Eating Before you Run – How Not to Puke
Runners are constantly trying to find the best combination of foods to eat before they run. It’s a delicate balance of eating enough of the right food to fuel your run without accidentally making yourself puke. This is a tricky game, but one that can be mastered with a little trial & error and practice.
When I first started running in high school, I remember gobbling down a cheeseburger, fries and ice cream before rushing out the door for an evening summer training run. That burger was delicious going down, but not so much coming back up. More recently, an evening of heaving hot wing consumption, and perhaps a beer or two, led to the creation of this map.
Since then, I’ve learned a lot about what and when to eat before a run. Here are a few tips that will help you refine your own system:
SHOULD You Eat Before a Run?
Probably not. If you’re running 60 minutes or less, your body has everything it needs to sustain your run. That said, you may want a snack if:
- You have a hard workout planned
- Your stomach is growling
- You’re running more than 60 minutes
When I run in the morning, I usually eat something small out of habit. Occasionally, I might have a Gu with some water. Race day is another story.
Before a race you need to eat something, even if it’s just a 5k. Of course, a fun run 5k is different than trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon, so like most things, use your better judgement and experiment to find what works best for you.
WHAT to Eat Before you Run
When I talk about what to eat before you run, I’m referring to the day of the run. If you’re looking for more nutrition information, we’ve written all sorts of posts about nutrition for runners. We even created this great meal planning guide for long term nutritional excellence.
When deciding what to eat the morning or afternoon before your run, stick with small, easily digestible snacks that won’t upset your stomach. My favorite pre-run meal/snack is toast with peanut butter, banana, water/sports drink and coffee. For longer runs, I also have some oatmeal. This tried and true combination is ideal for me because of its high-carb, low-fat, low-fiber dose of easily accessible nutrients that will boost your energy. The peanut butter also provides some protein, which helps you feel fuller longer.
- Instant Oatmeal
- Crackers – graham crackers, Wheat Thins, Triscuits, pretzels
- Yogurt – dairy can be troublesome for some runners, so be sure to test first.
- Fruit – bananas, oranges, dates
- Fig Newtons
- Honey on bread or crackers
- Frozen Waffles
Really any type of simple carbohydrate will do. The key is to find something with quick, easily digestible sugars (carbs) and a little protein. Avoid large meals, instead opting for something 200 calories or less. Typically, the larger the meal, the longer it takes to digest, and will leave you feeling sluggish. Also, avoid creamed corn. It’s just gross.
WHEN to Eat Before you Run
Now that you’ve determined if you are or aren’t going to eat, and you know what to eat, the final piece of the puzzle is planning when you should eat before your run.
A very basic rule of thumb is to eat at least 60 minutes beforehand. . After we eat, our bodies send blood to our stomach to aid in digestion. But when we’re running, we need that blood to be pumping to our muscles. The body isn’t meant to run and digest food at the same time. Plus , having food jiggling around in our stomachs can lead to stomach cramps or other GI issues that could require a bathroom.
Fueling for a longer distance, or race, requires quite a bit more preparation. Your body will be working harder, and you’ll want to make sure there’s no need for a bathroom stop or worse. I always allow at least 2-3 hours before these types of runs.
When I race, I also quit drinking liquid about an hour beforehand, otherwise, I have to stop and pee in the first few miles. Then, about 10-15 minutes before the gun goes off, I have a Gu, and a few swigs of water to wash it down.
The trick to timing your eating is to figure out the shortest time between when you need to run, and when you can eat without feeling full or like you’re going to puke.
Eating Before you Run
What’s your process for eating before you run? What types of foods and how soon before you run do you eat something?