Every morning in Africa a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle or it will starve. It doesn't matter whether you're a lion or a gazelle-when the sun comes up, you'd better be running.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Why It's Important to Eat Before You Run

If you run in the afternoon or evening, you are probably fine on running fuel because you've eaten throughout the day. But if you are a morning runner, you need to get fuel in you before you run!

Why is this so important? What if you aren't a breakfast person? What if you can't run on a full stomach?

We've all heard how important of a meal breakfast is. Why? It gets your metabolism going, it gives you energy for the day......etc. etc. But breakfast is even more important as a runner. Sleeping is a form of fasting. Think about it. When you wake up in the morning, you haven't eaten for hours! You can't expect your body to perform well when it has no energy to draw from. Even if you are trying to lose weight, you can't deprive your body of the calories it needs. Many people have the idea that if they run on an empty stomach they will lost weight faster and burn more calories. This is simply a myth. It is not possible to run on an empty tank, so if you haven't eaten, your body will turn to other sources of energy than carbs and fat. Your body will technically start to "eat" itself. Your body uses carbohydrates and fats as energy and when those aren't available it will turn to whatever it can get. This means you will break down your muscles and bones as your body struggles to get the energy it needs.

Let's focus on where the body gets its energy during exercise in order to better understand the importance of providing adequate nutrition to your body. At any given level of activity, your body uses a mixture of fuels. Your body prefers fat energy because it provides more energy per gram than carbohydrates or protein. But fat, unlike carbs isn't an efficient fuel for vigorous exercise and it is not as easily accessible. Therefore carbs are the preferred food for exercisers, especially endurance athletes. For a  20-30 minute run at a moderate pace, your body will rely on about 50% fat energy and 50% carbohydrate energy. We all have enough fat energy stored in our bodies to keep us going for hours, its the carbohydrate/glycogen energy we need to make sure we have enough of.

When you don't eat before you run, you risk experiencing hypoglycemia- low blood sugar. This will cause needless fatigue, light-headedness, blurred vision and confusion. None of that sounds fun!

To avoid this and to properly fuel your body, here are a few pre-exercise eating tips.
  1. Avoid foods with a high sugar content, especially in the hour before running. You don't want to get that sugar high.....and that sugar crash that inevitably comes with it. If you are craving something sweet and have to have it, eat it within 5-10 minutes of running because it won't give your body enough time to secret insulin...meaning you won't get that sugar crash.
  2. Avoid high fat proteins like cheese and red meat that take a long time to digest.
  3. Fruit sugar, fructose, will not help fuel your body (it needs glucose) and causes stomach distress in many runners.
So what can you eat before you run?? Every person's stomach handles foods differently. It may take a couple of trials and errors before you find what works best for you. I do best on a granola bar or a bowl of non-sugary cereal (like Corn Chex). Milk is really hard on many runner's stomach, even in cereal. I am lactose intolerant so I only use almond milk and it doesn't affect my stomach the same way cow's milk does. My mom loves to eat yogurt and a banana before she exercises. Some people like to make a smoothie or shake for their pre-workout fuel. As you experiment with what it best for your stomach, just remember to stay away from high fat, sugary options.

What if you aren't a breakfast person? What if you can't eat for at least 2 hours before exercise?? Well, like anything, you can train your body. I wake up early enough in the morning to give myself time to digest my breakfast for about 30 minutes if its more than 200 calories. Usually I can eat a granola bar on my way out the door and handle it okay. But it does take training. My husband isn't hungry for breakfast when he first wakes up like I am. Many people are like this. But you need to force yourself to eat at least 100 calories before leaving on a run. Eventually your body will get use to the routine and you will be able to handle it better. If you feel like you need a long time to digest food before exercising, it may be that you aren't choosing the right things that your body can handle. You don't need to have a huge breakfast or meal before you run, but at least 100 calories is a good rule of thumb to go by.

What do you like to eat before exercising? How long before exercise to you eat? What is your favorite pre-run meal?

1 comment:

  1. I just like to eat. Pancakes, waffles cereal, fruit whatever, once you get used to it you will find you can run a lot longer,faster and feel better.

    ReplyDelete

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