What to eat (or not eat) before a long run?

I think most runners can relate to some tummy troubles here and there during and after runs, and I am no exception. On my past couple of long runs, my stomach has been all out of sorts, which made me wonder if I need to tweak my food consumption the day before the run. To avoid, ehm, the runs?

Yeah, I’m going there.

Meals for Miles does not sugar coat, friends.

Having digestive issues while working it on the roads and trails for 2-plus hours is the absolute pits, and can definitely turn a great run into somewhat of a nightmare.

I’ve read countless articles (some here and here) on how to avoid or minimize these “runs”, and some tips are pretty helpful if not kinda obvious, like:

  • Avoid high fiber foods 24 hours before running
  • Avoid caffeine before running
  • Make sure you’re hydrated – dehydration can make stomach issues worse
  • Don’t eat or drink anything different or new the day before a long run – you never know how your stomach will react
  • Make sure you use the ladies’ or men’s room before heading out

The thing is, even if you do all of this stuff, issues can still occur – especially on longer runs. This is because the gut (we nutrition folk like the word gut!) receives less blood when you’re running – the body sends more blood to the legs, and they need it!

However, less blood to the gut causes poor GI function (i.e., the ability to hold things in place, ahem).  The longer you run, the more likely you are to experience issues.

For me, it’s kind of random when I experience issues and when I don’t, so I just try to keep my pre-run diet consistent and go with what seems to work best. Since I’ve got 18 miles on tap for tomorrow morning (ooomph), here’s what I’ve fueled up with today.

Breakfast – the usual TJ’s Twigs, Flakes and Clusters/Nature’s Path Heritage Flakes with blueberries and organic raspberries. Two unpictured ginormous mugs of coffee were also present :)

Lunch – also the usual AB & J sandwich on sprouted whole grain bread, fruit, a Greek yog and a Dove dark chocolate

Snackage – organic gala apple, trail mix

Oh hay, this looks similar to what I had on Wednesday. Creature of habit, what can I say…

Dinner – two TJ’s whole wheat pitas with hummus, greens, grape tomatoes and cucumbers with chopped bell peppers, carrots and radish with more hummus on the side

Snackage – Greek yog with PB & Co. dark chocolate dreams and some Peanut Butter Pows

Hydration! So, so important. I probably drink about 3-4 of these bottles during the day, and another 16 – 24 ounces when I get home from work.

I’ve had both good and bad results with meals like this, so we’ll have to see how it goes tomorrow (bright and early!). I’ll be starting my run first thing in the a.m., so I’ll probably just have a banana and some Gatorade before heading out (and bringing along more Gatorade and a Gu).

Since it takes the body at least 1-2 days to digest, it probably wasn’t the best idea in the world to eat copious amounts of black beans all week. Oh well :)

Like a lot of things in the nutrition/dietetics world, a good plan to help runners avoid GI issues is probably at least a little different for everyone. 

That said, I’d love to hear some things that work (and don’t work!) from you guys! Let’s have it!

6 thoughts on “What to eat (or not eat) before a long run?

  1. crunchygranolagal

    thank you for bringing up this rather, um, yucky topic! i have struggled a lot in the past with running + GI issues. i’m pretty sure I have some form of IBS, but these problems become crippling when i go on long runs. 1/2 marathon races – forget it! i’m destroyed for the next two days. breezing through those articles it seems i always make what they would consider poor choices – caffeine and fat before running (my go-to pre-run/ race food is coffee and a piece of toast with nut butter and jelly). oops?

    also, i used to eat pretty much the same foods you do according to your food diaries and had major problems. i was considering buying white bread and low fiber cereal for awhile! i remember switching over to lower fiber breakfasts and that seemed to help. but clearly i’m still working on this so i don’t really have any concrete answers. i know it sounds weird, but keep me posted. i need answers for myself, too! 😉

    1. mealsformiles

      I feel your pain! It’s so weird that sometimes I’m not bothered at all, and other times destroyed for days like you. I always eat a lot of fiber (I think my body is totally used to it). The 18 miler the morning after eating everything above went really well though! Absolutely no issues – I was actually amazed. I think it’s all about timing though – which is always a crapshoot! waaaah!

  2. sarah

    Oh boy. Ha. I surely violated a bunch of these policies – I always have at least a cup or more of coffee before running, chow down on whole wheat bread (which is not super high in fiber, but still), and usually don’t even eat if I’m going for less than 11 miles. The coffee is the most necessary to, ahem, get things moving. t just goes to show, I suppose, that every person is entirely different. The worst eating experiences I have had involved bowls of oatmeal, Advil, and a multivitamin (although not all on the same day).

  3. Megan (The Runner's Kitchen)

    i know a lot of people avoid coffee pre-run, but i need it to get things moving as sarah mentioned :) the key is to drink it at least 30-60 mins before running to have time for digestion. haha, oh running. i have no shame! so great to run with you on saturday!

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  5. runningheather

    Like Megan, I drink my coffee EARLY to get things done before heading out. But then again, I am very lucky and don’t have these issues while running, typically. My pre-long run meals? Either a Clif bar or some toast w/jam. I’ve been having almond butter lately to add some protein like a good girl. I never really have any problems, thankfully!


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