What do you eat before you run?

Bananas -- the perfect pre-race food, methinks.

Bananas -- the perfect pre-race food, methinks.

My co-blogger Matt recently posted about what he likes to eat after a run (for the record, I think sweet potato pancakes from Ria’s Bluebird wipe the court with anything offered up by Waffle House, but that’s neither here nor there).

Honestly, give me a beer and a bagel after any race and I’m happy until I can get something more substantial in my food hole. What stresses me out is what to eat before a race, both the night before and the morning of. Most people swear by a meal almost entirely made up of carbs, which makes sense, but I’m always a little afraid of overdoing it, Michael Scott-style. Depending on the length of the run, I usually eat a small bowl of pasta or a tuna sandwich, and I try not to eat after 8 p.m. (mostly because I usually try not to go to sleep any later than 10 p.m. the night night before a run). And I obviously try to hydrate as much as possible.

I made the mistake of agreeing to go out for Indian food the night before my most recent half-marathon. Most of you probably have enough common sense to know this isn’t a good idea, but in case you are prone to lapses in judgment like yours truly, believe me when I tell you to step away from the samosas.

The morning of a run, I almost always have a banana and a piece of toast 9and more water). I know some people like to have coffee before runs, and normally I’d lay down my life for the love of sweet, sweet coffee, I can’t stomach it before a big run.

I think the primary lesson I’ve learned is that even if you eat “clean” before a race, there’s no guarantee that you’re going to run to your full potential the next day. I almost always (with the exception of the ill-advised Indian meal) eat the same thing, and I’ve had pretty varying degrees of success the next day. Which isn’t to say I don’t advocate eating properly before a run — I can’t imagine it hurts.

What’s your pre-race culinary ritual? Any recommendations for those of us looking to switch it up?

18 comments Add your comment

Dennis Murray

June 23rd, 2011
9:18 pm

I stick with my normal program – especially for a distance like a 5k or 10k. Run a half marathon and doing 6 miles is common.

I’ve found avoiding anything except maybe sport beans or a banana for two hours before running is pod enough to get me through. Eat and run too quickly and you will be guaranteed to have stomach cramping.

Night before the peachtree I’ll eat a normal dinner (lean protein, salad and some carbs) and a light breakfast very early race day but otherwise just sone fluids.


June 23rd, 2011
9:27 pm

Night before: a trip to Figo or healthy homemade lasagna (whole wheat noodles, lean meat, and low fat cheeses) and lots of H2O.

Morning of: coffee, powerade, a protein bar, and jelly belly sports beans.


June 23rd, 2011
10:08 pm

Morning of (daily run or race) my staple is soy (or plain nonfat/lowfat yogurt) oatmeal or museli, a piece of fruit such as banana, apple, peach or berries, almonds/walnuts and lots of water. Usually no coffee before the run, but definitely after. I run about an hour or longer after I eat.
For the night before a race I don’t have a set meal, but I don’t overload on carbs. Something that has both carbs and lots of protein – a combination of two or more of these: brown/black rice, beans, sweet potatoes, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, veggies… Usually no alcohol the night before, and if I want to do really well, no alcohol at least the week before, and lots of water!


June 23rd, 2011
10:55 pm

Pasta (either gnocchi or tortetlini w/ light sauce — no cheese) and bread the night before (no salad); if it is 10K+ I try to make sure I drink at least 6 bottle waters. The morning of, if it is just a 5K I have a plain toasted bagel with a little cinnamon and if it is a 10K+ I have a little p-nut butter on it. I have to eat about 1 – 1 1/2 hours before the run — any earlier and I feel depleted any later and I cramp up. I agree though, even though I do this ritual, I still have good runs and bad runs but if I stray from this routine, I can almost guarantee a bad run ha! After the run (10K or more) I eat whatever the heck I want — usually mexican food or pizza and ice cream :-)


June 24th, 2011
6:35 am

It’s only a 10k, so worrying about a “night before meal” is a little nuts. As long as you’re not pounding down Mexican food (plus margaritas and cervezas) or a huge brownie sundae for dessert, you’re likely fine. If it’s a half marathon, I’m a little more careful.

In the morning? Cup of coffee, 2 pop tarts, bottle of Gatorade, drop a bomb in the port-o-john, and I’m ready to roll.

