Rethinking the Pre-Run Meal

I’ve mentioned on here that I usually try to eat a bowl of oatmeal in the morning before long runs and races. My reasoning behind oatmeal was that it’s soft and mushy, all ready for my stomach to digest it without much effort. But for the past two weekends I have not been able to get that bowl of oatmeal in me. It’s not that I was having problems with it not settling during my run, it’s that it seemed wholly unappetizing to me at that time. Both times I made the oatmeal, took a few bites and then tossed it down the disposal. (And I have been eating oatmeal for breakfast every other morning too, so it’s not that I suddenly have a prejudice against oatmeal.)

Rachel from FitnessForMommies commented that she never eats anything before races and referred me to Hammer Nutrition’s site for some of the logic behind her choice. While on the site I read the article: The Pre-Race Meal. This article stresses the fact that you should eat three hours before your race/long run. If you don’t have time to eat a full three hours prior, then SLEEP is a higher priority and your muscle glycogen stores will be fine if you’ve been practicing good nutrition in your day-to-day life and as long as you start refueling about 10-20 minutes into the effort.

With my recent first order for Hammer products, I received a free DVD called ‘Endurance Nutrition‘. The DVD also re-iterates this fact (and I was slothful and didn’t watch the DVD until AFTER I started perusing Hammer’s articles), sleep is more important to your performance than getting up super-early to eat.

This is a fascinating area for me, one that I’m interested in exploring. I know I need to do better at fueling myself all the time for optimal performance, but it’s something I struggle with every single day. I’m not quite sure if it would be wise to start testing this new fueling strategy tomorrow morning before my long run. Probably not. But I’m also pretty sure that a bowl of oatmeal will not be going down the hatch either.

So I’m interested in hearing about your fueling strategies. What do you eat before a race/long run? How long before you start do you eat this? What is your fueling strategy during a run? What do you consume and at what frequency?

I know everybody is different and has to find what works for them. But we can pick up information from our peers and adopt it to meet our needs, right?



  1. Hi,
    I never eat before any run of any distance. I will drink coffee though. On a run of less than an hour, than I will just have water. If it is longer than an hour, I carry HEED in my bottles and Hammer Gel’s in my pockets. I eat the gels when my tummy rumbles. I have never been hungry on a run and I immediately refuel with Reccoverite (?) within 15 minutes of walking in the door. I’m also not big on “carbo loading” the night before. Hammer has articles on that topic too.
    It’s fascinating, isn’t it?

  2. I have not run regularly in years, but…I used to eat a slice of toast with peanut butter before I ran, or sometimes just a banana or part of an avocado. I know some people don’t eat at all before they run, but I couldn’t do that. I would get lightheaded and feel sick if I ate nothing, even though I was eating well in general. As long as I kept the meal small it was good.

  3. As you know, I use some of the Hammer products too and had read their note about not eating for 3 hours. Personally, I’d be so exhausted and sluggish if I DIDN’T eat. I eat a bowl of cereal with milk and a container of Yoplait yogurt before I start. I usually have some coffee too – its’ absolutely necessary.

    Since Iv’e been starting to run in the mornings now, i am finding that propel is helping me to wake up and energize me and is sitting with me a bit better than gatorade. Though, for my long run, it’s gatorade all the way.

    In the early mornings I have been finding my sports beans to be easier to stomach than powerbar gels. Though I do take the gels on the weekends.

    I also sometimes in the morning have some V8 but like you have recently been noticing that it does appear to have an effect on me some days that is not that great. I do attribute it to the V8.

    You might want to to try some of the Hammer energy bars. I like the chocolate chip ones. They make things in a natural or organic way, unlike a lot of other energy bars.

  4. Everyone is so different. I used to get up super-early to eat before a workout, but as you and I both know, that’s a tall order during the summer here, especially when one needs to pop a Synthroid pill on an empty stomach!

    Lately I haven’t been eating before a long run. I drink an energizing sports drink and maybe some Luna Moons or something for calories… and I do just fine. But that’s just me.

