At some point I was looking through my Google searches and saw that quite a few people found me searching for “what to eat before a run.” I realized, though, that nowhere have I actually addressed this, though you can find plenty on what I like to eat after a run. So here we go…I’m sure all you veteran runners have your fueling all figured out but if any newbies are out there reading, I hope my experiences help even just a little!
Discovering what works for me was very much a trial and error process. When I first started running, I didn’t do it with any particular training in mind nor did I read running literature so I knew nothing about fueling, I just continued to eat exactly as I always had and just happened to run 5-6 days each week. I figured the stomach cramps I had after 90% of my runs were just a side effect of being new to running and I’d get used to them. Luckily for the future of my running, after my college classes got switched around and I had a long 2-3 hour break in the middle of my day, I changed my eating. With my new schedule I had breakfast before I went to my first class then changed and ran after class and showered and brought water and something to refuel with me to my afternoon classes. Suddenly, my stomach cramps went away. This is when I learned I run best 2-3 hours after I eat so that takes care of issue number 1: timing. I’ve since learned that many coaches and nutritionists advise waiting 2-3 hours if you’re eating anything more than a snack-sized meal before your run so it turns out, I accidentally discovered just about the ideal ratio.
Even once I mastered my timing, I found I would have GI distress on longer runs (8+) or runs where I ran particularly fast. I was aggravated to say the least because it wouldn’t happen on any other runs and I thought I had all my eating figured out. By now I was googling running articles and learned this was pretty common so again, I ignored it for the most part. But I did start experimenting with different foods to see if any of them made things better or worse. It took all of one very ill-advised run to determine cereal was a no-go. Ditto yogurt. My go-to breakfast of bagels were just fine. Oatmeal was the best. Clif bars work fine, but they are less filling so I typically eat them only 60-90 minutes before I go out. For me, the biggest determining factor was being sufficiently fueled yet not too full, and giving myself plenty of time to digest. If I do that, I run without any tummy troubles all the way up through marathon distance and through most foods (including doughnuts and macarons if you’re really interested haha). If I rush my run too close to when I eat or eat too much, well, I’ve made more than one emergency run back to my car/home. So for me, timing is way more important than the type of food unless I’m racing and really pushing my body to its limit, but if you start experimenting, you’ll find out soon enough if yours is the same. My body has always been very tolerant of all kinds of foods. If you’re struggling with what may be causing issues, try tracking your diet before runs until you can pinpoint what types of foods or timing may be causing you trouble.
The funniest thing about all the experimenting is, every runner I’ve met has their own method that works for them. It truly is a trial and error process specific to each runner. If you stumbled upon this looking for advice, the best general advice I can give is cut back on fiber before a run and make sure you have easily digestible carbs in the pre-run window. Everything else is determining what feels best for YOU. Track your intake until you can run without issues every time. It turns out, I can’t run at all on an empty stomach. I tried multiple times over the summer to get out the door quicker and beat the heat but I feel sluggish and horrible. I have to wake up at least 90 minutes early and get some real food in or I’m an all-out disaster. You might be different.
How about you? What’s your pre-run food ritual? Oatmeal or a bagel 90 minutes-3 hours before I run (I can run anytime in that window, I just procrastinate sometimes haha)
Did you have any cramping or stomach issues when you started running? How did you learn how to fix it?
Favorite food to eat if you know you AREN’T going to run that day? PANCAKES! (I can run after pancakes, but they’re heavy so I have to wait a really long time to not feel full)