To Eat or Not to Eat Before a Run, or Both?

By Nicole Lowe

A long time ago, I never ate before I went out for my morning run. Then my runs grew. My weekday runs went from five miles to 10-12 miles. As they became over an hour, I had to eat before or take something along. I got too hungry and my energy would drop off, especially, on harder midweek runs, speed or hills.

When this began to happen, I wasn’t eating solid foods while I ran because my stomach couldn’t tolerate it. I didn’t want to use my Gu on a midweek run, so I opted for eating before I ran.

Running with food in your stomach can be a big adjustment for some runners. Others are blessed with the ability to eat pretty much anything and then run or eat it while they run. 

Training your stomach to run with food in it is a process. Your other option is to eat far in advance. This way, you’ve digested enough of the food that your body doesn’t have to focus on both fueling and digesting at the same time. Not many people want to get up an hour earlier to eat before they go out for a run, at least those of us who run at 5 am. Nor do we want to get up, eat, and go back to bed for an hour.

This double focus, digestion and fueling exercising muscles, is what causes the stomach issues. Your body chooses fueling over digestion, leaving the food to sit and slosh around as you run.

Not an extra early riser? Start with eating something small that is easy to digest. I began with one slice of toast. I was able to slowly move this to toast with peanut butter and a banana. Eating a small breakfast before I run is part of my routine, even before races. I eat things I know won't upset my stomach, especially if it’s before a race. I sometimes try new things during training. Additionally, eating after a run is essential if you want your body to be able to gain something from the work you just put in. You should eat within 15 minutes of finishing a run. It doesn’t have to be anything big, but make sure it has both carbs and protein, a 4:1 ratio is recommended. Your body just worked hard and it needs nutrients to rebuild muscles and replace energy stores.

If you miss the 15-minute window don’t freak out, just eat something. After your mini meal, make sure and get a full meal within about an hour. If you don’t feed your body after a workout, you won't receive the physical benefits, only the mental perks. 

About The Author

Nicole is a mother of three, author, attorney, and ultrarunner. Her favorite distance is the 100-miler. She's run the Bear 100, HURT 100, Bryce Canyon 100 and others. Her fastest time was 21 hours 33 minutes at the Buffalo Run 100 in 2016. She's been blogging about running for four years on her website: ultrarunningmom.com

Always consult a doctor before starting any new exercise or diet routine and follow all safety protocols for appropriate social distancing.

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