Saturday, August 3, 2013

What to Eat Before a Run and When to Eat It

Every runner knows the feeling. You're on a perfect run; the weather is beautiful, you feel great, and you are just happily running along. Then BAM! Lightning strikes, the world ends and an awful cramp hits out of nowhere. You are forced to stop as you clutch your side and dramatically tell your running partner to go on without you. 
Okay, I may have exaggerated a little, but I really hate cramps. Come to think of it, I don't know anybody who doesn't hate them. Your first instinct is to push through it, but unless you have only half a mile to go, they become increasingly worse until you have to stop (or am I alone in this?). The point of this post isn't to talk about my hatred of side-stitches, though. It's to tell you, like the title says, about what foods to eat before a run and when to eat them.
Proper nutrition (and hydration) before a run is essential to give you optimum energy and prevent both cramps and pit-stops during your run.  And with so much misleading information out there when it comes to food (especially health food), it can be hard to sort through it and figure out what to eat. Here is what works best for me, based off months of experimentation and lessons learned.

What (and When) to Eat
  • A bagel with peanut butter. You can eat a whole bagel 2 - 2.5 hours prior, or a half of a bagel 1.5- 2.
  • Half of a Clif bar. I find that a whole Clif bar will be to heavy and give me cramps, but half of one is the perfect size for somebody who needs energy but isn't too hungry. I eat these 1.5-2 hours before a run.
  • I have heard bananas are the perfect pre-run snack. Unfortunately, I have a serious dislike for bananas so I cannot vouch for this.
  • Raisins, craisins, or dried fruit is great eaten about 1.5 hours before.
  • Trail mix is an easily portable option. Try eating it 1.5-2 hours prior to your workout.
  • Any carb that is not laden with either sugar or fiber should work well with a little protein (a cup of milk, nut butters, etc.). Try English muffins, granola bars, and yogurt (which has protein already).
What and When Not to Eat
  • Sugary foods such as donuts, cookies, brownies, sugar cereals, etc.
  • High-fiber foods such as some fruits, vegetables, and grains.
  • High-protein foods like meat.
  • Above 300 calories within 2 hours.
  • Above 150 calories within 1.5 hours.
  • Anything within 15 minutes.
Don't Forget to Hydrate!

Dehydration causes cramps too! Worse yet, it can be very dangerous. Remember to
  • Start hydrating four hours before a run.
  • Drink a cup an hour until two hours before a run, where you should drink two cups and stop.
  • 15-30 minutes before you run, drink half a cup of water or a sports drink.
  • Drink 0.5-1 cups of water or a sports drink every 15 minutes, starting after you've run for 30 minutes already.
  • If it's above 80 degrees or is humid, drink more often while exercising.
*Please keep in mind this is not intended for runs over 8 miles. Once you go for a certain time/distance, you will need more specific fueling and to eat during the run.

If you have any more tips on pre-run fueling, let me know in the comments! I hope this helps everyone who needs it.

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