Early in the morning, during lunchtime or evening — runners always need to navigate the balance of run times with meal timing to maintain a calm stomach, prevent hunger and boost energy. But, when done right, snacking can be part of the perfect meal plan for runners.
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, less is more — that's why snacks are the perfect fit for runners. Eating smaller amounts more frequently helps provide the body and brain adequate fuel, and may also help with better hydration.
Before the Run
Pre-run snacks boost blood glucose levels and can top off muscle carbohydrate stores — providing essential fuel for longer, harder runs. The more time for digestion, the easier to fit in a larger snack. For a snack two hours ahead, go for something rich in carbohydrates such as a bowl of cereal, peanut butter sandwich or small smoothie. This can help power your run and prevent hunger.
Of course, real-life schedules could require that you gently fuel up one hour before a run. When short on time, go for lighter snacks that your body can digest quickly. Consider a handful of dry cereal or a slice of toast with jam. Aim for 15 to 30 grams of carbohydrates in the hour before a run. You also can pop in a carbohydrate gel or half an energy bar for easy digestion if you don't have access to easy snack foods.
After the Run
Post-run snacks reload muscles with fuel and your body with fluid and electrolytes. Aim to eat something with both protein and carbohydrates, within 15 minutes to an hour of ending your run. Check food labels to determine optimal snack portions. Savory snacks are appealing if your appetite is diminished after a hard run.
Some post-run snacks include:
- Trail mix with dried fruit, soybeans, cereal or pretzels
- A peanut butter and jelly sandwich or wrap
- An energy bar with a mix of carbohydrates and protein
- A handful of salted nuts with pretzels
- Pita bread with hummus
Monique Ryan, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, is a Chicago-based author and owner of Personal Nutrition Designs, LLC, which provides nutrition programs for athletes.
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