If Workouts and Runs Give You GI Issues, This RD's Food Suggestions Can Help

When you're putting together the perfect workout, a good pre-workout snack is the last, crucial puzzle piece. And, also like a puzzle piece, sometimes you just can't find the right fit. For more intense workouts, like CrossFit and running, it often comes down to trial and error.

Case in point: As a runner, I used to eat a huge bowl of cereal before logging my miles. When I switched to a banana, I realized that my food choices — not the run itself – had been causing the uncomfortable side cramps and sloshy feeling in my stomach. Eating right before a workout not only removes these kinds of uncomfortable side effects, but also gives you the energy to make the most out of every rep or step.

To save you some intestinal upset, we talked to registered dietitian and nationally-ranked CrossFitter Michele Fumagalli, LDN, of the Northwestern Running Medicine Clinic, about choosing the right fuel before an intense workout.

Avoid Fats Before a Run

The first rule of thumb Michele shared is an easy one to remember: The closer you get to your workout or run, the fewer fats (yes, even healthy fats) you should consume. That's because fats take a longer time for your body to absorb, and eating them too close to your workout can cause gastrointestinal (GI) stress, like stomachaches. Why? Michele explained that during a workout, the blood that's usually aiding in digestion in your stomach lining is sent into your muscles instead. If your stomach is full when the blood is diverted, it can cause stomachaches.

"You want to have your last full meal about two and a half to three hours before a workout," Michele said. This will give you plenty of time to digest and help you avoid those stomach issues.

Choose an Easily-Digestible Food

So what should you go for right before a run? Michele recommended choosing foods that are easy to digest, like simpler carbs, because they'll give you quick energy without upsetting your stomach. About an hour before your run, she advised drinking water and eating snacks like:

  • A Nutri-Grain bar
  • A banana with peanut butter

You can find more pre-workout snack ideas right here.

If it's closer to the run or workout, Michele said you want to go even more basic. Eat an applesauce pouch for some quick sugar and carbs, she suggested, or sip on water mixed with a bit of fruit juice. "The closer you get to the run or workout, the more easily-digestible you want to get," Michele said.

Of course, some trial and error will still come into play. What works for someone else might not work for you, and a good snack before one kind of workout might not be as effective for another. Experimenting to find what works best help you blast through your workouts with a minimum of discomfort and a maximum of effectiveness. For more snack suggestions before, during, and after workouts, check out this post.