How and what to eat before your run is an important topic! When you choose the right foods that can settle comfortably, you enhance your performance, endurance, strength and simply enjoy your run more.
More specifically, here’s a few key reasons why pre-run fueling is helpful.
Four important reasons for pre-run fuel:
- Helps prevent low blood sugar – symptoms of light-headedness, needless fatigue, blurred vision, being indecisive/”fuzzy.”
- Helps settle your stomach, absorb some gastric juices, and ward off hunger.
- Fuels your muscles and feeds your brain.
- Helps you exercise harder.
Yet, some runners are concerned that fuel intake will result in an upset stomach, or undesired pit stops. It’s a valid concern, as ~90% of distance runners experience some type of GI (gastrointestinal) issue during or after running. GI issues examples: bloating, gas, nausea, stomach cramp, side stitch, and the urge to “go.”
One reason for distress: when running for 60+ minutes, blood flow to your GI system is reduced. That, combined with potential dehydration, elevated body temperature, and a higher level of stress hormones, can hamper normal intestinal function.
But, here’s the good news: you CAN train your gut/intestinal tract, just like you train your muscles, heart and lungs. As with anything, you have to learn what’s right for you, and experiment with what you can eat before your run. Think trial and error, and know that there’s no magic meal, or one food that works for all.
Again, the answer isn’t to NOT eat before a run. That won’t solve your problem. Instead, you must train your gut to tolerate performance-enhancing carbs, and water. That enables you to train, thus perform better.
Nancy Clark suggests to start small, and gradually eat more until you can tolerate 200-300 calories within an hour before your run. Plus, hydration is important, as dehydration increases risk of intestinal issues on your run. Meaning, start your runs well-hydrated!
(Nancy Clark, RD/Sports Nutritionist, is the source of most of this post’s info. She gets the credit; I’m sharing it.)
What to Eat Before a Run
Two main questions around pre run fuel are: how much fuel, and what type of fuel to ensure a good run, with minimal risk of GI distress? That mostly depends on two variables: the time elapsed between fueling and your run, and the run duration.
Shorter runs/workouts (60-90 mins): a pre-exercise snack of mostly carbohydrates is the way to go as it quickly empties from the stomach, and thus becomes available for muscle use.
Longer runs/workouts: adding a little fat/protein (ie eggs, or peanut butter) can help keep you feel full longer, and minimize muscle breakdown. But note, too much fat/protein may lead to the food weighing heavily in your stomach.
Also, if you plan to have something like peanut butter (or other higher fat food items) before you compete, make sure you often eat it as well before important training sessions. Again, to ensure you train your GI tract to accommodate both the fat (sustained energy) and carbs.
HOW MUCH FUEL?
A general rule of thumb is essentially, .5 g carb/lb of body weight for each hour prior to your run. The further out your run, the higher the intake. This is a range, and you must experiment to find what’s right for you.
Keep in mind, too, that the recommendation is not to eat a meal (ie four hours in advance) completely of carbs. The numbers below solely represent the carb grams.
EXAMPLE – 150 lb runner:
One hour: .5 grams (75g; 300 cal)
Two hours: 1.0 grams (150g; 600 cal)
Four hours: 2.0 grams (300g; 1,200 cal)
Early Morning Runs
You can, and should fuel! Here’s why: while asleep, you deplete your liver glycogen (which maintains normal blood sugar levels). Starting your workout with low blood sugar means your brain, which controls your muscles, fails to get enough fuel. The result? Needless fatigue during your run/workout.
You can even have a small snack within five minutes of a run, as long as you’re running at a pace you can maintain for 30 minutes or longer. Meaning, this same snack before a hard track workout may not work well. It’s best to have easily digestible carbs (applesauce, a banana, some saltines, etc.).
Related topic: 10 Tips to Become a Morning Runner
But I just can’t eat early before I run!…
Take heart. If you just can’t “stomach” the idea of eating before an early morning run, another option is to have a snack shortly before bed. Examples – a bowl of cereal, a bagel with peanut butter, or packets of oatmeal will help boost your glycogen stores (thus preventing low morning blood sugar).
Or, you may tolerate liquids easier than solid food in the morning. Personally, for my shorter runs in the morning, I prefer a glass of grapefruit, or tart cherry juice. It doesn’t weigh heavy on my stomach, and provides the boost I need during the run.
After Work Runs
An after work/early evening run provides more time for a lunch meal to empty from the stomach before the run (assuming it’s not a high fat lunch such as a cheeseburger and fries).
Yet, if five-six hours pass between lunch and your run, a late afternoon snack is a good idea. Think of it as a small “second lunch.” 😉 Example: lunch at noon, and your run is at 6 p.m. A small snack one-two hours prior (using above guidelines) will give you a nice boost to have a better, stronger run.
FODMAP Food Items – What’s That??
I was not familiar with the term “FODMAP” food items until recently here. But, I am familiar with how some of them (onions, garlic) make me feel when eaten (and now I know why!).
Some runners, not all, may be sensitive to FODMAP items (ones that have carbohydrates AND are gas producing). These food items create intestinal distress in people who lack certain digestive enzymes. Examples of items within this category: milk, broccoli, corn, onions, garlic, kidney beans, or items with sorbitol (sugar-free ingredient).
Note! If you have found that these items do cause additional discomfort, it doesn’t mean that one must always avoid them. Yet, it may be smart to minimize exposure prior to important key runs, or races.
Nancy Clarks Sports Nutrition Guidebook is the source for the majority of the info within this post.