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Gotta’ Run: What to eat before exercise?

Eating before exercise is something that comes up in every group class and with almost every individual I work with. We all need to eat before exercise to stabilize our blood sugar and have enough energy to perform well without upsetting your stomach.

Body functions often speed up when exercise begins, and it takes some experimentation to make your best pre-workout food stay settled. And it gets even more complicated when the exercise is a race or other sporting event that might include pre-competition jitters.

Even for a marathon or any other long-distance event, I am not a big fan of a huge carbohydrate-laden meal the night before. I remember going to New York City for my first marathon and thought that everybody was supposed to eat at least two plates of pasta and a bunch of sides. All that huge meal did was disturb my sleep.

If you have the option to eat several hours before the event, say a 9 a.m. 5K, get up early enough to have a carbohydrate-rich light meal with a small amount of protein. Experiment with different foods and beverages during practice and see what works. Liquid meal replacements and sports food, like quality energy bars, might be better tolerated than typical breakfast foods. Include small amounts of protein, and foods that are low in fat and fiber to help ensure tolerance, particularly when nerves are part of the equation. Race day or some other big event is not the time for experimentation.

Some possibilities might include a half bagel with peanut butter or honey, a small serving of oatmeal, granola and fruit and anything light that works for you.

Make sure that you’ve properly hydrated for multiple hours before your training run or race. I always maintain that hydration is the one single biggest factor in best performance. Additionally, I think most Americans and most athletes are usually dehydrated. Make sure by keeping your pee clear. Its OK to get up to pee overnight due to proper hydration.

And finally, within the last hour before the exercise begins, I have had many favorites over the years. Your last chance to stabilize blood sugar and energize your performance works best with something light and bland. My favorite was a Performance Power Bar until that company dropped out of the market a couple years ago. Now I use a Clif Bar, the flavor doesn’t really matter. Others have told me they use a small piece of fruit, peanut butter crackers or even a small PBJ sandwich. A few have mentioned other sports nutrition like gummies or gels. I actually used pizza-flavored Combos for years during my racing heyday. Some small volume of a sport or caffeine drink add to the mix often. A small swallow of honey is the last thing I do before heading out the door.

If your goal is a target race or other competition, use the buildup to that event finding what works best for you.

Two events are just around the corner for local runners and walkers. On April 24, we’ll have a SRR member only Prediction Run at City Park at 10 a.m. It’s not a race and involves thinking more than pushing the body. Just predict your 5K time and the closest prediction to the actual time wins. No clocks, no phones or any assistance to measure time. Non-members can join SRR just before race time.

Finally, Salisbury’s popular Bare Bones 5K has a new date on May 1, this time with Cathy Griffin Century 21 Town and Country as the title sponsor. All proceeds go to Rowan County’s Relay for Life. The 5K is for runners and walkers and there is a half mile fun run for kids, 12 and under. All of this takes place at Knox Middle School, starting at 8:30 a.m.

There’s more info at www.salisburyrowanrunners.org .

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