Jason MacDonald

June 24th, 2011
6:48 am

Half a bagel two hours before and half a Power Bar 30 minutes prior to the start. Lots of water (duh) and maybe a cup of tea with that bagel. Night before – for smaller distances it doesn’t really matter as long as it’s not a cheesy, gooey mess.
Post race? Why wait in line at Ria’s when Stone Soup Kitchen is right around the corner and has the best tasting vegan, gluten free blueberry pancakes? And awesome regular pancakes. And, they are runner friendly. (full disclosure: I am co-owner). Mention “neighborhood discount” and get 10% off you bill. Or tell them Jason sent you.
Have a great Peachtree!


June 24th, 2011
8:16 am

Quite honestly, I don’t worry about what I eat the night before the race. I’ve gone out for margaritas and tacos the night before and felt totally fine the next morning!

I eat oatmeal every morning and drink around 100oz of water a day. I’ve found that my oatmeal routine plays the biggest role in keeping my stomach “happy”. (I didn’t eat oatmeal for 2 weeks leading up to a race and boy did it show — VERY unhappy stomach!)

The morning of the race I eat a banana, drink black coffee and water. (For the half marathon I had a few bites of a CLIF bar, too.) And, of course, you have to poop. :)

Alan B

June 24th, 2011
8:18 am

I like to eat pizza the night before with a lot of good toppings. Stay away from caffeine a day or 2 before to help with hydration. Lots of water a few days before. The morning of I like a little bit of everything but small portions – cereal, toast, banana and some orange juice. Not as much liquids the morning of the race. After the race I look forward to a nice cold Coca-Cola.


June 24th, 2011
9:45 am

I like to take a late night trip to Krystal before a race. Usually around 3am I will go and order 4 Krystal chicks(plain) 6 chili cheese pups, 4 corn dogs, a steamer, 10 wings,chili cheese fries, and a BA burger. I always ask for extra ranch and ketchup. mmm mmm good!

Robert the Yellow Jacket

June 24th, 2011
9:55 am

I drank three beers at Ruperts the night before a race and everyone including your grandmother passed me the next day at Chastain Park. I believe that’s called a turning point moment.
I got serious as a result and peaked 5 years later at 17:53 and 38:04 though I could have beaten those times on some of the downhill courses that exist to pretend we are better than we are.
I only drank orange juice, soft drinks, or Gatoraid on race day and never anything solid.
A banana pre-race? Better get ready to wait in line for one of the stink tanks. I use them but not when I have a choice.


June 24th, 2011
10:24 am

Whole grains, fruits and vegetables are always good choices. Many fruits and veggies contain much more potassium than bananas. Lots of water and plant based starches should work. However, that’s just one person’s opinion. Best of luck to all you participants!


June 25th, 2011
8:43 pm

Usually some pasta and protein the night before and then a bagel with peanut butter and banana the morning of, at least 2 hours ahead of start time. Only for one 5K did I drink alcohol the night before (at a Christmas party), and at my 5K the next morning I broke my PR. Go figure!

Gen Neyland

June 26th, 2011
11:28 am

‘What do you eat before you run’ is one of those questions that go down as to each their own. Only thing in regards to the PRR is that if your start wave is almost into the next morning, do eat something…and NO sugar packed energy drinks


June 27th, 2011
8:33 am

Water all day the day before, Spaghetti with meat sauce the night before, and 8 hours of sleep.

Morning of: 2 pieces of buttered wheat toast with jam or with a fried egg on top, some juice, a banana, and more water. Of course do this a couple hours before and try to “go” before leaving the house, or else you’ll be in line with the rest of the runners waiting to carpet-bomb the outhouses.


June 27th, 2011
9:00 am

I have run 2 marathons and a 25K within the past nine months. My first marathon went well, but I was hampered by severe cramps and was slowed to a walk as I finished up my 2nd marathon and my 25K. In both instances I fear this had a lot to do with poor hydration and maybe a deficiency of other needed nutrients. Any marathoners out there with thoughts on foods and amount of hydration leading up to the 26.2? What should the duration be?


June 27th, 2011
9:28 am

For a 10k it really doesn’t matter what you eat the night before. The night before i ran my 10k PR, I had a foot long publix sub, a Dr pepper, and a king size snickers. I ran a 38:20 the next morning. Just eat a little bit of something the morning of. There’s plenty of time from when you eat breakfast to when the race starts for your stomach to settle.

Marathon Man

June 27th, 2011
9:48 am

On race day I always stop by Krystal — 4 cheese Krystals, a chili and large fries fuels me up real good.


June 28th, 2011
2:40 pm

I like to cram 3 or 4 bananas up my 2 hole this way I get as much potassium as humanly possible. After that I like to do a couple snooters for energy..After the race I like to hit the all u can eat Shoney’s Buffett. I get the best food in town and all my friends are there!