What's the best form to get carbohydrates in prior to running, and how much should one take in, and how long before the workout? I know I had an easier time running when I had some breaded and fried chicken (not sure how many carbs in the breading) one day before a run, but I had some chocolate before my run today (8g carbs) and it didn't help nearly as much. Is it the amount of carbs, or is it the type of carbs, or possibly a combination of both? I'm currently doing interval running during which I burn approximately ~1000 calories (+/- 150 depending on the day and workout).

I've been on a low-carb diet, and I'm comfortable with breaking that if I need to in order to have energy for running, I just don't want to overdo it and take in more than is required for energy for my run, since I still have some weight to lose.

  • Try a baked potato + cheese
    – Chris S
    Commented Apr 6, 2011 at 12:22
  • 1
    Did you discover what worked best for you?
    – Chris S
    Commented Oct 19, 2012 at 8:19
  • 1
    @ChrisS - Yes, to quote NatalieBarnett... "Low carb diets and running don't mix." I had to just start eating carbs, and getting enough in for energy for the run. Commented Oct 19, 2012 at 17:04
  • 1000 carbohydrates should be sufficient.
    – user15313
    Commented Mar 19, 2016 at 21:47

4 Answers 4


Low carb diets and running don't mix.

If you're running primarily for weight loss, you might want to stick it out until you get closer to your goal weight.

If you switch to a higher carbohydrate diet, you'll be able to burn more calories in your runs, so it is possible to continue to lose weight. However, if you increase your carbs, and that makes your runs feel easier and you don't actually pick up the pace and work harder, you might not burn more calories. It just depends on your level of effort.

If you're running to become a better runner, you need to eat carbs multiple times a day. You should eat complex carbohydrates at least 3 times a day. Your body can store complex carbohydrates more effectively than simple carbohydrates. Taking in some simple carbs immediately before your run in addition to the complex carbs throughout the day can be helpful too.

You probably felt better with the battered chicken because of the fat content more than from the breading...it's just high calories. If you've been eating low carb, you might be very sensitive to carbs until you readjust, so carbs may be making you feel more tired right now. If you have kept your carbs low for a long time, you're not used to an elevated insulin level, so you might be more likely to get a little insulin crash which will make you feel sluggish.

  • 4
    Absolute Rubbish!! This is the common delusion that makes it impossible for people to lose weight - the delusion that they need carbohydrates just to move. The body has enough glycogen in the liver for a 6 mile run - an evolutionary survival mechanism that has allowed us to escape predators during times of Hunger for Millions of Years. Only when this supply is depleted does the body turn to fat to replenish it. Commented May 1, 2012 at 8:19
  • do you have any references? I'm especially curious about how the body stores complex carbohydrates - I thought turning simple sugar into fat was one of the quickest ways to store energy.
    – J. Win.
    Commented May 2, 2012 at 17:51
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    The body doesn't store complex carbohydrates. Complex carbs are basically long chains of glucose molecules en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polysaccharide The body breaks down these long chains producing glucose en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monosaccharide its the Glucose that the body stores. Primarily in the liver. Commented May 9, 2012 at 11:40
  • This isn't absolute rubbish - take a look at serpentine.org.uk/pages/advice_frank01.html by someone who knows a bit about running (Frank Horwill) and @Nathan if you're still interested. Complex carbs are generally low GI/GL foods
    – Chris S
    Commented Feb 12, 2013 at 20:34
  • A runner who competes regularly from 10km to the marathon requires an above average intake of carbohydrates of the right sort. There are two types:- a) low glycemic b) high glycemic. The first are preferentially stored as glycogen the second get into the blood-stream quickly and are good to take 3 hours before training and within 30 minutes of completing training. It is a bad thing to rely on high glycemic foods 48 hours before a marathon. Concentrate on low glycemic carbs.
    – Chris S
    Commented Feb 12, 2013 at 20:35

Re fueling for runs, HIGHLY recommend you read the Endurance Athlete's Guide to Success on Hammer Nutrition's website. And for losing weight, equally strong recommendation to read Eat to Live by Joel Fuhrman, MD.

Some learning, of course, is involved. The takeaway points are these:

  1. To lose weight, eat minimal carbs, especially starchy carbs, except as described in further points below.

  2. 3-4 hours before a run, especially a long run, "top up" your carbs by eating 200-400 calories of complex carbs, e.g., toast, brown rice, a smoothie with banana and a "running gel" (e.g., Hammer Gel).

  3. Within 15 minutes after each run, be sure to carb-up as described in the Hammer Nutrition PDF mentioned above.

Going into your run "carbed-up" makes a HUGE difference in your energy level while running. And, as the Hammer guide states, the times shortly before and immediately after the run are when you can accomplish the "carbing" that has the greatest effect on your running.

FWIW, see my "Carbenflarb" articles on the Fitness Intuition site.

  • Welcome to Fitness & Nutrition, that's some really good information and sources. Is this and this the "Carbenflarb" articles you wrote? Commented May 27, 2011 at 20:15

For weight loss, you don't need ANY carbs before a run. The body has enough glycogen in the liver for a 20 mile run - an evolutionary survival mechanism that has allowed us to escape predators during times of Hunger for Millions of Years. Only when this supply of glycogen is depleted or reduced does the body turn to fat to replenish it.

The common delusion that makes certain people struggle to lose weight is that they need carbohydrates just to move and that its impossible to function without them. We've managed to survive for millions of years without a delicious "baked potato and cheese" before running.


  • the amount of glycogen needed for a 20 mile run is more than is stored in a human liver. perhaps you mean "the body has enough glycogen in the liver and muscles"?
    – J. Win.
    Commented May 2, 2012 at 17:53
  • Yes possibly... The point is that the body has a very big emergency fuel tank. And carbs are not required before exercise especially when trying to lose weight as the original poster is Commented May 2, 2012 at 22:50

You should get at least half of your energy needs from carbs. This will build up large stores of glucose in your liver and muscles, allowing you to exercise on any time of the day. What matters is that you eat large amounts of carbs every day, it doesn't matter exactly when you eat, except that you'll find it difficult to exercise after your main mail of the day.

E.g. I eat 6 meals per day, I eat breakfast twice, at midday I eat lunch and a few hours later I eat lunch again. By that time I will have eaten 500 grams of bread, which is contains about 1000 kcal worth of carbs. I then need just half an hour or so before I can do my one hour of running exercise. Then comes dinner, I'll then have 300 grams of whole grain pasta, which contains 1000 kcal worth of carbs. Before sleeping I'll eat another meal. The total calorie intake of the 6 meals is usually around 4000 kcal.

Your weight loss efforts won't be compromised by eating a lot, I lost quite a bit of weight (from 63 kg to my current 55 kg) by increasing my calorie intake from 3200 Kcal per day to the current 4000 kcal per day and exercising a lot harder (running almost every day, faster and longer). What happens is that running triggers all sorts of changes in your body that are designed by evolution to make it easier for you to run, and that includes optimizing your weight as well as becoming fitter.

Eating enough to prevent feeling hungry will also help you to lose weight. If you regularly feel hungry and don't eat enough, then that will trigger feedback responses (implemented via hormones) to keep larger fat reserves. The algorithm that is implemented here makes the assessment that food shortages are more likely, therefore there is a need for larger fat reserves.

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