To Eat or Not To Eat - Food Before Your 5:00 am Run
Let’s be honest, you’ve heard everything from “don’t even think about eating before a morning run,” to “you better not even think about running until you’ve eaten.” So, what is the right answer? Should you eat before a morning run? The answer, just like all things nutrition related, depends on the person and the situation.
When we sleep, we are unintentionally fasting. Overnight, the energy from our last meal or snack is used up (Yes, we burn calories sleeping). In the sports nutrition world, we like to compare our energy stores to a fuel tank. Carbohydrates are our body’s main source of energy much like gasoline is a car’s main fuel source. Carbohydrate gets stored in the body as glycogen. When we eat enough carbohydrate, our glycogen storage, or fuel tank, becomes full. When we exercise, move, think, or go without eating for a couple hours, that glycogen becomes depleted. Our fuel tank empties. When we wake up in the morning, we are starting with a nearly, but not completely, empty fuel tank. Fortunately for us, our body can burn fat. It doesn’t love to do it, but it will when it needs to. Between the leftover glycogen stores and the fat on our bodies, we do have some energy to burn, but not a lot. If you know you are someone that has a hard time eating before, it can be helpful to add a bit extra to dinner the night before, or even better, a bedtime snack, that can provide you the energy you need to get through the next morning’s workout. If you know you are someone that prefers to eat a little something before, then keep on doing what you’re doing. There is no “one size fits all” here. Ultimately it is best to listen to your body! Below are some things to think about as you are deciding whether you should be eating before your next 5 am workout!
Go ahead and eat if:
1.) You wake up hungry. Nobody likes to run hungry. It is unenjoyable, it will feel extra tough, and motivation plummets. You likely won’t get a great workout in.
2.) You feel fatigued before heading out the door.
3.) You typically run without eating before but notice that you don’t have good energy during your runs. Try eating before and it may be just the boost you need.
4.) You have some sort of high intensity workout. The higher the intensity the more glycogen we burn through. So, if our tank is nearly empty and we try to go at a high intensity we will run out of gas and crash, simple as that.
5.) You have a run greater than 60 minutes. You may be able to make it through without anything before a run up to 90 minutes if it is super low intensity, but typically you will feel much better if you just eat something before.
6.) You want to.
Go ahead and skip it if:
1.) You don’t feel hungry yet AND
2.) Your energy levels seem to be stable before and during the workout
3.) It is a short (less than 45-60 minutes) run
4.) It is low intensity, such as an easy paced run or cross training
As always, talk with Rachel or another dietitian if you are looking for more clarification or a more individualized approach!