Food Is Fuel: What To Eat Before You Run

Mmmmm…I love food! As an athlete, I do my best to view the food I eat as fuel for my body. As an athlete with ulcerative colitis, this is not always the easiest road to take. My body rejects all things fiber and healthy goodness when I’m sick which makes eating a challenge for me. Recently, I’ve been finding my stride with the food I CAN eat while also fueling up for my runs.


There are a couple of key things to pay attention to when fueling up for a run. And yes, you will have to think ahead if you want to be properly prepared to kick butt during your workouts. Sorry, procrastinators (WHAT? Runners NEVER procrastinate…), you’ll have to make this one a priority.


1. When did you eat last?

2. What time are you running?

2. How long are you planning on running?


1. What did you eat last?

If it’s been more than three hours since you’ve had anything and you’re planning on hitting the pavement for a run, you should think about having a slice of toast or something. When your blood glucose level is low you might experience dizziness, nausea, low energy and a whole host of other not-so-fun symptoms that are rather counterproductive where running is concerned. You want to make sure you’ve eaten within 1-2 hours of your workout so that your stomach is empty, but your body knows there’s more fuel on the way and your glucose levels are stable.


2. What time are you running?

If you are running in an hour or less, you’ll want to stick with straight-up low fiber carbohydrates like crackers, pretzels, toast or the like. Carbs move faster through your system, out of your stomach and into your blood stream to raise glucose levels and help your body access glycogen during your workout. If it’s more than two hours, feel free to eat a regular ‘ol meal with protein or whatever. The reason you want to stay away from the protein right before physical activity is basic physiology: Rest and digest. When you are at rest, your digestive system gets busy breaking down all that food but when you’re diverting blood from your organs to your muscles during activity, digestion stops. Which means, if there’s something in that stomach of yours when you get going during your workout, it’s not moving downward and likely will try and go up. Yuck.


Sidebar: I learned this the hard way during cross country season when I was about 11 or 12. My favorite breakfast that Mrs. Obi-wan used to make us (and still is!) is poached eggs and toast. Well, we thought it’d be a good idea for me to have a decent breakfast before a race one morning. Oh boy, was THAT a bad idea. Let’s just say I never ever did that again.


3. How long are you planning on running?

If you’re going out for a relatively short, easy run, you may not need anything to get you through it. If it’s a speed workout or a likewise difficult run on your schedule for the day, have a good solid meal 2-3 hours before your run and then rock it out. In a pinch, I’ll grab some Shot Bloks just so that I have something to work with. If it’s a long run that’s in your near future, you’ll want to plan ahead the night before and eat smart for the following day. Easy on the protein (have a little bit so you’re not stuck in the bathroom during your run), eat good carbs (whole wheat pasta, brown rice, quinoa, etc.), and don’t go too bananas with the fruits and veggies at dinner (ha! bananas, get it?) so as to avoid the whole bathroom situation. That morning, stick to easy-to-digest carbs or whatever works for you pre-run.


Me? I have a Luna Bar and some toast about an hour before my long run and that works great. I don’t feel hungry during my run and am not relying on my Shot Bloks as much, which allows me to focus on my run, not my stomach.


You gotta find out what works for you but if you check in with your body and ask yourself these three questions, you’ll be able to narrow down your options and make good choices to fuel your run. Remember, in the end FOOD IS FUEL for your body. Acknowledge that you are an athlete and treat your body as such. Cookies are a sometimes food now. Even Cookie Monster says so.

Now go out and run!