What to eat before and after your run
Written by Rachel Eagleton, clinical nutritionist
What you eat before and after your run will help you to get the most out of your session and recover well for the next session.
BEFORE YOUR RUN
Start your run properly hydrated, a good sign is pale, straw-coloured pee. This doesn’t mean a big glass of water right before your run, instead try to drink throughout the day.
A popular myth is that exercising on an empty stomach means that your body burns more fat. It is true that a higher proportion of the energy burned will be from fat, however exercising on an empty stomach often means you burn fewer calories overall because working out with lower energy is likely to produce a less intense workout. So, for most sessions I recommend eating before you run.
The food you eat and drink before exercising helps you:
Fuel and hydrate your body for the session
Achieve the most out of your session by being able to train harder for longer
Avoid getting hungry during the session!
Ideally you should aim to have a meal 3-4 hours before your workout or a small snack 1-2 hours beforehand. Everyone is different with what they like to eat and what agrees with their stomach. In general, your pre-exercise meal or snack should be:
Rich in carbohydrate to top-up your fuel stores
Low in fibre, especially if you have a sensitive tummy
Easy to digest – avoid foods overly high in fat as these are slow to digest
Some ideas are:
Small bowl wholegrain cereal or oats with yoghurt and fruit
Wholemeal toast with sliced banana and nut butter
Raisin toast with honey
Caffeine is a AIS Group A supplement, which means it’s proven to work and safe to use. Taking caffeine decreases your rate of perceived effort. This means exercise ‘feels’ easier and as a result, you perform better. If you can tolerate caffeine you can either have a cup of coffee or a convenient option is Revvies energy strips.
It can be tricky to get your fuel in before a run at the crack of dawn. However, a small snack can make a big difference to your energy levels during the workout. Try to have something before you leave the house like a banana or 1/2 a fruit smoothie, or even just a couple of dates.
Lunchtime run A lunch time run is a great idea and will fire you up for the afternoon. Have a decent breakfast with carbohydrate and protein and then a small snack mid-morning to ensure that you’re fuelled up and ready to go at lunchtime.
After work run This is typically a time where energy levels drop off and all you can think about is dinner. Motivating yourself to go for a run is hard enough after a full day of work, but being hungry makes it much harder. Having a decent lunch and then a small snack before you head for your run after work is really important in making sure you don’t end up heading home to the couch instead!
Ultimately, it’s important to find a routine that works for you that you can stick to long term. This will depend on what time of day you exercise, where you do it and your own preferences regarding food. Once you find your routine – don’t think just go!
AFTER YOUR RUN
Once you’re home from your run it’s important to pay attention to your nutrition and stop you needing to reach for the banana bread at 10am. Getting it right will really help if you get late in the day “runger” where you can’t stay away from the fridge/pantry at 3pm.
The goals of recovery nutrition are to:
Refuel and rehydrate the body
Promote muscle repair and growth
Boost adaptation from the training session
Support immune function
Rehydrating should begin soon after finishing your run. The body is best at muscle repair and growth in the first hour after exercise. However, repair will continue over the next 12-24 hours. Usually the best bet is to use your next regular meal after your run as your recovery nutrition. Or, have a small snack to kick-start the recovery process, then use your next main meal to complete your recovery. Post workout foods should be:
Rich in quality carbohydrate to replenish muscle fuel stores
Contain some lean protein to promote muscle repair (around 20gr of protein is ideal)
Include a source of fluid and electrolytes to rehydrate effectively
There’s no one “best” option for what to eat after exercise. Dairy foods such as flavoured milk, smoothies or fruit yoghurt can be a great option as they can provide carbohydrate, protein, fluid and electrolytes ticking all of your recovery goals in one handy option. Some other options that you may like to choose include:
Lean chicken and salad roll
An egg with wholemeal toast soldiers
Fruit smoothie - make this up the night before and have it on your way to work.
Bowl of muesli with yoghurt and berries. Here’s my muesli recipe - make up a batch today and have it for brekky tomorrow after your run!
Protein powder - do you need it? The protein powder market is enormous - and it is sold as an "essential" post work out drink. While these powders do contain protein, they can often be very high in calories which you might not want - especially if you are trying to lose body fat. Some may contain more calories than a Big Mac, so check the label carefully! Using real food for the protein you need is better than using protein supplements, as you will also get other nutrients in the food. However, it's not always convenient to tuck into a meal right after a run, so in some cases protein supplements can be a practical option. If you do decide to use protein powder, make sure you read the label carefully. If you can tolerate dairy, whey protein is a good choice (noting that milk is also full of whey protein). Watch out for expensive post-workout supplements that add loads of other ingredients to the whey- these generally do little more than a simple low-kilojoule whey powder. If you have questions about sports supplements, please get in touch.
Remember, simply taking protein powder or eating protein bars won't magically make you build muscle or tone up- you need to be giving your body a reason to change first, through that other essential supplement - BHW (bloody hard work)!
Need help sticking to your healthy eating goals or to fuel your athletic performance? Let me help you – I’m a university qualified nutritionist based in Sydney. I am also a busy working mum of two teenagers, so am practical and realistic with my advice. Find out more about me here: w: racheleagleton.com.au
Sources: Sports Dietitians Australia, Australian Institute of Sport