    On the way out to our Tri last September, I had some yogurt and berries really early in the morning, and brought an English muffin with peanut butter for the ride over. Chuck was driving… he warned me not to eat it, that it would be too hard to digest quickly. I ate it anyway. Halfway through my swim, I was burping up entire chunks of muffin. NASTY!!! Lesson learned… but that also freaked me out to eat.

    Apparently, I have no point here 😉 But I guess I eat when I have time early enough, and if I don’t, I do just fine with some drink and snacks. Either way, I get the calories in me.

  5. I’m in the non-eater camp…sometimes I’ll have a couple bites of toast or a 1/4 bagel, but usually, I’ll have nothing. That being said, I ALWAYS have coffee. Then before I run, I’ll have a Gu.

    I love this idea that sleep is more important!

  6. I don’t eat before my run, I do it during. In the past I ate peanut butter and bananas. Now I drink my way through most of my run. I follow Brendan Brazier’s book Thrive (he is a professional athletes) I make all my own gels and sports drinks. I find that doing this I have made it thought marathons with no problem. I do carry a Lara bar with me for back up. My advice for trying something new is doing it when you’re close to home and on short runs. Good luck to you.

  7. I ALWAYS eat before long runs that are 10 miles and up. I eat 3 hours before the run or race, and that means waking up at 4am and then go back to bed if my run/race begins at 7:00 am.

    My fuel during the long runs is a squirt of Gleukos every 4 minutes and a Hammer gel every 45 mins. My watch is set to go off every 4 mins as a reminder that I need to drink Gleukos and for the Hammer gel, I just guesstimate. I’m religious in taking Gleukos & Hammer because just knowing that I take them makes me feel better running, and so far, this fuel combo works for me.

  8. Interesting post. I, too, usually eat oatmeal for breakfast and especially when I run in the morning. It’s regular oatmeal with cinnamon, splenda, flaxseed and raisins.

    But if I’m not running until mid-morning then I usually wait and just have a couple pieces of toast before heading out.

    The funny thing is before my last marathon, I had ordered oatmeal from room service to be delivered at 6 (so I’d have it in my stomach 2 hours prior to the gun). I had to be on the bus at 6:45 to get to the starting line, and they showed up with it at 6:30. I had canceled my order by then and ended up just eating an oatmeal bar that I had had in my purse from the trip. That and accelerade were all I had. And I had one of my better runs.

    But that brings up my other point – I don’t do Gu because they make me gag. I’m a total Accelerade drinker. I love this stuff and will drink 12 oz about 30 minutes before heading out, and then sip along the way if I’m on a really long run. I follow up all my runs with Endurox for muscle recovery which works great. That’s what has really been my lifesaver.

  9. Jill:
    I was in LV for the weekend and visted the Fleet Feet store. One of the employees I met was telling me about this run you had done that morning. Great store and excellent service.

  10. I always always eat before morning runs. I have many bad memories forcing myself to run on an empty stomach and probably because I have that history, I am obsessed now with making sure I am more than properly fueled. Long runs especially. Last year at this time I was doing oatmeal; now for some reason I can’t stomach it. The last two times I had oatmeal before I ran I felt kinda queasy for a while. I think those complex carbs were too hard for my stomach to digest while running. I’ve switched to a bowl of semi-sweet cereal with a little bit of milk and right now that seems to be digesting the best. I’ve been doing honey nut cheerios, but I’ve also had lucky charms and frosted flakes. I think in the case of running, simple carbs are not necessarily bad. They are digested quickly and are usually pretty palatable, even in the early morning hours when I have absolutely no desire to eat. I’ve also had good results with a plain white bagel toasted with jam. If its a big one, I will just eat a half. Everyone is different, so it may not work for you, but you’ve got to experiment to know. Oh and regarding timing. I usually wake up an hour before I need to leave and eat immediately. Its usually 1-2 hours from the time I eat until I actually start running. Anything less than an hour is not enough time.

  11. An hour before my runs, I make a smoothie with 1 cup shredded kale, 3/4c yogurt, 3/4c frozen fruit and a shot of FRS concentrate or powder. It is the best thing I have ever found to give me the energy/nutrition I need while keeping my stomach on an even keel. Be sure to blend the kale up small enough!

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