Whether your running goals are focused on performance or health, you likely notice that running makes you hungry. Runners tend to eat more than sedentary people – as they should. If you are training for a race, your body’s energy needs are quite high. This article will discuss how snacks for runners can support those energy needs, including pre-run snacks, mid-run snacks, and post-running snacks.
A pre-run snack provides energy for your run. Fasted running is not recommended, due to performance impacts and long-term negative implications for hormonal health.
Typically, you will eat a pre-run snack about 30-90 minutes before your run. Because of the close proximity to your run, you want to pick easily digestible foods. Think of foods like a banana, applesauce pouch, graham crackers, or a slice of toast. These pre-run snacks are carb-based, easily digestible, and relatively small in volume so they don’t sit heavy on your stomach.
Pre-run snacks should be mostly carbohydrate-based. You want to avoid large amounts of fiber, protein, and fat before a run. All of these are slower to digest, which means you could experience gastrointestinal upset or unpleasant fullness during your run with too much of any of them (or a combination).
Do you need a pre-run snack? You may want to have a small, carb-based snack if:
- You are running first thing in the morning before breakfast
- It’s been more than three hours since you last ate
- You are hungry before starting your run
The size of your pre-run snack depends on how long and intense your run will be. The longer the run, the more carbohydrates you will want to eat before. Likewise, a high-intensity workout that lasts 60 minutes will burn more energy than a 60-minute easy run, so you may benefit from more carb intake before.
If you are eating 30 minutes before a run that lasts less than an hour, you may only need 20-50 grams of carbs. If you are running for longer or have time to digest, you may opt for up to 75 grams of carbohydrates in your pre-run snack.
Eating before running can be intimidating if you are not used to it. If you are not used to eating before a run, start with something small. An applesauce pouch, a couple of graham crackers, or even some juice can provide energy without weighing down your stomach.
Curious about what to eat before a run? Read this article for some suggestions for pre-run snacks.
For runs longer than ~75 minutes, it is recommended to eat carbohydrates during your run. The recommended intake is 30-60 grams of carbs per hour of running – with possibly more needed for marathon and ultra-marathon races.
You can take gels, chews, or whole foods options. Some runners prefer to take whole foods mid-run snacks over sport nutrition products. While whole foods mid-run snacks are not superior to sport nutrition products, they can be tastier and more budget-friendly.
Some mid-run snacks that are not gels or chews include:
- Clif bars or fig bars
- Fruit snacks
- Dried fruit
- Applesauce pouches
- Gummy candy
Related: Your Guide to Running Gels
When you finish a run, your body starts repairing on a cellular level. Cellular signaling alters protein expression to facilitate muscle protein synthesis to repair muscle damage. Your hormonal response changes to promote glycogen synthesis to replenish glycogen stores in your muscles and livers. Protein co-ingestion with carbohydrates further enhances glycogen replenishment.
If you are eating a meal within an hour, you can skip the post-run snack. However, if you have more than an hour until mealtime, you will want to reach for a runner-friendly snack. To support muscle protein synthesis and glycogen resynthesis, you want to eat both carbohydrates and protein. You can have fat also, but these two macronutrients are the priority.
A 2021 meta-analysis published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise determined that 0.9 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight and 0.3 grams of protein per kilogram. The carbohydrate guidelines apply for each hour in the 4-6 hours post-exercise, so you may choose to eat more carbs in your post-run snack.
For a 65-kilogram (143 lb) athlete, that’s a minimum of 58.5 grams of carbohydrate and 20 grams of protein in the post-run snack or meal. If you exercise for longer, you will need to continue to replace those carbs over 4-6 hours – or have a larger amount upfront. For most athletes, 20-30 grams of protein is recommended in the post-run snack.
Runners’ snacks for after a workout include:
- A protein powder mixed with carb-rich milk
- A smoothie with fruit and a protein source (yogurt, milk, protein powder)
- Fruit, granola, and yogurt
- Hardboiled eggs and toast
- Turkey sandwich
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
Importantly, if you do have a post-run snack, you still should eat a carb- and protein-heavy meal within a couple of hours.
