How Long To Wait After Eating To Run (Tips From 5 Experts)
We asked a select group of experts how long you should be waiting after eating before going for a run. The answer? It depends!
How long should you wait after eating to go for your run?
Of course, a lot will depend on your individual circumstances such as what foods you’re eating, the time of day, and how long your run is going to be.
Nevertheless, there are a few key things to bear in mind. We asked a select group of experts for their top tips when it comes to timing your food intake before a run.
Here’s what they said.
There’s No Magic Number On How Long You Should Wait
Michelle Howell, Professional Runner, USTFCCCA Accredited Coach and Running Coach for Tagalong
It’s not unusual for runners to wonder how long to wait after eating before going out for a run.
Most resources will suggest waiting anywhere from two to four hours, but in reality, there’s no magic number on how long you should wait simply because not every runner and not every run is the same.
In my experience, a lot depends on the person as well as what and how much they’re eating.
For newer runners, I recommend not eating within an hour of working out since they’re not as familiar with their bodies. No one wants to be halfway through a run and feel like they’re going to throw up, which is the worst-case scenario when you eat too close in time to your run.
Your stomach needs time to digest and the energy required by the body to do so takes blood flow away from large muscle groups, like the arms and legs, which are engaged when running.
More experienced runners, I’ve found, tend to know their body pretty well and have discovered through trial and error what works best for them.
They’ve experimented with different time frames and know what and when to eat to maximize their workout.
If you are going to eat before a run, try choosing something light and easily digestible that your body’s familiar with like a banana with some peanut butter, apple sauce, or some granola.
Avoid things that are acidic or dairy-based that are more likely to upset your stomach if they’re sloshing around during your run.
There’s no ‘magic number’ as to how long you should wait before you run because there are multiple variables one should take into account including distance, type of run, route, time of day, temperature and whether you supplement during your run or not.
Will you be going for a high intensity interval workout or a nice and easy shakeout run? Will it be a couple of miles or a longer run? Is your route flat and even or varied and hilly? Will you be running first thing in the morning, midday during a lunch break, or later in the day after work? Is it cool and mild out or hot and humid? And are you replenishing your body with nutritional supplements that contain protein and caffeine as well as properly hydrating?
Anyone who offers a hard and fast rule for running before eating isn’t taking all of these elements into consideration.
When working with runners at Tagalong, I take the time to assess each athlete on an individual basis and customize my advice accordingly.
That’s one of the benefits of working out with a professional running coach. A good coach will look at each runner and every run independently and gather feedback from the athlete as to how they feel before, during and after each run to help establish best practices for that specific individual.
If you aren’t working out with a coach, I suggest you try doing so, regardless of whether you’re a new or experienced runner, to instill optimal habits that will not only perfect your form, but also maximize your results.
If working on your own, keep a diary of your runs with more details than just your distance and splits. Record what, how much, and when you ate, the type of run you did, the conditions that day, the time you ran and how you felt before, during and after your run.
Comparing your data over a period of time will reveal trends to help you find the right methods for you.
It Depends On What You’ve Eaten
Caitlin Self, Licensed Nutritionist
How soon to wait to run after eating definitely depends on what you’ve eaten.
For the most part, pre-run fuel is advised to be somewhat higher on the glycemic index.
Something that is relatively easy to digest and higher in carbs but lower in fat, fiber, and protein will provide your muscles with instant energy and won’t require lots of digestive work (or distress). Typically, you can run 15 to 30 minutes after a meal such as this.
However, more complex foods – the kind we as nutritionists usually recommend – can require a lot of time and energy for digestion, making them great for balancing blood sugar, but not so great for pre-workout.
Choosing harder-to-digest foods (with fat, fiber, and protein) within 60 to 90 minutes before a run can result in cramping, gastrointestinal discomfort, and even diarrhea. These well balanced meals are, however, perfect for recovery.
So, if you’re eating a quick snack 30 minutes before a run, keep it simple – dates with a little almond butter, a banana, or maybe a small serving cooked oatmeal with sweetener – are all great options.
For post-run meals, go for the balanced plate with plenty of fat, fiber, and protein to rebuild muscle, replenish glycogen stores, and keep you satiated!
Allow Enough Time For The Food To Be Fully Digested
Alex Larson, Registered Dietitian And Triathlete
Ideally, you’ll want to eat a meal three to four hours prior to your workout, and a light snack one to two hours prior.
This allows enough time for food to fully digest so that you aren’t running with a full stomach.
For an early morning run where you may not have as much time for food to digest, liquid carbohydrates prior to the run will digest faster than solid and are generally better tolerated.
Does it depend on what you’ve eaten? Yes it does. Eating three to four hours before a run, you can have a pretty usual meal with carbs, fat and protein, but primarily carbs to top off your energy stores.
For a snack one to two hours prior, aim for mostly carbohydrates, some protein and lower fat. A high fat and/or fiber snack will slow down digestion.
What may happen if you run too soon after eating? The jostling motion of running combined with a full stomach can result in gastrointestinal issues such as upset stomach, nausea, heartburn or even vomiting.
Stick To Simpler Carbs Before A Run
Amy Good, Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist
As a registered dietitian and runner, I have found that nutrition for the athlete can vary wildly.
However, I have also found some common themes especially with nutrition prior to running.
Running reduces the blood flow to our gut, which can slow down digestion for the duration of the run.
So, before a run it is ideal not to eat something that’s going to require a lot of energy during digestion.
These would be things like complex carbohydrates that contain a lot of fiber and protein-dense meals.
This is going to cause you to feel overly full during your run which could lead to nausea, bloating, cramping, and other undesirable sensations.
Stick to simpler carbs and things lighter on the protein side for your pre-run nutrition.
It also depends largely on the length of your run. If you’re running a 5K, you may not have to worry as much about what you’re eating and the timing before the run since this is a shorter distance.
However, for a half-marathon, marathon, or ultra-marathon, it would be ideal to eat 1.5 to two hours before the run to give your body plenty of time for digestion.
You also need to consider if you will need to take nutrition on your run.
The Amount Of Time To Before A Run Depends On What You’ve Eaten
Jordan Duncan, Owner of Silverdale Sport and Spine
It is best to wait for a period of time after eating before going for a run, and the amount of time you should wait depends on what you have eaten.
If it is a meal containing fats, protein, and carbohydrates, wait three hours.
If you have eaten a small snack containing protein and carbohydrates, wait two hours.
Drinks and energy gels containing only carbohydrates can be consumed within an hour of running.
The varying time frames are due to the amount of time it takes to digest the different macronutrients.
Fats stay in the stomach the longest, followed by protein, and then carbohydrates, which are digested the fastest.
The primary reason why you should wait to run for a period of time after eating is to avoid getting a cramping pain in your side.
In order to supply the necessary energy for digestion, blood rushes to the gastrointestinal tract, especially the stomach.
If you go for a run too soon after eating, blood is diverted to the large muscles of your legs, and the amount of blood flow to the stomach reduces significantly.
This creates mild ischemia (inadequate blood supply) in the stomach, which can cause painful cramping.
The main benefit of eating prior to running is to replenish your body’s fuel reserves. This is done by replenishing the liver’s glycogen supply through the consumption of healthy carbohydrates in the hours prior to running.
By doing this, you will have a necessary supply of carbohydrates throughout the run to provide the energy you need.
Managing fluid intake is also beneficial due to the loss of fluid through sweat.
Drinking a half liter of water or an electrolyte-rich drink in the two hours prior to running can help to combat this.