Pre run food

What should I eat the night before a long run?

Have you ever been on a run and felt lacking in energy? Dizzy or weak? An urgent need for a bathroom stop? If any of these feelings are familiar, then it sounds like you need some help on what to eat before a run. Importantly, you want to ensure you’re eating the right thing the night before a race and remove any risk of hitting the wall during a half marathon or marathon.

When it comes to running, what we eat is important. The “right” food gives us the energy we need to keep going, but the “wrong” foods could cause an upset stomach or make us feel lethargic. So, it’s important to make sure you fuel up correctly before a competitive race – especially if you’re aiming for a PB. In this article, we’ll break down competitive races and suggest what to eat before running them.

General Advice

Before we get into specifics, there are a few things to know about running and food. While runners might think that breakfast matters more than their meal the night before, what you eat the night before a run is absolutely vital because it’ll be your main energy store.

Generally, runners should focus on the four main areas for their pre-race evening meal: carbohydrates, protein, fats and vitamins and minerals. Let’s break them down.

  • Carbs: Arguably, these are the most important. Stored in the muscles and liver, carbs will help keep your energy high, prevent your blood sugar from dropping and help replenish glycogen levels. Whole grain carbohydrates like brown rice or pasta get the best results.
  • Protein: Protein intake is important because it reduces the likelihood of injuries by accelerating muscle growth and helping to rebuild muscle fibres. Choose protein that’s low in fat, such as eggs, fish and poultry.
  • Fats: That being said, a small amount of fat is essential in a healthy diet, and runners need this valuable metabolic fuel for energy. Polyunsaturated fats are best, such as sunflower seeds, fatty fish like mackerel and salmon, and avocados.
  • Vitamins and minerals: All runners need vitamins and minerals to turn food into energy, maintain bone strength and repair muscle tissue. Get vitamin A from sweet potatoes and kale, and find valuable calcium in milk and spinach.

So, how can you apply each of these food groups to your pre-race evening meal? 

What to eat before a 5k race

5K races are great for beginners. They are a short and sweet runs which mean you can really enjoy the whole process. While a 5K running race might not need too much preparation, it’s still important to eat well the night before. We’re talking complex carbohydrates, protein and a little fat to give your body enough energy to perform at it’s best.

Suggestion: Grilled salmon, brown rice and steamed veg such as broccoli or spinach.

What to eat before a 10k race

A 10K race is more challenging, but a great distance for runners who are training for longer races or who enjoy the speed of a 5k run, with that extra challenge. Your pre-10K meal should provide you with plenty of energy for the next day, so think about what you might eat for a 5K and increase the protein and veg. You could also fuel up on carbs gradually in the run up to your race.

Suggestion: Grilled or oven-cooked chicken breast, roasted sweet potatoes and asparagus.

What to eat before a half marathon

Now we’re onto the big ones, where what you eat before the run becomes even more important. A half marathon is when running starts to get really challenging. You’ll need to train for a few months and watch your diet throughout the process so your body is well fuelled for longer distances. Your pre-half marathon meal should be carb heavy without overloading. Either of the 5K or 10K meals would do it (but you might want a slightly larger portion), or you could follow in Jessica Ennis-Hill’s footsteps and go for something a tad more interesting like a pasta bake.

What to eat before a marathon

Running a marathon is a huge achievement, and it takes dedication. This doesn’t just mean in terms of training – it also means in terms of your diet. You’ll need to avoid fizzy drinks, fast food and alcohol during training, and eat nutritious dinners during the week in the run up to your race. The evening before, we recommend Mo Farah’s staple meal of pasta, steamed vegetables and grilled chicken. You might also want to bring some running snacks with you on race day such as energy drinks or gummies – but practise with these beforehand as they could upset your stomach. 

Tips for pre-race day eating:

#1 – Go light on fibre: Whether you’re running a 5K or a marathon, too much fibre could upset your stomach and cause an unwanted bathroom break.

#2 – You don’t need a carb overload: Yes, carbs are great for runners, but you don’t need to eat them in excess. Watch your portion size so you don’t feel lethargic or sluggish.

#3 – Enjoy your meal: Eating healthily is important before race day, but the chances are you’ll be nervous. Cook something you enjoy and want to eat to help with the nerves.

#4 – Stay hydrated: Hydration is key when it comes to running, no matter the distance. Your evening meal should be accompanied with plenty of water, and go easy on the salt.

#5 – Listen to your gut: What to eat before running can vary – and you know your body better than anyone. If you have any underlying health conditions or intolerances, listen to your gut and go with what you know it can handle.

We’d love to hear what you eat before running or what your special pre-race meal is? Let us know in the comments and feel free to share your recipe!

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Briony is a writer currently living in London. While she spends a lot of time hunched over a desk trying to craft sentences, her other passion is running. She enjoys setting her own goals and is currently training for her second half marathon.

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