eating · food · running

Running Fuel: What do you eat beforehand to avoid a sour stomach?

Feature photo credit: Marcos Paulo Prado, via Unsplash.

What do you eat before a run?  Does what you eat impact how you perform?  

I struggle with a sensitive stomach on running days.  If I eat the wrong things beforehand, I get a sour stomach during and/or after my runs, which can send me rushing into the bathroom repeatedly and disrupt my appetite for the rest of the day.

Based upon my own experimentation, I have found a few rules for a happy gut and a good run.  Today, I want to share what I have found works for me before a run.  I’ll post later on what I do afterwards.

My eating “rules” for the meal before my run:

Rule 1: Eat something.  I run in the morning after breakfast.  I tried running on just coffee, and my energy tanked rapidly and the run just plain felt harder.

Rule 2: Don’t eat too much fiber.  One of my B365 habits is to aim for 2 cups of fruits and fibrous vegetables at each meal, but I make an exception for breakfast before my run.  Fruit seems to agree with me more than vegetables, but even then I need to be careful.  One apple or a banana is totally fine.  A cup of berries might cross the line into unhappy tummy land.

Rule 3: Focus on easily-digested starchy carbohydrates like hot cereals, bread, or yams.  

Rule 4: Avoid too much fat.  Fat slows down our digestion, and I don’t want too much food hanging out in my digestive track during a run.  So, I aim for enough to keep me satisfied and not hungry on the run, but not so much that I feel full or heavy.  

Rule 5: Get enough easily digested protein to feel satisfied. My preferred sources at breakfast are eggs, usually mixed with egg whites, and/or plain Greek yogurt.   

I let my gut tell me when it’s time to head out.  Some thirty to sixty minutes after breakfast, I need to use the bathroom.  When that business is done, I can safely head out to do the work.

Some menus/recipes that have worked well for me:

Oatmeal with apple (I’ve shared several of my recipes here), Scrambled egg/egg white, Greek yogurt, Coffee

Roasted sweet potato (with skin), Parmesan cheese, Scrambled eggs/egg whites, Coffee

All-in-One-Bowl Oat Bran and Wheat Porridge 

  1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together 1 whole egg plus 6 Tbs. egg whites (2 large whites), or two large eggs
  2. In a microwave-safe glass measuring cup, bring to a boil (2 min. in my microwave): ½ cup soy milk (or dairy, if you prefer) plus ¾ cup water
  3. Slowly pour the hot liquid into the egg mixture, whisking the entire time.  This tempers the egg and keeps it from becoming scrambled eggs.
  4. Turn on the heat to medium under the egg mixture.  When it returns to a near boil, lower the heat and whisk in, 2 Tbs. Cream of Wheat or other wheat farina product, and 3 Tbs. oat bran.  
  5. Cook at a slow simmer stirring frequently until thick, about 4 minutes.
  6. Stir in cinnamon, 1-2 Tbs. raisins, 1 Tbs. of peanut butter, and 1 cup other fruit as desired (chopped apple, banana, peaches, etc.). Heat through.
  7. To serve, pour it all into a large bowl, plop on top ½ cup or so of plain Greek yogurt and sprinkle with a little brown sugar.

Banana Nut Pancakes

I make my own “pancake mix,” which is really just all the dry ingredients from a favorite pancake recipe, mixed together in bulk and stored in a container in my cupboard.  My absolute favorite of the moment is from Jane Brody’s Good Food Book (multigrain with buttermilk), but I have also used the Joy of Cooking Basic Pancakes recipe many times (subbing in some whole wheat flour).  

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together: 1 mashed banana, 1 whole egg, 1 Tbs peanut butter or 2 Tbs chopped nuts, ½ tsp vanilla, a shake or two of cinnamon, and enough liquid (water or milk) for one serving of pancakes (¼-⅓ cup for the recipes I use).
  2. Stir in the dry ingredient pancake mix for one serving (½ cup-ish on my recipes).  Adjust the texture as needed.
  3. Cook on a hot griddle with a tetch of butter melted on it.
  4. Serve with Greek yogurt, a little real maple syrup, and a couple eggs/scrambled egg whites.

These have been my go-tos for breakfast before my runs.  What are you eating?  If you struggle with tummy issues on your runs, what keeps you satisfied but doesn’t upset your stomach?

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found searching up new pancake recipes, picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .

Photo description: A stack of pancakes and maple syrup on a fun glazed plate (with fruit designs?), a knife and fork. Photo credit: dazedream Via Unsplash

5 thoughts on “Running Fuel: What do you eat beforehand to avoid a sour stomach?

  1. I really can’t eat a lot before a run. For years I didn’t have anything before an early morning run. Now, for anything less than 10 km, I’ll have my coffee and a little yogurt with flax seed.
    If I am running longer distances, I starting using Nuum in my water bottle last year. I used to bring gel packs with me on longer runs as I hit the 12km or higher I’d have a little. Some were iffy on the stomach. But if I ate a whole breakfast beforehand, I’m pretty sure I’d be running for a toilet part way through!

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    1. I wish I had enough energy to run with only coffee! I’m not running as far as you are, but I still seem to need some fuel in me. The meals above I can go my handful of miles and be fine, but it’s taken a lot of trial and error to figure that out (and parking my car near a public bathroom)!

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