It’s hard to know what to eat when you’re a runner. We’ve all be there, right? You eat too much before you run and it hits you like a ton of bricks (or worse–it means a trip to the porta potty).
Then after your run, you’re famished and end up overeating. You look at your calorie tracker app and realize you pretty much undid all of your hard work, and then some. It’s a total bummer and yet, somehow you’re still HUNGRY.
Knowing the right running food to eat before, during and after your runs is a challenge. You want to eat just enough that you’ve got plenty of fuel for your mileage. If you’re running for a longer distance, you may need a little pick-me-up mid-run to put some fuel in your tank. After your run, when you’re famished you need something to refuel and recover.
For runners on plant-based diets, protein is also a concern. Most omnivore and even balanced plant-based diets consist of enough protein for regular activities (Americans often eat much more protein than they actually need). But, if you’re a vegetarian or vegan runner you need some meatless protein sources to help you build muscle and recover post-run.
Here are the best running foods to eat before, during and after your workout.
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What to Eat Before a Run
Before you run, you need fuel. If you’re a morning runner your tank is on empty. Running too long without eating can cause you to end up exhausted, crashed or worse. First things first, drink some water when you wake up, pre-run. Hydration is vital and you’re body has been without water all night. Then grab one of these smart pre-run snacks to give you energy.
Banana & Almonds
A banana is a neat, perfectly packaged source of pre-run energy. Really, bananas are practically the perfect running food. They have potassium, carbohydrates and clock in at around 100-110 calories. Add some protein in the form of almonds to give your banana some staying power. Almonds offer six grams of protein per handful (about 24 almonds) and 165 calories. This combination is a winner and is a perfect fast-bite.
PB&J (on Whole Wheat)
Another great pre-running option is to enjoy a PB&J open-face on whole wheat (an english muffin or mini-bagel are also great). Open-face PB&J provides about 250 calories, which again, is the right amount to help you feel energized without weighing you down. With about 35 carbs and 11 grams of protein, this is another easy option to grab on your way out the door.
If you’re really in a rush, grab an energy bar. Look for an option with about 250 calories or less, and a bar that includes 5-10 grams of protein. Most energy bars are fairly high in sugar, so carbohydrates won’t be a problem. Kind bars, Luna bars, Clif and Larabars are all delicious choices. You can also make your own energy bars, which is a cheaper option (with less packaging and waste).
Granola with Almond Milk
If you prefer a classic, fast boost there’s nothing like a bowl of granola cereal with some almond milk. Granola can be a little higher in calories (and about 40 grams of carbohydrates), but most bowls clock in at around 300 calories and offer 10 grams of protein. It’s a fast and easy treat.
What to Eat During a Run
With all the goo and gel options out there, it’s easy to assume everyone needs a constant fuel source during their run. In reality, if your run comes in under 10 miles (or under an hour), you’re probably fine to make it the entire run without a boost. Even some half-marathoners find they don’t need a snack. However, if you’re on a long run you need fuel to avoid “bonking” (essentially when your body cramps up and shuts down). Most importantly you need hydration. So take water and grab one of these natural plant-based items for your long run. Note: you may want to eat small bites every 10-15 minutes to avoid stomach upset.
Those little disposable applesauce packets are great for runners who need to refuel. After all, they’re totally portable and give a nice little carbohydrate boost without being too much. However, the traditional packets are TERRIBLE for the environment. Instead, follow these recipes on No Meat Athlete to create your own homemade running fuel. Transport the packets in these great refillable silicone pouches. They’re perfect for you and the environment.
Dried fruit is another great natural option to take with you on your run. Raisins, dates, cranberries and even dried mango or apricots make excellent running fuel. Keep in mind, these fruits do tend to be high in fiber as well as carbohydrates. Consume them slowly so you don’t run into any GI issues during your run.
Twizzler Nibs or Licorice Bites
If you want another quick-fix and aren’t necessarily dedicated to being too virtuous with your running snacks, consider Twizzler Nibs or other licorice bites. These little tasty treats are easy and portable. Yes, they’re candy (pretty much pure sugar) but they’re an easy to grab-and-go snack (and widely available if you’re on the road). You can also find licorice pieces in the bulk buy bins at many grocery stores.
What to Eat After a Run
Once your run is complete, chances are high that you need to refuel. But what to eat after your run? It’s hard to find after-running foods that won’t derail your progress. It’s also helpful if your post-run meals give you a recovery boost with ingredients like complex-carbohydrates, fiber, healthy fats and protein. Here’s what to eat after you go running.
Avocado Toast with Hemp Seeds
Sprinkle your avocado toast with a handful of protein packed hemp seeds. One tablespoon of the seeds offers 5 grams of protein. Add with the healthy fat in avocado and two slices of toast, and your meal will provide about 15-16 grams of protein, plus fiber. Add a little Sriracha for a flavor kick.
Smoothie with Tart Cherry Juice
If you’re in a hurry and don’t have time to make “second breakfast” let alone first, consider an on-the-go-friendly, smoothie. Start with almond milk and add a scoop of protein powder (we like Vega vanilla powder with 21 grams of protein) to help build and repair muscle. Use frozen cherries and tart cherry juice in your smoothie, which can help ease muscle soreness. Throw in a handful of spinach for an iron boost.
Hummus with Pita
Hummus has about 10 grams of protein in half a cup. In the United States, we don’t often think of hummus as being a main meal, but as chefs in the Middle East will tell you, you can build your plate around hummus. Add some sundried tomatoes, roasted red peppers and olives, or drizzle your hummus with olive oil. Dip wedges of whole wheat pita in your hummus for a delicious treat (with an additional 3 grams of protein).
When we want a quick breakfast, lunch or light dinner, we often turn to quinoa. In a cup of quinoa, you’ll find about 8 grams of protein. It makes a fantastic base for all sorts of add-ins. We often make several cups of quinoa on the weekends and use it as a base for fast meals. Add roasted sweet potatoes, kale, spinach, beans, chickpeas and drizzle with a dressing of your choice. You can also add some meatless protein strips like Beyond Meat Beyond Chicken Grilled Strips, which add an additional 20 grams of protein.
Runners need fuel and nutrition is an important part of your healthy lifestyle. If you’re wondering what to eat after your run, we’ve got you covered!
What are your favorite meals to fuel up?
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