I often have to complete my runs first thing in the morning, so I can’t have my regular, hearty oatmeal with banana, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and peanut butter breakfast beforehand. I normally run on an empty stomach for distances up to four miles without problems, but after that, I begin to feel the lack of energy. I do feel more energized after eating a sports bar, but I wait an hour before running to give it time to digest. Can you suggest something I can eat and be ready to run long distances (five to 13 miles) in half an hour? – Rohan
Thanks for asking the question that’s on many runners’ minds. My initial recommendation would be to see if you can go to bed a half hour earlier and then drag yourself out of bed thirty minutes earlier, which would give you time to digest a more substantial meal. But, I realize how precious every minute of sleep can be, and also how difficult it can be to get in bed earlier, so here are some other ideas.
You asked for options that would help you run five to 13 miles. I’m going to break this into two different types of runs, because the fuel needed to run five or six miles is quite different from the amount of fuel needed before running 12 or 13 miles.
For the shorter run, it sounds like you are almost eating enough for a run of five or six miles, since you are essentially hitting the wall after four miles. There are two ways you can fix this. You can either eat something before the run, or add in some fuel when you are approximately three miles in and then again a few miles later. If you want to fuel up before heading out, I would recommend drinking eight ounces of sports drink and eating half an energy bar. Most all sports-nutrition-type items are designed to be easy to digest and are quickly absorbed into your system. This small snack should give you a noticeable energy boost. If you want to roll out of bed and just go, make sure you eat a good meal the evening before and add in a gel chew/block starting at mile two. Try to take one or two every two miles for the remainder of your run.
For the longer run, I wouldn’t recommend you go out on an empty stomach and play “catch up” the rest of the run. Instead, you’ll need to have some fuel in the tank before you set out. When trying to determine how much fuel to take in before a long run (longer than 75 minutes) begins, the general rule is to consume approximately 0.5 grams of carbohydrate for every pound of body weight and then multiply that number by the number of hours you have before you will begin your run.
Let’s say you weigh 180 pounds, and you have one hour before the run will begin.
180lbs x 0.5 = 90
90 x 1 hour = you need to eat 90 grams of carb to fuel your run.
In your case, you have only half an hour. So your equation will look like this:
180lbs x 0.5 = 90
90 x ½ an hour = you need to eat 45 grams of carb to fuel your run.
So what does 45 or even 90 grams of easy-to-digest carbohydrate look like? It might be a ½ a bakery bagel (~30 grams) and eight ounces sports drink (~15 grams). It might be an English muffin (~25 grams) topped with two tablespoons jam (~30 grams). If you want to eat a gel chased with water instead, that will give you about 25 grams of carbohydrate. For some additional easy-to-digest carbs, you could add in four ounces of fruit juice or half a large banana; either will supply you with approximately 15 more grams of easy-to-digest carbs.
These meal items are all easy to digest and will put fuel in your tank. Remember to add in more fuel and fluid (i.e. gels/blocks/beans/dried fruit/etc.) while you are out on the road for a long run. How much should you be adding?
Well, that’s another one of the “most common questions asked of sports dietitians,” and one I’ll be answering next week. So stay tuned and keep those questions coming!