Snack Ideas for Different Race Distances
Have you ever finished a race and skipped eating after because you were not hungry – only to feel exhausted and ravenous hours later? Even if you do not feel like eating, you need a post-race snack to start your recovery process.
Your recovery process after a race matters more if you are racing within a relatively short time frame (such as doing two back-to-back marathons or racing a tune-up race.) In both of these scenarios, you want to recover as quickly as possible to get back to training or your next race.
5-10K distance snack options
After high-intensity races, you may feel briefly nauseous. The high-intensity nature of 5K-10K races can trigger nausea near the end. Nausea can happen due to the activation of the sympathetic nervous system and subsequent catecholamine release and the redirection of blood flow away from the gut.
If you are doing multiple short races in a season or using a 5K/10K as a tune-up race, you do want to priortize recovery nutrition. Something simple like a protein shake can be easy to eat even if your gut feels sensitive. Be sure to get carbs also, in whatever form sounds tolerable.
10K to Half Marathon distance snack options
When you run a distance such as a 10K, 15K, or half marathon, you burn a lot of calories and carbohydrates. While you may not feel that hunger right away, you will finish in an energy deficit. Because of this deficit, you want to have a post-race snack ready to start your recovery, especially if it may be a while before you have a meal. Otherwise, you could feel ravenous later in the day, or not recover optimally.
If you completed a 10K to half marathon race as your goal race of the season, your post-race snack should be whatever sounds good. Whether you want to indulge in big breakfast burrito, or all you can eat are potato chips and ginger ale, you want to eat something.
If you race a half marathon as a tune-up race during marathon training, you want to eat within an hour of finishing. A half marathon will damage the muscles and use a significant amount of muscle glycogen. You want to eat a combination of carbs and protein within an hour of finishing the race. If you are unsure that the post-race provisions will support your recovery nutrition, pack some food in your gear-check bag.
Marathon snack options
Appetite may be poor after finishing a marathon, even though you burned thousands of calories. The hours of mechanical jostling of the GI system, the stress to the nervous system, and dehydration from sweating will all contribute to appetite suppression and potential nausea.
What matters is eating some sort of post-run snack after the marathon. If you wait too long to eat after the race, you will likely feel more fatigued and possibly sick. While races typically provide some food after a marathon, you may find that packing a snack in your gear check is helpful.
What is a good snack after the marathon? Whatever sounds appealing to you! Do not worry about nutritional value after running 26.2 miles. Instead, eat whatever sounds good.
More than likely, you probably do not want any carbs, especially sugar, after a marathon. Many runners do not want to eat carby snacks after completing the carb load and taking several gels during the race. If that is you, follow your cravings – have the protein- and fat-rich foods that you crave.
Tips for Choosing the Right Snacks
The nutrient composition of the “right” snack is highly dependent on the timing of the snack. As noted above, there are times such as the pre-run snack or mid-run snack when fiber, protein, and fat are less desirable.
At other times, you want your snack to contain protein, fiber, and fat. A snack that contains carbs (including fiber), protein, and fat will satiate your appetite better. For example, an apple with peanut butter will be more satisfying and support your energy needs better than just an apple.
Variety is important when choosing running snacks. Runners need a variety of micronutrients, from iron to vitamin D to calcium. By choosing a variety of foods in your snacks, you support adequate micronutrient intake.
Because of runners’ high energy needs, there are times when having a snack is more important than the quality of the snack. If it comes down to eating a snack perceived as “unhealthy” versus not eating at all, most runners are better off eating the snack.
Snacks for Runners, Recapped
Snacks for runners serve multiple purposes: providing energy immediately before a run, supporting recovery after a run, and supporting energy availability during the day.
Here is a quick recap on snacks for runners:
- Pre-run: 20-75 grams of carbs, with minimal fiber, fat, and protein
- Mid-run: 30-60 grams of carbs per hour, with minimal fat, fiber, and protein
- Post-run: 0.9 grams carb/kilogram of bodyweight per hour and 0.3 grams protein/kg bodyweight
- During the day: a combination of carbs, fiber, fat, and protein
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