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Ask a SIR Coach-Should I Eat before Long Runs?

Ask A Still I Run Coach – Should I Eat Before Long Runs?

Pre-exercise foods that settle well can enhance stamina, endurance, strength and enjoyment. Yet many runners are afraid that eating prior to a long run will result in an upset stomach, diarrhea, and undesired pit stops. If you don’t eat or drink anything before your workouts or long runs for fear of stomach issues, you will likely struggle. Even if you have a sensitive digestive tract, restricting your food intake before runs won’t solve the problem. Instead, you want to learn how to train your gut to accommodate adequate fueling that will support your workouts and your goals. 

*Eat the Right Foods at the Right Time:

The key to completing your long runs and other workouts with energy to spare is to fuel up with the right foods at the right times. For runs 60 minutes or less, a pre-exercise snack should be predominantly carbohydrate. It empties quickly from the stomach (versus proteins or fats) and becomes readily available to be used by the muscles.

Eat a carbohydrate-based dinner that includes some protein and healthy fats. And drink extra water the night before long runs.  In the morning, about 2 hours before your run time, have a light 200-400 calorie carbohydrate focused meal. Toast and a banana or low-fat yogurt or applesauce, and water are good choices. Eat familiar foods that you enjoy and that you know settle well for you.

To train your intestinal tract to tolerate food before your long runs. Start with a cracker or a sip of a sports drink; gradually adding more until you can enjoy 200 to 300 calories within 2 hours before you head out.

What about Breakfast?

If your body can’t handle breakfast before morning workouts, eat your breakfast before going to bed as a small snack the night before. A bowl of cereal, bagel with peanut butter, or a packet of oatmeal can help boost your liver glycogen stores and prevent low blood sugar in the morning.

Factors to Consider

Keep in mind a few factors to consider when dialing in your fueling plan:

  • Exercise intensity. During easy paced (like a long run) and even moderately hard workouts, the body can both digest food and comfortably exercise. During more intense runs that focus on speed work however, the shift of blood flow from the stomach to the working muscles may cause intestinal complaints.

  • Eating high-protein or high-fat foods that take longer to digest (such as bacon and fried eggs, or a burger and fries) can cause intestinal problems. Tried and true low-fat carbohydrates (such as oatmeal or bananas) that are part of your day-to-day training foods are a safer bet.

  • Fiber-High fiber diets, although healthy, can intensify intestinal problems while training. It’s best to limit your intake of high fiber foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes and whole grains, immediately prior to your long run.

  • Caffeine-Some runners are sensitive to coffee, so it’s helpful to experiment to see how your digestive system responds, and avoid taking in a larger than usual mug pre-run.

  • Level of Hydration-Dehydration enhances the risk of intestinal problems. Start your workout in a well-hydrated state, and practice taking in different fluids (water, sport drinks, diluted juice) on a regular schedule throughout the day.

*Pre-Long Run Fueling at a Glance:

  1. 2-3 hours before—200 to 400 easily digestible, low fiber carbs allows your body to fully process the calories and avoid intestinal distress. You’ll feel steady as your body devotes all blood and oxygen to your physical efforts rather than digesting your food. (for example, oatmeal, dry cereal, pretzels, raisins, Fig Newtons animal crackers, whole grain bread with jam)

  2. The purpose of a pre- run light meal of 200-400 calories is to top off the liver glycogen stores your body expended during sleep.

  3. During long runs that extend beyond 60 minutes, taking in 8-12 oz. of water or sport drink per hour throughout the run is beneficial.

  4. Within 30-45 minutes after your long run, taking in 8-12 oz. of fluids, 30-60 grams of carbohydrate rich food, and 10-20 grams of protein will speed up your recovery. A 3:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio is ideal. (For example, whole grain breads or rice combined with almonds, peanut butter, tuna, hummus, jerky, hard-boiled eggs, cheese sticks, yogurt, chocolate milk would work.)

Just as you put fuel in your car before you take it for a drive, you need to put fuel in your body before you exercise. Your ability to run well depends on proper fueling, not just physical training. Trust your ‘Gut Feeling’ then Eat ‘n Run!


By Pam Landry

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