The Protein-Rich Food You Should Avoid Eating Before A Long Run

As a runner, finding the ideal pre-run snack plays a significant role in achieving your training goals. Protein bars are popular with runners due to their convenience and nutritional benefits. However, evaluating the pros and cons of these snacks as part of your pre-run nutrition strategy is essential.

Destini Moody, a sports registered dietitian and certified specialist in sports dietetics with Top Nutrition Coaching, underscores the significance of pre-exercise nutrition. "It's just like fueling up a car before a long drive," Moody told Health Digest exclusively. "You'd never set out on an empty tank. This is especially true for runners who run long distances because they rely a lot on glycogen to sustain their pace."

The quest for the perfect balance of protein and carbohydrates, the timing of consumption, and the impact on digestive comfort during a run all come into play. Exploring why protein bars may not be ideal for your pre-run fueling strategy could help your long-distance performance and offer alternative options that align better with your running goals.

The problem with protein bars before a run

One of the primary challenges with protein bars before a run is the composition of these snacks. While protein is essential for muscle recovery and overall health, it may not be the best choice for immediate energy needs, especially in the moments leading up to a run. Moody explains that protein is digested relatively slowly in the stomach. This slow digestion process can lead to a situation where your stomach is still processing the protein while you're on your run. Consequently, the carbohydrates you consume might not be efficiently absorbed and utilized for the energy needed to maintain your pace during a run.

Timing is a critical factor to consider. According to Healthline, a pre-run meal becomes less important if you're running for less than 60 to 90 minutes. Moody further advises that if you are having your snack 90 minutes or more before a run, a moderate amount of protein (15 to 20 grams) is okay. "However, if it's 90 minutes or less, you want to have as little protein as possible in your pre-run snack and choose simple, high-sugar carbohydrates that are going to break down rapidly," recommends Moody. The aim is to provide easily accessible energy sources that your body can readily convert into fuel for your run.

Nutritional alternatives for pre-run fuel

While you want to avoid loading up on protein, eating something before going on a run is a good idea. A 2018 study published in the American College of Sports Medicine's Health & Fitness Journal showed that exercising on an empty stomach can result in nausea, fatigue, and general malaise.

Fortunately, plenty of other options can give you the nutrients you need to fuel your run without the downsides of protein bars. Moody suggests choosing foods high in sugar and low in fiber, like dried fruit, fruit snacks, fruit juice, and applesauce, as they are easily digestible. This produces a blood sugar spike that can boost your energy without slowing digestion.

"Blood gets shuttled away from your muscles and to your stomach to aid in digestion after you eat," explains Moody. "So, if you eat something that takes a long time to digest, this could adversely affect your performance as your muscles aren't getting all of the oxygen they need."

Save the protein bars for a post-run snack

While protein bars may not be ideal for a pre-run snack due to their slower digestion rate, they come into their own after a run, offering a range of advantages that can aid in recovery and overall post-run nutrition. During your run, your body taps into its glycogen reserves as its primary energy source (via Mayo Clinic).

"The main advantage of having a protein bar after a run, especially compared to before the run, is that it can be used to help with recovery," Moody explains. "The combination of carbs and protein that can be (or should be) found in a good protein bar helps the body to replenish its glycogen and repair the muscles."

After a long run, hunger often strikes. Protein bars offer a convenient and nutritious option to stave off hunger. Moody notes that they can help prevent runners from indulging in foods with inflammatory compounds that might delay recovery. Protein bars are portable and require no preparation, making them a hassle-free option for post-run refueling.