Running regularly provides many benefits, such as increasing your physical strength and endurance, staving off extra pounds and improving your mood. Failing to eat well beforehand can detract from these benefits by zapping your energy and interfering with recovery. For best results, aim for a well-balanced meals and snacks based on nutritious foods throughout each day. Eating appropriate snacks before running can help ensure positive blood sugar and energy levels and keep hunger pangs at bay.
Carbohydrates are the top fuel source for your body and muscles. Fresh fruit contains simple carbohydrates, which provide the quickest burst of energy. Unlike other simple carb sources such as white bread and candy, fruit provides fiber, which promotes blood sugar control; water, which guards against dehydration; and potassium, which is a mineral that is particularly important for athletes. The Mayo Clinic lists fresh fruit as a valuable snack option to consume within an hour before you exercise. Eating large meals or fatty, high-protein snacks shortly before running can cause diarrhea and stomach cramps.
Whole grains are complex-carbohydrate sources, which provide the longest-lasting blood sugar control and energy. Whole grains also provide B vitamins, which your body needs to produce energy foods. If several hours have passed between your last meal and running, a snack containing 100 to 300 calories -- such as a small bagel with peanut butter -- can provide sufficient staying power, according registered sports dietitian Nancy Clark. For the most nutritional benefits, choose prepared items that list whole grains as main ingredients. Choose granola bars that list oats as the first ingredient, for example, and breads and cereals that list whole wheat, oats or spelt as the top ingredient. Other nutritious whole grains include brown rice, wild rice, quinoa and barley.
Smoothies provide convenient on-the-go fuel for running. While carbohydrate- and protein-rich smoothies make for valuable post-workout fuel, according to the University of Colorado Extension, lower-protein options are ideal beforehand. Choose smoothies containing nutritious ingredients, such as fresh or frozen fruits, fresh or frozen vegetables, low-fat milk, low-fat yogurt and 100 percent fruit juice. For the sustaining benefits of fiber, choose whole fruits and vegetables over juices.
Honey is a simple carbohydrate source that can be consumed alone or with other foods for added carbohydrates and flavor. The University of Colorado Extension warns against consuming honey by itself immediately before running, however, because it can cause dehydration. It also takes about 30 minutes for honey to provide energy through your bloodstream. If you have a half-hour or longer before your run, add honey to a banana, a small dish of oatmeal or a smoothie. If you don't have much of an appetite, have a spoonful of honey with plenty of water.
August McLaughlin is a health and sexuality writer, podcast host and author of “Girl Boner: The Good Girl’s Guide to Sexual Empowerment” (Amberjack Publishing, 2018). Her articles appear in DAME Magazine, Cosmopolitan.com, the Huffington Post and more, and she loves connecting with readers through her blog and social media. augustmclaughlin.com