Reader Inquiry: When and What Should I Eat?

September 29, 2009


A few weeks ago, we received this question via Twitter.

Before an intense workout or run, is it better to eat before or after? What type of food is best?

If you want to perform well, you have to develop a strategic eating plan. Generally, you should eat carbs before your run and refuel afterwards with protein. Eating before your run can be a little tricky. Eat too close to your run and it may upset your stomach. In a recent 5k, I made the mistake of eating two boiled eggs an hour before the race. Half-way through I was wishing for a port-a-potty to magically appear. Timing varies for everyone and unfortunately figuring out timing and what foods won’t upset your stomach is trial and error. Also, I try to limit my pre-workout snacks to around 200 calories.

5 Great Pre-Workout Foods
1. Fruit
2. Low-Fat Yogurt
3. Pretzels
4. Granola bar
5. Toast or crackers and Peanut Butter

Post run is a different story, “When you run, you burn mostly glycogen, a fuel stored in your muscles. Your mission right after a run, therefore, is to eat, even if you don't feel hungry. And fast. No matter what time of day you run, the enzymes that are responsible for making glycogen are most active immediately post workout-leaving you a 60-minute window in which those highly stimulated enzymes are at maximum capacity to produce glycogen” (Scott, 2004).

Here are some additional guidelines for recreational runners and endurance runners to help them perform at an optimal level:

Recreational Runners
1. Eat healthy. It’s that simple. Your diet should consist of lean protein, fruits vegetables, fiber-rich foods starches and heart healthy fats.

2. Remember to drink plenty of water.
3. You should eat within at least 3 hours prior to working out and don’t eat less than 30 minutes before you exercise (Ferstrom, 2006).

For endurance runners, it gets a little more intense.
• Before the run: You should have a mix of carbs, protein and heart healthy fat. I like to eat a a bagel with peanut butter or a snack bar around 200 calories. Clif Bar is a energy bar made of 70 percent organic ingredients and 23 vitamins and minerals. My bars of choice? Oatmeal Raisin Walnut, Black Cherry Almond and Chocolate Chip Peanut Crunch.

• During the run: Another reason I love running. You can eat WHILE you run. You’ve probably heard of runners eating GU or drinking sports drinks while they run, but why not carry along grapes, banana chunks, raisins or 100 calories packs for quick energy? You will need 100 to 200 calories per hour.

• After the run: Although eating might be the last thing you want to do, it’s critical you eat immediately after you run. Drink eight to 12 ounces of a sports drink or a bottle of water with a handful of grapes or an orange. “Refueling within about 30 minutes after a long run is important” (Ferstrom). You should eat a mixture of protein and carbs with low fat. STAY AWAY FROM DONUTS AND OTHER HIGH CARB/HIGH FAT PROCESSED FOODS. Also, make sure you drink plenty of water.

Douglas, Scott. (2004) Balancing Act. Runner’s World, August 2004. Retrieved September 12, 2009, from
Fernstrom, Madelyn. (2006). TODAY, October 26, 2006. Retrieved September 12, 2009, from

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