An early-morning run, for example, can leave you feeling fatigued during your working day. A midday training session may become no more than an afterthought if hunger overrides your motivation. And an after-work jaunt may press your dinnertime perilously close to bedtime.

If you are looking for ways to get back into sync, read on. The following advice will help you coordinate your meals with your training schedule, based on the time of day you run.

Early Birds

To eat or not to eat? That is the eternal question of those who like to run as the sun is coming up.

The answer is, if you can, you should fuel up before your morning run. This performs two functions. First your muscles receive an energy supply to help you power through the run. Secondly, your entire body, especially your brain, receives the fuel and nutrients it needs for optimal functioning. It shouldn’t be a surprise that studies support this and that eating before a run boosts endurance compared with fasting for 12 hours. People who eat before exercise rate the exercise as better and as less rigorous compared with those who fast. 

That said, not everyone can eat before a morning run. If you’re the type of person who sleeps until the minute before you head out of the door, you might not be able to fit in the meal before you run. Eating too close to your run may spoil it by causing cramps and nausea. On the other hand, if you’re a true early bird, you may have the time to eat breakfast, read the paper and wash up before you head out of the door. Here are a few refuelling strategies for both types of morning exercisers:

Early risers
Choose high-carbohydrate foods that are low in fat and moderate in protein. Aim for about 400-800 calories, which will fuel your training without making you feel sluggish. Drink about half a pint of water two hours before your run to offset sweat loss. 

Try these 400- to 800-calorie pre-run breakfasts:

  • Two slices of toast and a piece of fruit
  • Cereal with skimmed or semi-skimmed milk and fresh fruit
  • A toasted bagel topped with low-fat cheese and tomato slices

    Late sleepers
    Most runners fall into this category and don’t have time to eat and digest a full meal before they head out of the door.If you fall into this camp, experiment to see what you can stomach before you train. Here are a few suggestions:

    • Half a pint of a carbohydrate drink
    • An energy gel washed down with water
    • Half a bagel

      If none of these sits well with you just before a run, then fuel up the night before with a large dinner. As long as you don’t plan a long or intense run in the morning, a high-carbohydrate evening meal should power you through your pre-breakfast run.

      For both types
      Whether you are an early or late riser, your body needs calories from carbohydrate, protein and other nutrients after you have finished running. A recovery meal will help fuel your morning at work, preventing post-run fatigue. Eat within an hour of your training and be sure to include both carbohydrate and protein. Here are some options:

      • A fruit smoothie made with a tablespoon of protein powder
      • Eggs on whole-wheat toast and fruit juice or fresh fruit
      • Leftovers from dinner – pasta, soup, chilli or even vegetable pizza

        The Lunchtime Crowd

        People who run during lunch hours sometimes find that hunger gets the better of them. That’s because if you ate breakfast at 6am, you’ve gone six hours without food. By noon, your fuel from breakfast is long gone and your blood sugar may start to dip. Rather than increasing the size of your breakfast (which may just leave you feeling sluggish), you should bring a light, pre-run snack to work.

        Remember the following three points as you run:

        1) Timing Eat one to four hours before your run to allow enough time to food to leave your stomach.

        2) Quantity Eat 100-400 calories, depending upon your body size and what you had for breakfast. 

        3) Content Select foods that are rich in carbohydrate, low in fat and moderately high in nutrients. Try these mid-morning snacks:

        • A breakfast or energy bar with five grams of fat or less
        • One slice of whole-wheat toast topped with fruit spread
        • A 75g serving of dried fruit with a can of vegetable juice
        • One packet of instant oatmeal made with skimmed milk

          Post-run lunch
          The obvious problem with lunch-hour exercise is that you don’t have time for lunch. But you need fluid and food to recover and fuel your brain for the rest of the working day. Packing your own lunch becomes a must – unless you have a work cafeteria where you can grab food for desktop dining. Packed lunches don’t have to take a lot of time. Try these tips:

          • Opt for convenience and shop for lunch items that save time, such as yoghurts, raisins, nuts and cereal bars
          • Always add fruit. Toss one or two pieces of fruit in your lunch bag for a reliable source of nutrient-packed carbohydrate
          • Make the most of leftovers. Choose any food from the previous night’s dinner that you’ve already packed in a sealed container ready for transport, reheating and eating

            Evening Exercise

            After a stressful day at the office, there’s nothing like a run to burn off excess tension. The problem is that you sometimes don’t feel like heading out of the door if you’re hungry or just exhausted. If you do manage to run, sometimes you return home so ravenous that you eat everything in sight as you make your evening meal. Then you might eat dinner as late as 8pm and end up going to bed with a full stomach. 

