Gotta Run: Eating, drinking before exercise

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 17, 2021

I’m just home from a running class as I write this. Our class topic tonight was sports nutrition and its always interesting to hear the opinion of anyone new to exercise. This topic should always be addressed quickly because meals and snacks that supply energy without upsetting the stomach are keys to a positive result. Having success in the first few weeks is likely to keep the new runner going. Each successful week helps develop a long-term habit. Runners in our class are building miles on the way to running their first 5K.

Eating before exercise is important. Eating properly prevents hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and symptoms of lightheadedness and fatigue. Eating helps to settle the stomach, absorb some of the gastric juices and ward off hunger. Eating also helps us to exercise harder and burn more calories. Just knowing that a pre-exercise body is properly fueled helps to pacify the mind. Fuel the muscles and feed the brain!

Eating before exercise is also tricky, both with timing and content. I’m never surprised when any new runner tells me that they have not eaten for many hours and aren’t sure when they had their last bottle of water. Then they wonder why any exercise is a struggle. Here are some suggestions on what to eat and drink before a normal training run of anything less than one hour.

Any successful workout begins with hydration. Drink fluids during the day and within an hour of exercise. Water works best, don’t fall for the hype of sports and energy drinks, especially the high-sugar ones. Heavy sugar can upset the stomach during exercise and derail any good workout or competition. How much water is enough? Divide you body weight in half and drink that many ounces during the day. A 200-pound person needs 100 ounces of water daily. Any other color of urine other than clear or very pale-yellow means dehydration. Drink up! You can’t wait until just before exercise begins to start drinking.

Don’t eat anything heavy within four hours of exercise and longer if the exercise is very intense or of longer duration. But do consume a carbohydrate-rich snack or light meal to top off muscle stores. Include small amounts of protein to aid in muscle rebuilding after exercise. Choose foods that are low in fat and fiber to ensure optimal digestion and tolerance. Liquid meal replacements and various sports bars may be better tolerated than whole foods. They can also optimize digestion and energy availability.

Everything mentioned here should include lots of experimentation. Over the years, I have tried lots of things for my own pre-workout fueling. I have become prone to easily digestible things like peanut butter and honey on bread, a bagel, fruit, crackers, cookies and certain yogurts several hours before the workout other than early morning ones. Early morning runs gets just water and certain sports bars, plus a small amount of honey. Again, begin to experiment with what works for you. It won’t take long to figure out some good options.

Bottom line — eat something light and manage hydration. Don’t show up for your workout hungry! Or too full either. The most uncomfortable runs are on an overfed stomach. Don’t experiment during a race or hard training run.

Races are back! The Spooky Sprint 5K Run/Walk and fun run, plus a costume contest on Halloween Day at Catawba College. That’s five good reasons to join us at 2 p.m on Oct. 31 for major fun. The Clean Water 5K follows on Nov. 13 at Grace Lutheran Church. The biggest 5K in Salisbury follows on Thanksgiving Day at the Forum with the Butterball 5K.

Go to for more information on these and other upcoming events.