Fueling up before you head out the front door

As runners we think a lot about our training. We map out the terrain and aim for a certain mileage and intensity. Do you give as much thought to what you eat and drink before a workout? What you consume before your run prepares you for the upcoming workout.

It is important to properly fuel up before a run. You can optimize your performance with the foods you eat before an event. Eating a meal helps prevent hunger pains, restocks your liver’s stored carbohydrate (glycogen) levels which fuels your brain and provides energy for workouts lasting longer than an hour. Overnight our stored carbohydrate levels drop and eating before a morning event tops them off. Hydration levels also decrease overnight. Consuming fluids as part of your pre workout routine reestablishes normal body fluid levels. Eating before exercise also prepares your body for recovery after the workout. Since neglecting that pre workout meal impacts your performance both during your training and after, it is critical to get it right. So when and what should you eat?

Consideration should be given to the timing of your meals. Eat too early and you’ll be hungry and without the needed energy supply. Eat too close to the workout and your body won’t have time to empty the meal from your stomach, which can lead to gastric distress. A good guide is to eat about 150 calories for every hour before the workout begins. So if you are exercising in three hours, 450 calories is a good target. The closer to your workout you eat, the fewer calories you should consume. There needs to be an adequate amount of time for the food to leave the stomach and enter the intestines. Once exercise begins and the intensity ramps up, your blood supply is directed away from your digestive system and towards your muscular system, to move your body, and your skin, to regulate your body temperature. A fast 5k places more stress on the body than steady, long run.

The type of foods you choose matter too. Since proteins, fats and fiber are slower to digest, it is best to eat them farther away from a run. Carbohydrates provide the best source of energy. They are digested and absorbed easier. However, not all carbohydrates are created equal. Certain carbohydrate rich foods are slower to release their molecules of glucose into the blood stream. Foods that fall in this category include brown rice, beans, sweet potatoes, yogurt, eggs, milk, apples and pears. Breads, bagels, waffles, and most breakfast cereals are at the other end of the spectrum. Glucose quickly floods the bloodstream and spikes blood sugar levels. When these foods are eaten the body works to correct these elevated levels. In an upcoming article, I will address this quality of foods, known as the glycemic index and how it relates it to meal selection for runners.

Pay attention to hydrating pre-workout. Aim for twelve ounces of fluid an hour leading up to your workout. Avoid entering your workout in a dehydrated state. Your performance will suffer because it is very difficult to drink enough during exercise to replace what you lose through sweat. Unless you are depending on the calories for a pre-workout meal, water is an adequate hydration selection.

When choosing what to eat you must think about your body’s own unique system. Consider a food’s nutritional content and practical issues like taste, portability, cost and gastrointestinal comfort when deciding what to eat. Experiment during training because you don’t want any surprises on race day. That’s the time to reach for your tried and true meal.

Some suggested pre-workout meal ideas:
Being mindful of your pre workout nutrition can help boost your workout performance. The timing and the type of foods you choose have an impact. Experiment during your training runs to see what works best. You might discover something new in the process.