Snacking Strategies for Run Workouts
By Monique Ryan
Early morning runs, lunchtime runs, evening runs — runners (and triathletes) always need to navigate the balance of run times with meal timing to maintain a placid stomach, prevent hunger and boost energy. But when done right, snacking can be part of the perfect meal plan before and after your workouts. Snacking is a distinct fueling advantage and is part of your internal equipment.
Snacks can be consumed any time of day, but offer performance advantages when carefully timed before or after a run. The right food choices in the right portions provide a fuel boost. Sometimes for the stomach jostling experience of running, less is more — that’s why snacks are the perfect fit. Smaller, more frequent eating occasions help to provide adequate body fuel and brain fuel, and can also translate to better hydration.
Before the run
Pre-run snacks boost blood glucose levels, and can top off muscle carbohydrate stores — essential fuel for longer, harder runs. The more time for digestion, the larger the snack. For a snack two hours ahead, try a an option such as a bowl of cereal or peanut butter sandwich, or a small smoothie and muffin, rather than one the size of an SUV tire. This snack can help to delay fuel depletion during the run and prevent hunger as well. Fifty to 75 grams of easily digested carbohydrate can be consumed two hours before.
Of course real-life schedules could require that you gently fuel up one hour before a run. When short on time, try something lighter like a sports drink, a handful of dry cereal, a slice of toast with honey or a waffle with jam. Aim for 15-25 grams of carbohydrate in the hour before a run. You can also pop in a carbohydrate gel or half an energy bar for easy digestion.
After the run
Post-run, snacks reload muscles with fuel and your body with fluid and electrolytes. Post-run snacking is going to repair, restoreand replete, so aim for both protein and carbohydrate containing foods within 15 minutes. Aim for a mini meal such as fruit and yogurt rather than one or the other.
Aim for 12-15 grams protein, and 35-50 grams of carbohydrate, and not much more, to prevent overeating and keeping weight in check. Check food labels to determine optimal snack portions. Savory snacks are appealing if your appetite is diminished after a hard run.
Some post-run suggestions include:
8 ounces of low fat chocolate milk
Trail mix with dried fruit, soybeans, cereal or pretzels
A peanut butter and jelly sandwich or wrap
An energy bar with a mix of carbohydrate and protein
A handful of salted nuts with pretzels
Chex mix or another snack mix
Pita bread with hummus
Monique Ryan, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN is the leading endurance sports nutritionist. Her nearly 30 years of professional experience working with Olympic (consultant to USAT and USA Cycling), elite and age-group endurance athletes and professional sports teams make her one of the most experienced and qualified sports nutritionists in the U.S. Ryan is founder of Chicago based Personal Nutrition Designs, LLC and the best-selling author of Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes (3rd edition, VeloPress) and three other sports nutrition books. PND, LLC provides detailed nutrition plans for triathletes across North America competing in all race distances, with programs at www.moniqueryan.com. Ryan is a Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist and a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics.