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Nutrition

What should you eat before a run vs. after a run?

Man checking his watch after a run

When you're in a running groove, it's easy to limit your focus to the run. But exercise is only half the equation to a full run — proper nutrition is what enables your body to perform at a high level. What should you eat before a run vs. after a run, and why does it matter?

Before running, eat for fuel

The foods you eat are the literal fuel you run on. The right pre-workout foods can help you run faster, longer, and stronger — and performance aside, make running feel better.

Pre-run nutrients: The two main ones are carbohydrates and water. Your body uses carbs for energy, both in the form of blood glucose and glycogen (in your muscles and liver). Meanwhile, more than half of your body weight is water. For the healthiest runs possible, you'll want to be hydrated.

If you've eaten a balanced meal — packed with protein, produce, whole grains, and healthy fats — within two to three hours of beginning your run, consider yourself well-fueled. For most runs under an hour, your body likely still has plenty of carbs for energy.

If more time has passed since your last meal, grab a snack. Choose something smaller that has easier carbs to digest the closer you find yourself to your workout.

For example, if you eat 30 to 60 minutes before your run, try picking something that has roughly 200 calories, mostly carbs, some protein, and little fat. Think a low-fat granola bar or banana and peanut butter. These choices can fuel you up without sitting too heavy in your stomach. If you eat within 30 minutes of a run, focus on carbs: white crackers, half a bagel, or a bare banana. Cap it at roughly 150 calories.

As for fluids, no matter when your last meal was, drink a full glass of water at around 30 minutes before you run.

Every person is unique, so experiment with your food and drink choices and timing to figure out what feels best for you.

Woman running on a boardwalk track

After running, eat for recovery

The right post-workout foods jump-start exercise recovery, repair your muscles, and restock your energy.

Post-run nutrients: Protein runs the recovery nutrition show and feeds your muscles, connective tissues, and organs the amino acids they need to grow stronger and healthier. Whether you eat right after you cool down or wait one to two hours, make sure to get a healthy dose of protein — around 25 to 40 grams. Try a protein drink or bar, or add some lean meat, fish, tofu, or legumes to your next plate. And if you had a hard or long run, carbs can help replace what you burned.

What you do need immediately after your workout is water. Some warning signs of dehydration include extreme thirst, dizziness, and dark-colored urine, but even if you're not experiencing any of these, it's always a good idea to replace lost fluids from all your sweating. And if your post-workout energy levels are crashing, carbohydrates from grains, fruit, or dairy can help.

What you eat before and after running powers your workouts and helps you recover. Focus on eating balanced, nutrient-rich foods and getting plenty of water, then add carb- or protein-rich snacks as needed. From there, it's simply a matter of listening to your body to find the exact nutrition routine that fits your running journey.

Our writer's advice is intended for informational or general educational purposes only. We always encourage you to speak with your physician or healthcare provider before making any adjustments to your running, nutrition, or fitness routines.

Written By
K. Aleisha Fetters

Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist

Headshot of Aleisha Fetters

I'm a quirky (aka nerdy) strength coach with a passion for science and sweat. I love to help people meet their body goals, but it's their mental and emotional gains that make me do a happy dance. My flirtation with running includes two half marathons and, someday, I will run 26.2.