What should you eat before a long run?

Basic food staples like nuts will provide a healthy dose of both protein and fat a few hours before a run.
Basic food staples like nuts will provide a healthy dose of both protein and fat a few hours before a run.

Whether you're a professional track star or just the average person looking to lose a couple pounds, there are a lot of choices for those who are born to run. Indoors or outdoors? Shoes or barefoot?

And with a seemingly endless supply of supplements, performance-enhancing snack bars and the like, choice bleeds over into confusion when it comes to deciding what to eat before running.

Like any other athlete, a runner has to consider what kind of food he or she takes in to strike the right nutritious balance. While many supplemental items on the market today can help an athlete's performance, you don't have to break the bank to make sure you're getting the right nutrition.

Let's consider what types of food a runner needs before a long run, many of which could already be common staples in your diet.

The most important things for runners to consider are carbohydrates, protein and fat. And getting the right balance of these three is important. Of a pre-race meal, about 60 percent should be carbohydrates, 20 percent protein and 20 percent fat [source: Tufts].

Of course, runners can tweak this ratio to their liking. For long-distance runner Justin Andrews of Kansas City, Mo., it's more like 70-10-20.

"For higher performance, you need more carbs," said Andrews, a regionally competitive runner with the Kansas City Smoke, a USA Track & Field Elite Development Club.

Why carbohydrates? Because the body converts them into glycogen, a source of energy stored in the liver and muscles [source: Daniloff].

And a good store of glycogen prevents the body from sapping proteins, which are needed in the rebuilding of muscle after a long workout [source: Daniloff].

As for fats, it's the category that often gets a bad rap. But remember, there are fats that are better and worse for you, and a runner should stick to the good ones, like fats from lean meat and low-fat dairy products [source: Tufts].

One more note: Timing is everything. Just as people shouldn't scarf down a huge meal and jump in the pool, runners shouldn't eat right before walking out the door. Long-distance runners typically eat three to four hours beforehand, giving the body time to digest the needed nutrients.

Now let's look at a handful of foods necessary for a healthy runner.