Before Maria was born I used to do my runs mostly first thing in the morning, on a nearly empty stomach. I would just eat a banana or a few dates to have some sugar to run on. I always thought it was a great strategy to go for a run before my brain was awake and started asking what on earth I was doing.
As a mother with a baby, running in the morning is not so easy anymore. By the time I have fed, changed and dressed Maria I am so hungry that I cannot just have a small snack and head out for a run! So I mostly run in the afternoons or evenings, when Ahmed is home to take care of Maria. It just takes a little more planning when it comes to the foods I eat the hours before.
Ideally, you would want your pre-running snack or meal to be healthy and have a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrate and protein. This will give you the energy to get the best out of your workout and not make you feel sluggish. Some of my favorite snacks and meals do not stick to this rule of thumb, but in those cases you can simply add something to get the ratio that works for you. Of course, every body (and stomach!) is different, so see for yourself what works and what doesn’t.
UP TO 2 HOURS BEFORE A RUN
This is my all-time favorite running snack, whether it is immediately before, during, or right after a run. High in glucose, dates are easily digestible and give you energy quickly. I like to eat three dates as a pre- or post-run snack, or eat one every 30 minutes or so during a long distance run.
Get the 3:1 carb-protein ratio: Simply have some (lightly salted) nuts along with your dates, or eat an energy bar that contains dates and nuts.
I’ve heard bananas are not as easily digested as is often thought and so they should be avoided right before a run, but I have never had any problems munching on one while heading out. Especially when they are very ripe they digest quickly and give lots of energy.
Get the 3:1 carb-protein ratio: A no-brainer, ladle some nut butter (peanut, almond, cashew) on your banana.
Although I think apples do not give me the amount of energy bananas do, they make a good pre-workout snack when I just want to eat some sugar but do not really feel hungry.
Get the 3:1 carb-protein ratio: Again, scoop some nut butter on apple slices and you have the protein and fat to keep you going and going.
2 HOURS OR MORE BEFORE A RUN
4. Toast or pancake with syrup and walnuts
With some planning, you can have a proper meal that will fuel your workout later in the day. I love the combination of syrup (maple or agave) with walnuts on toasted bread or a pancake. If you have a sensitive stomach you may want to avoid wholewheat toast or pancake because of the high amount of fibers, but otherwise I would strongly recommend you to choose the whole grain varieties. They are simply much healthier than the white, processed versions.
Get the 3:1 carb-protein ratio: This one already has a pretty good carb-protein ratio because of the walnuts. For extra protein, add some protein powder to your pancake batter.
5. Oatmeal with (soy) milk, fresh fruits and nuts/seeds
My favorite breakfast, this hearty meal is also perfect before a workout, given you have enough time to digest it. The oats and fruits give you the carbs you need, while the (soy) milk, nuts and seeds provide protein and fat to keep you going.
Get the 3:1 carb-protein ratio: This already has the ideal ratio. Just feel free to vary the nuts, seeds, fruits and even milk you use!
6. Rice with vegetables/salad
Occasionally, I eat leftovers from dinner the following day for lunch, and they often include rice. Adding some salad or leftover stir-fried or roasted veggies, this works fine for me as a pre-running meal, as long as I have enough time to digest it. While I would prefer to eat brown rice, we mostly stick to the white variety (bad, I know!).
Get the 3:1 carb-protein ratio: While most nutritionists will tell you to avoid eating beans or legumes before a workout, they are fine for me as long as I have enough time to digest them – eating them about three to four hours before a run doesn’t give me any problems. Alternatively, add some nuts or seeds – think of pine nuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds or almonds – to your rice and/or salad.
I mostly avoid empty calories in fruit juices and sports drinks, but I make sure to drink enough water before heading out, especially when the weather is hot. I also love to have a coffee pre-workout to give me that extra kick when I want to do an interval or tempo run, but I try to keep that for special occasions like race-day only. I just think it wouldn’t give me that kick if I had it every time prior to a run. That said, never try having caffeine for the first time before a race, as it can cause stomach issues and diarrhoea.
For more meal and snack inspiration, check out these websites:
– 16 Healthy (and Yummy) Prerun Meals and Snacks (Runnersworld)
– Best and Worst Pre-Run Foods (About.com)
– What to eat before your run (BBCgoodfood)
– Pre-Race Meal Plans (for Every Distance!) (Competitor.com)
What are your favorite pre-running snacks?