            What to do?
            It’s very simple – just stick to the following two principles:

            1. Eat healthily during the day to avoid any intestinal upset that might thwart your training plans. Also eat often and enough that you’re adequately fuelled for your session to avoid the ‘I’m too hungry’ excuse.

            2. Eat lightly after exercise to recover well without causing digestion to interfere with your sleep. 

            Here are some tips for evening exercisers:

            • Never skip breakfast. Eat at least 500 calories for your morning meal. For example, quickly throw together a fruit smoothie made with yoghurt, fruit and juice. Or try cereal topped with nuts, skimmed milk and a piece of fruit.
            • Make lunch your main meal of the day. Focus on high-quality protein, such as fish, tofu, lean beef, chicken or bread with cooked grain, along with fresh fruit.
            • Always eat a mid-afternoon snack. Around three hours before your run, eat a snack of fruit or an energy bar together with half a pint of water.
            • Drink more fluids. Grab a drink as soon as you step back through the door after your run. And keep drinking as you prepare your meal. This helps replace sweat loss and may prevent you trying to eat everything in sight.
            • Eat moderately at dinner. Some people worry about eating too close to bedtime because they fear the calories will go straight to their fat cells. That’s simply not true. Your body will use those calories to stockpile fuel in your muscles. On the other hand if you eat more calories than your body needs – no matter what time of day or night – your body will eventually store the excess as fat.

            PRE RACE MEAL

            Every meal is important, but no meal is more important than the one before a race. Choosing the wrong foods, eating too much or too little, or eating at the wrong time can affect your performance and possibly ruin your race. Eating the right pre-race meal at the right time ensures that all your hard training doesn’t go to waste.

            The main purpose of the pre-race meal is to fill your liver with glycogen, especially if it precedes a morning race. Liver glycogen fuels your nervous system while you sleep, and as a result, your liver is roughly 50 percent glycogen-depleted when you wake up in the morning. Your muscles, inactive during the night, remain fully glycogen loaded from the previous day.


            Timing is perhaps the most important consideration. The ideal time for a pre-race meal is about four hours before the race, because it’s early enough to digest and store a large amount of energy (i.e. a large number of calories), yet late enough that this energy won’t be used up by race time.

            Most running races start early in the morning, and since sleep is also important, it’s often impossible to eat a full breakfast four hours before the horn sounds. That’s okay. It’s usually possible to eat at least two hours out. While you won’t safely be able to eat as much this close to race time, you can still eat enough.

            The appropriate size of your pre-race meal depends on three factors: the duration of your race, your size and the timing of the meal. The longer the race you’re competing in and the heavier you are, the larger your pre-race meal should be. The closer your pre-race meal falls to the race start, the smaller it must be. 

            If you’re able to eat four hours out, you can safely consume up to 1,000 calories. If you eat just two hours before the start, eat a smaller meal of 300 to 400 calories.

            What to Eat

            At least 80 percent of the calories you consume in your pre-race meal should come from carbohydrates. Keep your protein and especially your fat and fiber consumption low. These nutrients take up space that is better utilized by carbohydrates. Also, avoid gas-producing foods such as onions.

            The types of carbohydrate are not important. While some studies have shown a performance benefit associated with eating a low-glycemic index (GI) meal rather than a high-GI meal before exercise, these meals were eaten just 30 minutes before exercise—the worst possible time for a high-GI meal, because blood glucose levels tend to decrease about 30 minutes after a high-GI meal.

            Recall that in a high-GI meal, carbohydrates enter the bloodstream very quickly, whereas in a low-GI meal, carbs enter the bloodstream at a lower rate. In studies involving a more sensibly timed pre-exercise meal, the glycemic index of the meal has had no effect on performance.

            Choose foods and drinks that are not only easily digested, but also easily consumed—especially if you’re prone to nervousness. Few athletes have their usual hearty appetite on race mornings, but the butterflies in their stomach usually permit consumption of soft, bland foods such as oatmeal and bananas.

            A liquid meal such as a breakfast shake is another good choice, as long as it’s high in carbohydrates and low in protein, fat and fiber. If you don’t have a ritual pre-race meal, try various options and pay careful attention to the results. As with your pre-race dinner, once you’ve settled upon a pre-race breakfast that works well, stick with it.

            Here are my choices for the five best foods to eat (or drink) before a race:


            A bagel makes an excellent pre-race breakfast food, not only because it’s rich in carbohydrates, bland and easily digested, but also because it’s something many runners eat for breakfast routinely, hence familiar. Eat it dry or top it with something low in fat such as a light smearing of reduced fat cream cheese.


