The best foods to eat before training


Running With Us coaches explain which foods are best to eat before training and how to go about integrating these into your diet and routine.


Running With Us coaches
Nick Anderson and Tom Craggs

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Nutrition is a cornerstone of athletic performance and with the professional runners we coach, nutrition is just as important as training plans and broader recovery strategies. Getting your nutrition spot on before your runs and sessions will not only give you more energy to hit the paces you want but will also help kick-start your recovery after your runs. 

Here are our top tips to guide your nutrition:

  • Mixing it up: Varying your food and your diet can really help boost your intake of vitamins and minerals. Many of us tend towards eating the same foods with small changes day in, day out. Mix it up, get creative in the kitchen and think about adding to your foods to increase nutrient density. 
  • Carbohydrate Clever: Eat wholesome wholegrain carbohydrate sources such as rye bread, sweet potatoes and buckwheat for more sustained energy.  Try and avoid excessively large portions of ‘refined carbohydrate’ such as cakes and sugary cereals as these won’t provide the same sustained energy and have less nutrient density. 
  • Protein Rich: Eating protein regularly is critical to recovery as our body doesn't store protein like it does carbohydrates and fat. It's important to eat a good variety of protein sources daily. Of course this can include lean meat and dairy but there are plenty of vegetarian sources if you look to nuts, seeds, pulses and pseudocereals like quinoa or teff. 
  • Keep it flowing: Carry a bottle of water wherever you go and ensure you keep filling it up aiming for at least 2-3 litres a day. If hot and to be sure of avoiding dehydration, consider sipping from water containing an electrolyte tablet to retain pre-exercise vitamin and mineral balance.
  • Fasted training: Training ‘fasted’ pre-breakfast can be useful for runners training for longer distance events such as a marathon as it can help to stimulate stored fat metabolization. However, these runs should be easy and relaxed up to a maximum of 75-90 minutes. Regularly completing harder sessions pre-breakfast will limit your ability to recover and adapt.  
  • Pre-Run Fuelling: Meal timing is especially important in activities such as running.  A good rule of thumb is to limit your pre-run meal to about 300-400 calories eaten approximately 3 hours before training. A smaller 200-calorie meal such as a wholemeal bagel could be a great option between 1 and 2 hours before running.  
  • Energy packed: Your pre- training meal should contain foods that are high in carbohydrate, low in fat, with moderate amounts of protein. It’s worth being careful with high fibre foods in this meal as they can cause digestive discomfort when you run. Bananas, homemade energy bars, wholegrain bagels or oatcakes are great options. 
  • Plan your day: If you plan on running in the evening, plan your food intake accordingly to allow for a healthy mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack. This could include whole grain rice cakes with nut butter, a handful of dried mango or a banana to ensure you’ve got enough energy to fuel your run. However try not to overeat during the day as this might leave you feeling lethargic, sluggish and may cause stomach issues whilst running later on. 
  • Finding a kick: Some runners find that a coffee or other source of caffeine gives them a boost when training, but for others it can cause higher heart rates and stomach discomfort. Make sure you try different options in training before a key race. In a similar vein, sports specific products such as energy bars, drinks or gels have a role at the right time in or around hard sessions or racing but you should be getting the majority of your energy and nutrients from your day to day diet. 

How to make it all work

  • Get organised! The main reason we see for runners arriving at sessions tired or under fuelled is lack of planning. Think about your day, plan your meals and don’t just wing it. Treat your body like the racing car it is.
  • Have the option: It’s very hard to have a varied diet packed full of healthy foods if you haven’t bought them in the first place! Check out some of our ideas below and aim to plan your weekly shopping in advance. 
  • Link your training to your nutrition: It sounds obvious but on days when you have a harder session in the evening or a long run you’re going to need a bit more energy. On these days put extra focus on ensuring a good level of carbohydrate intake. 
  • Get creative: Scratch cooking doesn’t always take as much time as we think. High-quality meals, cooked from scratch ARE possible within 30-40 minutes and you are much more likely to increase your nutrient density if you enjoy time in the kitchen! 

Healthy Breakfast Ideas

  • Oatmeal, raw honey, berries, cinnamon and mixed seeds
  • Amaranth or buckwheat pancakes with fruit and yoghurt 
  • Smoothies- vegetable, fruits, nuts, seeds and dairy based
  • Nut Butter (almond), banana, and chia seed rye toast
  • Berry and yogurt smoothie
  • Savoury oatmeal with an egg
  • Quinoa fruit Salad
  • Teff grain, fruit and flaxseed porridge
  • Tahini on spelt toast with egg
  • Sprouted grain wholemeal toast with seed butter and chopped banana
  • Bircher muesli with apple  

Healthy Lunch Ideas

  • Sprouted tofu salad cauliflower mash
  • Split pea soup with Teff bread with cashew cheese
  • Tofu, cashew and salad wholemeal wraps
  • Black beans, brown rice and salad
  • Quinoa, feta and walnut salad
  • Sweet potato, cottage cheese and salad
  • Hummus, Beetroot and salad pitta breads
  • Edamame bean hummus on rye toast and salad
  • Buckwheat pancakes (make the night before and re-heat in the microwave) with avocado, crème fresh and salad

Healthy Dinner Ideas

  • Miso-roasted aubergine steaks with sweet potato
  • Butternut squash, fennel rocket risotto with mozzarella
  • Cauliflower, paneer with couscous
  • Ratatouille with lentils, goats cheese and polenta chips
  • Moroccan chickpea stew with faro grain or quinoa 
  • Adzuki beans with millet pasta and tomato and vegetable pasta sauce
  • Bulgar wheat with mixed bean chilli and vegetables
  • Chili made with beans and whole grains like bulgur
  • Whole-grain pasta and soy, lentils, quinoa and mixed salad
  • Mashed potatoes and marinated tofu with roasted vegetables
  • Refried beans and corn tortillas with salad
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