Tips on what to eat before, after running the AJC Peachtree Road Race

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This story was originally published in 2017.

There’s nothing quite like heading out for a brisk morning jog. Before long, your shoes pounding on the trail have found their rhythm and last week’s stress starts to float away.

But no sooner have you hit the halfway mark of your run when your boundless energy seems to have left with the stress, leaving you stranded with an empty tank.

Finding that perfect balance of adequate energy for exercise without feeling bloated is a common catch-22 many runners face. But there are several delicious pre-run snacking combinations that will keep you on track while not slowing you down.

Claire Paskus, former office manager for Athletes’ Potential in Atlanta, said in a previous AJC interview a pre-workout snack should consist of roughly 150 calories.

“There isn’t a need to eat that much, so don’t over-do it,” Paskus said. “Just enough to regulate your blood sugars so you don’t crash during or after your workout.”

She suggests pre-workout snacks like half an apple with an ounce of turkey breast and three to five almonds, a piece of fruit with Greek yogurt and a couple of macadamia nuts, or (for a more strenuous workout) a tablespoon of almond or peanut butter with a slice of turkey and half a Pop-Tart. That last item might sound too “junky” for a pre-run boost, but Pop-Tarts are vitamin-fortified and high in carbohydrates. Surprisingly, gummy bears serve as a quick pick-me-up for runners during marathons, as they’re easily digestible and pack a burst of carbs.

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The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reports that up to 75 grams of easily-digested carbohydrates can be consumed two hours before a run. If heading out in an hour, 15 to 25 grams will suffice. After the run, aim for snacks with 12-15 grams of protein and 35-50 grams of carbohydrates. There are a wide variety of energy bars specifically formulated with runners’ needs in mind, making it simple to fuel up.

A big breakfast burns more daily calories, study says.

"For a post-workout, I usually eat half a Quest (protein) bar or a protein shake made with no-sugar-added almond or coconut milk," Paskus says.

Chocolate milk is great in a pinch too, she adds. It not only provides protein, carbs and fat, but the sugars in the chocolate milk deliver the proteins to your muscles more quickly for better recovery benefits.

Matthew Grund, a long-time runner in Marietta, said with age comes an appreciation for fueling his body the right way before heading out.

“As I’ve gotten a little older, I realize the importance of protein in my diet. There was a time, though, when I would go for a long run and not even think about eating before or after,” Grund said. “I’m very cognizant of the fact that I need to refuel my body and repair my muscles after a workout.”

His go-to favorite for refueling is a quick mix of protein powder, Greek yogurt and almond milk, he says. He's careful to eat at least an hour before he runs so his body has time to digest the food. A banana or a spoonful of peanut butter usually does the trick.

And most importantly, stay hydrated — but don’t chug a glass of water before you run out the door, Grund said. The last thing a runner wants to do is feel nature calling with miles left to go.

“Drinking water all day is essential — not just for a good run, but for good health in general,” he says.

According to Runner’s World Australia, the following suggestions make great choices for energizing snacks:

Bananas

Carrots

Cereal with milk

Chocolate milk

Cottage cheese

Dried apricots

Dried plums

Energy bars

Fruit popsicles

Fruit yogurt

Granola bars

Hummus on wheat crackers

Oatmeal

Rice cakes with peanut butter

Smoothies

Bean, salsa and cheese quesadilla

Tuna fish

Gummy bears

Popcorn

Pretzels

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