            Bananas are almost all carbohydrate. A large banana contains more than 30 grams of carbohydrate, just one gram of protein and no fat whatsoever. Bananas are also high in potassium (400 mg), which is lost in sweat during running. As mentioned above, their softness and light taste make them easy to consume even with pre-race nerves, and their natural “wrapper” makes them handy for eating on the road.

            Energy Bar

            Energy bars such as PowerBar and ClifBar are made to be eaten before exercise. Most are very high in carbohydrates and low in fiber, fat and protein. The better bars also contain useful amounts of sodium, potassium and the antioxidant vitamins C and E. A cappuccino flavor PowerBar, for example, contains 45 g of carbohydrate, 110 mg each of sodium and potassium, 35 percent of the recommended daily allowance of magnesium and 100 percent of the RDA of vitamins C and E.

            There’s a huge variety of energy bars on the market, and some are better than others. Choose one that’s close to the PowerBar formula I just outlined. Avoid the high-protein, low-carb bars that have become popular in recent years.

            The advantage of the wide selection of bars on the market is that it’s easy to find one you like and can eat without unpleasantness before a race. Pay attention to texture, too. Some bars are very chewy, and for some runners (myself included) eating chewy foods tends to exacerbate the stomach churning that’s associated with pre-race nervousness.

            Meal Replacement Shake

            I drink one or two meal replacement shakes before almost every race. Brands such as Boost and Ensure have a nearly perfect nutrition profile—they take care of energy and hydration needs, they’re super-convenient and nothing is easier to consume before a race, even if you’re extremely anxious. And they taste good.

            Ensure, for example, delivers a whopping 250 calories of energy in a little eight-ounce can, including 40 grams of carbohydrates. The one downside to these beverages is their efficiency. By providing so much nutrition in such little volume, they are not as filling as solid foods and can actually leave you feeling hungry in the middle of a marathon if you rely on them solely.

            In the same general category as meal replacement shakes are performance recovery drinks including Endurox R4 and Ultragen. 

            They are normally used immediately after exercise, but they can also be used for the purpose of pre-race fueling. They are sold as powders that you mix with water. Because these drinks are slightly more diluted than meal replacement drinks, they do an even better job of hydrating and fueling simultaneously.


            Like bananas, oatmeal is almost pure carbohydrate, plus soft and light in taste. It is also the most filling food among the five best pre-race foods, which is good for those wanting something substantial in their belly before they head out to burn a few thousand calories. 

            Some runners also prefer to eat a real breakfast food for breakfast, and oatmeal certainly provides that.

            Oatmeal requires preparation that can be more challenging on the road than at home. If your hotel room has a microwave oven, you’re all set as long as you’ve brought some kind of bowl with you. 

            If there’s no microwave oven, you can use the coffee maker to heat water.

            There are so many factors we must think about before a big race. Following these guidelines can help you deal with one of the most important.


            What’s best to eat for recovery after a hard workout? 

            That’s what marathoners, body builders, and fitness exercisers alike repeatedly ask. They read ads for commercial recovery foods that demand a three to one ratio of carbs to protein, tout the benefits of a proprietary formula, or emphasize immediate consumption the minute you stop exercising. 

            While these ads offer an element of truth, consumers beware: engineered recovery foods are not more effective than standard foods. The purpose of this article is to educate you, a hungry athlete, about how to choose an optimal recovery diet. 

            More: Nutrition Recovery for Endurance Athletes

            Which athletes need to worry about a recovery diet? 

            Too many athletes are obsessed with rapidly refueling the minute they stop exercising. They are afraid they will miss the one-hour “window of opportunity” when glycogen replacement is fastest. They fail to understand that refueling still occurs for several hours, just at a slowing rate. 

            Given a steady influx of adequate carb-based meals and snacks, muscles can refuel within 24 hours. If you have a full day to recover before your next training session, or if you have done an easy (non-depleting) workout, you need not obsess about refueling immediately afterwards.

            More: 4 Delicious Recovery Smoothies

            Refueling immediately is most important for serious athletes doing a second bout of intense, depleting exercise within six hours of the first workout. This includes: 

            ? Triathletes doing double workouts
            ? Soccer players in tournaments
            ? People who ski hard in the morning and again in the afternoon

            The sooner you consume carbs to replace depleted muscle glycogen and protein to repair damaged muscle, the sooner you’ll be able to exercise hard again. 

            More: Are You Eating Enough Carbs?

