t have much time to eat prior.
And while there are many solid options for pre-workout and pre-run snacks, there is one food that stands out as being the best thing to eat before a run.
The Best Thing to Eat Before a Run Is: A Banana
“Ripe bananas are an excellent pre-run food because they’re rich in easily-digestible starch and sugars that can quickly get to the bloodstream to maintain blood sugar,” Kelly Jones MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, says.
When eaten with other foods that are also beneficial as pre-run snacks and within the right period of time before starting your run, you can maximize fuel benefits for increased performance and energy.
How Long Before a Run Should I Eat?
Considering timing, if you eat these fast-acting carbs and sugars right before running, you’ll be able to boost nutrition intake on the spot for some extra fuel to satisfy muscles throughout your workout.
“You’ll even top off glycogen stores,” Jones says.
This means that little added boost pre-run provides more glycogen for your muscles to use while working. There will then be less of a depletion and extremity in need for recovery, as nutrition stores are higher to begin with.
Bananas are complex in carbohydrates (apart from having some fast-acting sugar and carb sources for your body to use up first). And, the yellow fruits still have enough fiber to keep you fuller for longer, so that you can make it through your workout with enough stamina and endurance that’ll get you to the end both pain- and hunger-free.
“They provide three grams of fiber, which also helps prevent too sharp of a rise in blood sugar and subsequent crash, which could leave you feeling low on energy during your run,” Jones says.
Carbs and sugar without fiber don’t offer benefits found in foods with small but existing levels of fiber, which include promoting gut health and the immune system, appetite suppression, regular bowel movements, and more.
The Best Ways to Eat Bananas Before a Run
For starters, you can eat bananas plain, as is.
“Bananas are great alone 15 to 30 minutes before a run, but can also be paired with other foods when you have more time before you head out,” she says.
If you have 30–60 minutes until your run starts, you can have a banana with something more substantial, as there’s enough time for your body to digest the more dense and nutritious snack.
“You can have a banana and peanut butter or any nut butter, since they’ll provide a few more grams of fiber as well as protein and fat to slow the release of energy into the bloodstream, where it’s then available during exercise,” she explains.
Feel free to get a salted nut butter here, as your body needs sodium as an electrolyte source for the run, and sodium is lost through sweat. Be sure to choose an unsweetened and pure nut butter variety though, since you don’t need all of that unwanted sugar that comes with processed nut butter spreads and sweet flavored picks.
“The further out you are from your run, the more of those nutrients you’ll want to add,”Jones says. “Slicing bananas and topping with nut butter, hemp hearts, and granola is another great option 60 to 90 minutes out,” she says.
And when you have over an hour of time before your running workout, you have even more flexibility with food.
“Play around with other combinations to see what helps you feel best in terms of energy and fullness,” she says.
Other options here, as suggested by Jones, include quick oats with banana and honey, whole grain toast with peanut butter and banana slices, and banana energy bites, which Jones likes to make at home with some creamy peanut butter for a bit of fiber, protein, and fat to keep you going for longer.