What to Eat for a Run (and When)

Abbie Mood
by Abbie Mood
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What to Eat for a Run (and When)

We’ve all been there — you’re in between meals, but it’s time for a run, and your stomach is growling. You know it’s not good to run on an empty stomach, but if you eat the wrong thing, the whole run could turn into a disaster. You need to find a snack that’ll give you energy but can last through the entire workout. But what do you look for? How do you choose a snack that won’t upset your stomach?

It’s important to note that everyone is different. Some people have a more sensitive stomach when it comes to running, so what works for one person may not work for another. Runners should play around with what works best for them,” Lailina Wisoff, RDN. It’s also important to try out any new snacks before a regular run, not before a race. Also, staying hydrated goes a long way, so regardless of what and when you eat, make sure you’re getting enough water throughout the day.


Especially for runners, carbs are not the enemy. When narrowing down your snack choices, start with carbohydrate-rich foods, says Wisoff. She recommends “fruit, juice, crackers or a bar with a protein-and fat-rich food like peanut butter, string cheese, yogurt or a smoothie.”

It’s important to choose easily digestible carbs and to avoid heavy foods that are high in fiber, or anything too spicy or fatty. “Avoid too much fiber, fat, or calories as they take longer to digest,” Wisoff suggests.

It’s also important to look at a food’s glycemic index value. The higher the GI value, the more that food is going to spike your blood sugar and give you a quick energy boost. If it’s close to your run, you’ll want something higher on the GI. If you have more time, you may want something that’s lower on the GI because your body has more time to absorb it. Some coaches also recommend eating a food with a high GI score as soon as you finish a hard workout because the insulin boost that comes with it can help recovery.


Choosing the right snack also depends on how far you plan to run and how long before the run you eat. If you are heading out the door immediately, eat 100–150 calories of something that scores  middle-to-high on the glycemic index. Good options include a banana, apple (or unsweetened applesauce), a few orange slices or a piece of toast.

If you have an hour or more for your snack to digest, sports dietitian Jan Dowell, MS, RD, recommends consuming up to 300 calories. You can also add in a little bit of protein to help fuel recovery.

Try foods like oatmeal and fruit, a cup of cereal with milk, two toaster waffles with maple syrup, a rice cake with peanut butter, a couple slices of turkey on a tortilla, or carrots and hummus.

Don’t like those options? Wisoff reiterates the importance of finding what’s best for your body. “It also depends on digestion and how quickly a person can assimilate what they are eating without ending up with stomach cramps or feeling weighed down,” she says.


> 7 Signs You Need a Midrun Snack
> Fuel Up Pre- & Post-Run with These Meals & Snacks
> Get the Nutrients You Need for Your Workout

About the Author

Abbie Mood
Abbie Mood

Abbie is a freelance writer and editor based out of Colorado. She loves writing about a variety of topics from running to soccer to social/environmental issues, and when she isn’t writing, Abbie tries to be outside as much as possible. You can find her online at her website or on Twitter/Instagram @abbiemood.


9 responses to “What to Eat for a Run (and When)”

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  3. davedave12 says:

    “You know it’s not good to run on an empty stomach, but if you eat the wrong thing, the whole run could turn into a disaster.” When you see a lion or the other tribe, you just run; you don’t snack.. Exercise is not that complicated; there are just too many people trying to make a living off it.. Anyone out there ever go to boot camp —- real one. Did they give you before and after snacks for your running or hiking?

    • favsis5bros says:

      Have you ever tried to do a long run (6+ miles) without the adrenalin boost that would accompany a lion chasing you? And boot camp is for youngsters whose bodies can quickly recover the damaging effects from lack of proper nutrition. The article was geared towards the non-lion chased, non-young bootcamp recruit. People who are middle-aged and trying to get in shape, like me!

      • davedave12 says:

        it is not that complicated use myfitnesspal or some app to figure out a calorie goal and stay under it — diet is 80% and exercise 20 % — you don’t need special snacks or special exercises unless completely geeking out is motivation for you

        • Nick Fergadis Giannakopoulos says:

          I think a better way to think about this is how to maximize performance and/or comfort. Sure, you can run with an empty stomach, and if needed with a full stomach too. But is it optimal either way? I think for most people, somewhere in the middle is what allows them to run more efficiently and also to feel better physically during their run.

      • davedave12 says:

        Lions would rarely chase you even a mile. Animals are smart enough to conserve energy.

  4. Kyle says:

    For my easy general runs in the morning I do run on an empty stomach. Research suggests this can offer some fueling and adaptation improvements. But it’s important that if you’re doing a hard run to fuel pre/intra so you can have a high quality session and after for recovery purposes 🙂

  5. Joanne Lawrence says:

    If I run without a near or completely empty stomach, I get a sharp, stabbing pain from my gallbladder region(I have a rather large gallstone, so it likely is what’s causing it). Something about the slightly enlarged stomach and lungs expanding more than usual pushes on the gallbladder, causing pain. I pretty much have to run on empty to run well. I’ve adapted fairly well to it. Usually have a cup of coffee and then off I go! Would probably be different if I was running for more than an hour, but on the other hand, the gallbladder thing might limit refueling anyway with anything other than, say, fruit juice. But if I have enough time to digest and I’m that hungry before heading out for a run, this is pretty good information.

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