            Over the course of the next 24 hours, your muscles have lots of time to replenish glycogen stores. Just be sure to repeatedly consume a foundation of carbohydrates with each meal/snack, along with some protein to build and repair the muscles. For example, a fruit smoothie is an excellent choice.  

            How many carbs do I need?

            According to the International Olympic Committee’s Nutrition Recommendations, adequate carbs means:

            Amount of exercise                          Gram carb/lb      Gram carb/kg

            Moderate exercise (~1 hour/day)           2.5 to 3                 5-7

            Endurance exercise (1-3 h/day)              2.5 to 4.5              6-10 

            Extreme exercise (>4-5 h/day)                3.5 to 5.5             8-12

            More: Why Are Carbs Important?

            For example, a 150-lb triathlete doing extreme exercise should target approximately 500 to 800 g carb/day (2,000 to 3,200 carb-calories). That’s about 500 to 800 g of carbs every four hours during the daytime.

            TYPES OF PROTEIN

            Protein – we’re told that we need it to build muscle, provide energy and fill our stomachs. But, what role does protein really play in our diets? What are the different sources? We reached out to Gordon Zello, Ph.D., professor of Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Saskatchewan, to get answers to our many protein questions.

            What is protein?

            Dr. Zello: “Proteins are composed of amino acids. These amino acids are placed in a precise order by a genetic code specific to each protein. This makes each protein unique and related to its function in the body. All animals and plants contain protein; therefore, one source of amino acids comes from our diet.

            “There are two kinds of amino acids, those that our body can make from others amino acids (dispensable or non-essential) and those that have to come from the food we eat (indispensable or essential).  Protein is a macronutrient, along with carbohydrates and fat, thus besides its many functions it also provides energy to the body. Furthermore, protein is our source of nitrogen that we also require to make essential nitrogen-containing compounds.”

            Protein has many functions in the body:

            • Immediate energy (calories)
            • Enzymes
            • Hormones (e.g. insulin)
            • Structural proteins (e.g. muscle, bone, teeth, skin, blood vessels, hair; nails etc.)
            • Immunoproteins (e.g. antibodies)
            • Transport proteins (e.g. albumin, hemoglobin, lipoproteins).
            • Other essential nitrogen-containing compounds made from amino acids are melanin pigments (skin color) thyroid hormones, neurotransmitters (e.g. serotonin, epinephrine), nucleic acids and creatine.

            How much protein does a person need in a day?

            Dr. Zello: “The amount of protein an adult needs in a day is based on the weight of an individual, as the more you weigh the more protein one will require. For an adult, the requirement is 0.8 grams per kilogram of weight per day. Therefore, someone who weighs 70kg (155lbs) will require 56g of protein per day. It is usually not a problem to consume this much protein as most adults eat on average 80 to 120g of protein per day. If you are a growing infant or child, or a woman who is pregnant or nursing, protein needs increase.”

            What are some sources of protein?

            Dr. Zello: “All plants and animal products contain protein. Those proteins that provide all the amino acids that we need are called high or good quality proteins. These would include meats, eggs and dairy products. Some proteins have lower quality as they may be missing or have lower amounts of a specific amino acid. For example, legumes are lower in methionine and grains are lower in lysine. This is not usually a problem as we eat more protein then we need in a day.”

            Are there different types of protein that help for athletic performance? 

            Dr. Zello: “Athletes do not require any different types of proteins as when we eat protein, the protein is broken down to amino acids in our digestive tract to amino acids and are then absorbed in our body. These absorbed amino acids are then used to make proteins and as long as you eat balanced meals you will be getting sufficient amounts of amino acids to meet needs including those of an athlete. As proteins are not stored in our body like fat, the protein that we eat in excess of what we need is broken down and the nitrogen excreted from our bodies.”

            Is there anything else you would like to add?

            Dr. Zello: “One misconception is that athletes are required to supplement their diet with protein as they are not consuming enough through the food they eat. Part of this misunderstanding is that protein requirements for an athlete may range between 1.2 to 1.7 g/kg per day which is greater than the 0.8 g/kg per day for the non-athlete. However, since we eat more protein than we need to begin with and an athlete will need to eat more calories to perform (expend more calories), the requirement for an athlete will still be met. For example, if an athlete weighing 60kg, consumes 15% of daily calories as protein (rest from carbohydrates and fats), and requires 2700 kcal per day for energy needs, they would be at 1.7 g/kg per day, or the high end of an athlete’s protein needs.”

            Protein is an important part of our daily diets and essential for our bodies to function. Animal sources of protein include meat, milk and eggs. Plant sources of protein include soy, peanuts, lentils and chick peas. Both plant and animal protein can be part of a healthy diet.