Running and Digestion
By Natalie Bickford, MS
There’s a lot of confusion and questions around what you should eat before a long run. What works for one person might not work for someone else. Everyone’s digestive system reacts differently to various foods. That’s why you should always test foods out during your training to avoid any race day emergency pitstops.
We’ve all experienced some degree of digestive stress during a run whether it’s a side stitch, bloating, diarrhea or heartburn. When you exercise at a high intensity or for a long duration, your blood flows away from your digestive tract to your working muscles, which dramatically slows down digestion. This is why you want to eat things that are quick and easy to digest before a run. Otherwise, it will be stuck in your gut potentially causing cramping and discomfort. This shunting of blood away from your intestines also makes them more permeable and easily agitated (1).
Learn more on how to boost digestion with our Top 10 Tips to Improve Digestion
What Should I Eat Before a Long Run?
Before going on a morning long run, you want to top off your glycogen stores with easy-to-digest carbs combined with a little bit of protein, fat and fiber for sustained energy. We opt for carbs that have a low-glycemic index, meaning instead of spiking your blood sugar, they slowly release glucose for steady energy that won’t make you crash.
Avoid a breakfast that’s high in fat, protein and fiber as these nutrients take longer and are harder to digest. You want to make things easy for your intestines since you’ll be diverting all your blood to your hard working muscles! What you eat depends upon how much time you have until you're heading out the door. For a sunrise run you might just opt for a spoonful of nut butter with a hydrating drink. If you have an hour or two to digest, you'll definitely want to opt for more sustenance.
Most importantly, use trial and error to figure out which option works best for you. Use each long run like it’s race day to practice your morning routine.
Let’s dive into some of our favorite, go-to foods to eat before a long morning run.
Favorite Easy To Digest Carbs
Here’s a list of our favorite foods to include in your breakfast before a long run.
We love including sweet potatoes in a pre-run breakfast. They’re high in carbohydrates, but also loaded with potassium to prevent muscle cramps.
A bowl of oatmeal is Shalane’s favorite high-carb pre-race meal. She likes topping hers with bananas for a potassium boost, and nuts and berries for a touch of protein, fat and fiber. Make sure to allow some time for digestion since oats are higher in fiber. Elyse worked with Picky Bars to develop a Performance Oatmeal recipe that covers all the bases and it's available in our Shop.
Toast is one of my favorite carb sources to have before a long run. It’s a easy on digestion and can be topped with nourishing spreads like nut butter or grass-fed butter. I love bakery fresh bread topped with mashed avocado and sea salt. Packaged sandwich bread can be more difficult to digest since it usually has added gluten and other processed ingredients to make it shelf-stable.
Like sweet potatoes, bananas are a great source of quick-releasing carbohydrates and are also high in potassium and magnesium. We love them for topping toast, oats, adding to smoothies or just to smear with some peanut butter.
We love having a smoothie as a pre-run breakfast because they’re fast, nourishing and since they are blended up, your intestines don’t have to work so hard to break the food down. The best part is you can modify it based on what you like or can digest easily. We love sneaking in some ginger for digestion and healthy fats for inflammation.
Try Elyse's new recipe for Creamy Dreamy Raspberry Hemp Smoothie up on the blog!
Our Favorite Pre-Long Run Breakfast Recipes
Can’t Beet Me Smoothie 2.0 (RFCFES, p. 52)
Peachy Green Smoothie (RFCFES, p. 58)
Anti-Inflammatory Chocolate "Milk" (RFCFES, p. 236)
Race Day Oatmeal II (RFCFES, p. 59)
Apple Carrot Superhero Muffins (RFCFES, p. 60)
Sweet Potato Breakfast Cookies (RFES, p. 56)
Smoothie Bowls (RFCFES, p. 56)
Chai Cashew Butter (RFCFES, p. 222)
Oatmeal Banana Pancakes (RFCFES, p. 80)
Sweet Potato Waffles (RFCFES, p. 82)
Avocado Toast with Greens (RFCFES, p. 85)
Try our favorite Performance Picky Oats for a quick, nourishing pre-run breakfast that is easy to pack for race day!
Photo: Alan Weiner