Learning how to time your meals so that you are properly fueled for your runs is challenging. Just about everyone at one time or another has thought 'How Long After Eating Can I Run'? or 'Should I even Eat Before a Run? Finding the right information can be tricky because there are a lot of variables. And how you should approach this depends on the type of running that you do.
First, let me start by dismissing the myth that you should never eat before you exercise. Long distance runners know it's important to not only fuel up before a race but also during.. How much you eat and what you eat is just as important as the timing.
The body can't digest food while performing vigorous exercise. Digestion is actually a very energy-taxing task—just like running. When you eat a large meal very close to a run, your body diverts it's energy and blood flow to the muscles. This results in a whole host of issues including bloating and digestive discomfort. This occurs because the digestive tract doesn't have energy to process food properly.
Alternatively, not eating enough will make you feel sluggish. This results in decreased energy levels, making it difficult for you to complete your run or meet your time goal. Knowing the right amount of to intake is crucial.
Thankfully, there are methods you can use to make sure that you are both properly fueled and your digestive tract is happy.. It’s important to note that everyone is different. This will take trial and error but eventually you'll know exactly what to do and not. These are trusted regimens and tips for timing your meals:
Short Distance Running for General Fitness
If you are only running short distances, then fueling up before hand isn't necessary. This means running less than 40 minutes. Your post-exercise meal should be the focus. Proper nutrition including protein and carbs helps to improve recovery and reduce muscle damage.
For this type of running, try your workout on an empty stomach. Or about three to four hours after your last meal. Some individuals may even have decent performance first-thing in the morning, after an all-night fast. Some studies have even indicated that running on an empty stomach causes increased fat burn. In order to optimize results, plan to have a full meal with a good amount of protein soon after your workout. Ideally with in 30-45 minutes of completing a run.
Medium Distance Runners
If you run for 60-90 minutes at an even pace, there are two routines you can try. The first is similar to the empty stomach method detailed above. You can run two to three hours following your last full meal. Provided it was a full meal with a decent amount of quality carbohydrates.
If this doesn’t work, try having a carbohydrate-focused snack approximately one hour before your run. Keep it between 100-300 calories and experiment with different things to find the best snack for you.
Long Distance Runners
For marathoners and ultra runners, training the body to handle nutrient intake during the run is paramount for success. Proper nutrition before, during and after the race is also crucial. During your race you want to consume simple carbohydrates with electrolytes. There are many products available like Cliff shot gels . They even have caffeine to give a boost and come in many flavors. They should be consumed every 45-60 minutes to prevent fatigue and replace lost nutrients. Energy gels can be use right before a run also and are easily digested. Post meal should a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein.
Fueling Any Run
Glycogen is the energy source used by your muscles during vigorous physical activity. We obtain glycogen from our food and store it for later use. The issue with long distance running is that we burn through our stored fuel and need to re-supply it during the workout. However, no matter what distance you are running, it is important to make sure you get as much fuel from your pre-run meals.
You can achieve this by eating high-quality carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats at your main meals. This is the time to opt for more fibrous carbohydrate sources, such as whole grains.
When it comes to pre-run or during-run snacks, opt for carbohydrate-based snacks that are low in fiber and fat. This is important because the fiber and fat take longer to break down than the carbohydrates do. Apple sauce, dates and bananas are all great snack options. Any runner can experiment with having a snack like this about an hour before a run. Those running longer than ninety minutes can also see if their body can tolerate digesting different types of snacks during their run, aiming for between 30 and 60 grams of carbohydrate per hour. As mentioned above, sports drinks, energy gels, and chews can be especially useful for in-workout fuelling.
Sports drinks and energy chews can be beneficial for any runner, particularly those with sensitive digestion. Some can't run on an empty stomach and preform at their desired level. But they also can't tolerate a snack close to their run time. For them this option usually works.
Be mindful that most of these products were developed for elite athletes and provide maximum energy. If you are not for a running long distance, then a little will go a long way. Again, carbohydrates provide the easiest source of fuel, so most sports drinks provide 10-15 grams per eight ounces of fluid. You can start with drinking 8 oz throughout your run to see how this affects your performance.
Energy chews, which provide five to eight grams of carbohydrate fuel, can be another option. Experiment with one about 15 minutes before your run. Since they have low digestive impact, you may find that these work better for you than traditional snacks.
Energy gels are much higher in carbohydrates and unnecessary for most low intensity runners. However, you may choose to still try them. Say for instance if you're incorporating sprints into your cross training. Or when preformimg other high-intensity workouts.
To Sum It Up
So in the end the age old question of How Long After Eating Can I Run is really not based on time.But rather on how long you run, how your digestive system works, and what works for you. You really need to figure this out by testing slowly. The good news is you will eventually figure out exactly what works for you.