How to Optimize your Pre-run Nutrition

Ask Coach Jenny

Q: I am an afternoon runner and find it challenging to know what to eat before my runs.  I often have stomach upset but I don’t want to skip lunch either.  How should I eat during the day to avoid stomach problems?  Thanks.  ~John

A: That is no fun, John, but the good news is that making just a few changes in your fueling regimen can avoid the pitfalls of stomach upset on the run.

It’s all in the timing

Because running is a high impact activity, anything you have in your stomach will get tossed and turned with each stride. Schedule your larger meals in the morning and evening, and go with a lighter meal for lunch at least two hours before you plan to run. If that is 2 p.m., eat at noon to allow for proper digestion.

I can’t believe I ate the whole thing

The quantity of food also makes a difference. If you eat a large meal too close to the start of your run, all that food sits in your gut during the entire run – playing havoc on your gastrointestinal system. When you run or workout, the blood that normally goes to your stomach for digestion is diverted to the working muscles to help you move down the road (or tread). In essence, normal digestion rates are slowed while you run, which emphasizes the importance of timing and quantity of food eaten.

Find your personal recipe

What you eat is just as important as when and how much. Everyone is different and for that reason I highly recommend keeping a fuel log for at least three to four weeks. In it, you can enter what you eat, when you eat it and how many calories you expend during the day. The value is in being able to determine your best menu for your afternoon running schedule. From there, you can mix and match types of foods during the day.

For instance, you could go with a higher fat, protein and carbohydrate breakfast so it stays with you longer and for lunch go with low fat, fiber and protein and higher in carbohydrates. Fat, fiber and protein foods all take longer to digest, which is great for satiety, but not great for running. Sticking with a higher carbohydrate lunch that is lighter in calories will digest more quickly before your run. And finally you can finish with a post-run snack (fruit and nuts) and a larger, more balanced dinner.

The key is to write it all down or use a fuel log online, time your meals based on your workout, tweak the portions pre-run and modify the types of foods you eat during the day. Here is one example of a menu you could start with:

Breakfast (6 hours Pre-Run):  Eggs with vegetables, cheese and toast

Mid-morning Snack (4 hours Pre-Run): Yogurt

Lunch (2 hours Pre-Run): Small salad with protein (chicken)

Post-Run Snack (Eat Within 20 min of Run): Piece of fruit and a handful of almonds

Dinner (2-3 Hours Post Run):  Fish, rice and vegetables

Give food monitoring a try, not only to help you avoid those stomach troubles during your run, but to keep you fueled all day long. Hopefully you’ll see positive short- and long-term results.

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