Tales of Starbucks & 7-Eleven and The Most Forgotten & Confusing Training Principal: Pre-Run Nutrition

We’ve all been there…the run starts great. The endorphins are kicking in; you settle into your pace; you’re looking forward to the next few (or many) miles. You’re training for a race, maybe you’re just enjoying a long run, or possibly you’ve just entered into the running world (welcome!). Whatever it is, you’re out on the road and ready to go…until this moment.

Your stomach starts to rumble, you pick up your pace and begin to frantically search for the nearest place to make a pit stop. This isn’t something that’s expected - or welcome - but you better believe it’s urgent. Some know it best as the runner’s trots; whatever you call it, you know it’s bad and can lead to some very unfortunate race day situations and training malfunctions…

Take this one for example: I’m training for one of my favorite marathons and am heading out on a long run - between 18-20 miles. I plan to leave early, around 5am to beat heat and get back before the rest of the world begins (anyone else obsessed with sunrise running?).

My alarm goes off around 3am and I press off instead of snooze (whoops!). I always set my alarm two hours before I plan to hit the road so I can eat - more on that in a second - this day, that didn’t happen. BUT as we all know, most of us have a very limited amount of time to get our training runs in. With plans later that morning, I couldn’t just tweak my schedule - unfortunately. I finally woke up to run around 4:30am - 30 minutes before go time. Yikes. I grab a half of a bagel, put on a hat, lace up my shoes, review the route and my paces, and I’m off.

Taylor Marathon

Yeah, I get pretty excited when I cross the marathon finish line. All the hours (including those spent in a Starbucks bathroom) lead up to such a release of emotions!

Four miles in and I’m feeling like a rockstar. I’m a big fan of visualization so I’m pumping myself up with images of crossing the finish line, a PR on the clock, legs feeling strong and fast, and a super heavy medal around my neck. Then, it hits…I NEED TO FIND A STARBUCKS - and, unfortunately it’s not for a big cup of coffee. It’s for a visit to their (usually) clean bathrooms. I find the nearest one within a mile, longest mile of my life, and realize they aren’t open yet. I proceed to POUND on the door - PLEADING for them to open the doors a few minutes early for someone who desperately needs to use the bathroom - I’m clenching my stomach and trying not to be sick, out of either end, right in front of the nice people who will probably make my coffee later… thankfully, they let me in and kindly point me in the right direction and politely look the other direction when I exit five or 10 minutes later.

I proceed on my run to a trail that I love. I’m planning on taking a GU at mile six, 13, and maybe another around 17. I try to stick to my nutrition plan just like I do my training calendar. I attempt to slurp down a GU around mile seven. I quickly realize my stomach isn’t down with that and now I’m on a trail with NO Starbucks in site. I RACE to the nearest trailhead, running the fasted mile of my life, and basically fall into the nearest porta potty, right in front of a big running group getting ready to go out on the trail - hey, we’ve all been here a time or two.

I get back to running and decide to head back in the general direction of my house. I’m feeling ill at this point and realize that it’s probably best for me cut this run short (listen to your body people!). I’m about 13 miles in and it hits, again. This time I KNOW there is no Starbucks around and definitely no porta-potties. Then I see a bright light at the end of the road - 7-Eleven to the rescue!!! I’ve never been happier to hear that slurpee machine running and see the sign for their bathrooms.

I end up walking the last three miles, as I was physically done. I was also a little disappointed. I mean, come on! I’m a dietitian. I study this stuff. I know what to do. This isn’t my first rodeo. And then it hits me - LIFE HAPPENS. I snoozed through my first alarm and it set me up to have a not so great, okay actually pretty terrible, run. This small little mess up caused me to eat way too close to my run for what my stomach is used to - and unfortunately, I paid the price. That morning, I was too set in my routine and was unable to make a few adjustments (timing of my breakfast, length of run, timing of run) that could have made my run at lot less painful and with much fewer breaks.

Here’s what I do know. While life does happen, there are some great, SUPER simple tools that are often over looked when it comes to nutrition for endurance training. I could talk ALL DAY about nutrition for endurance events (if you want to talk more here is my website) but in the sake of time, here is my GO TO list:

  • Eat at least 2 hours before you hit the road (hence setting my alarm two hours before I leave my house). Some people don’t feel like eating before a run (totally fine!), but for those of us who want to top off the fuel tank, it’s best to do it well before you lace up. If this means you’re waking up at 3am to eat, try eating a small amount and then resting for another hour or so before you begin your normal, pre-race routine. 
  • Eat something small, light, low in fiber, and moderately high in carbohydrates. For me, it’s usually a half of a bagel or some yummy homemade bread with a tiny bit of natural nut butter. This keeps me full and keeps my stomach settled. 
  • Stick to what you KNOW AND LIKE. I cannot stress this enough. I have one friend who eats instant mashed potatoes and drinks a Red Bull for his pre-run meals. Do your thing, man. If you’re training for a race, experiment early on in training and try to find something you can be consistent with. Practice that throughout your training season and replicate it on race day. You’ve got this!

There are MANY reasons behind these tips. To put it very simply, our bodies need time to digest the food and start processing it as fuel! When you begin to run, your body, which is super smart, starts to send more blood to your hard working muscles and away from your digestive tract. If you eat to close to your run, your body doesn’t have enough time to begin to digest your food. It ends up sitting there, like a brick, and can cause terrible indigestion. Most of us also deal with some sort of excitement or anxiety when training, which can also contribute to the bathroom breaks.

Taylor Cycling

Good nutrition leads to good days! No matter what the event.

Good pre-run nutrition will set you up to focus on your nutrition during and after your run (which is a whole separate topic - told you I love this stuff). Follow these simple steps - planning a meal two hours before your run, eating a light meal with a few extra carbs, and staying the course with foods that you know your body responds to well.

Beyond that, ENJOY.

Running is something that we are privileged to do. Our body does it’s best to support us in our training, so let’s return the favor with good nutrition, rest, hydration, and LOTS of foam rolling.

Cheers, my friends. Let’s continue to GROW.
-Taylor Simon, MS RDN LD

*As always, consult with your physician before incorporating any new practices into your training regime or diet.

Taylor Simon, MS RDN LD
Taylor is a licensed and registered dietitian nutritionist with a masters in nutrition and exercise physiology from Washington State University. Her passion lies in lifestyle nutrition counseling, nutrition for athletes (from everyday to elite), family nutrition, and diabetes education. Taylor has run two full marathons, a handful of half marathons, lots of 5 and 10Ks and a few bike races and triathlons for good measure. Taylor founded Grow, Nutrition & Wellness in 2015 to support others in their quest to achieve optimal health through simple and strategic lifestyle changes. You can check out her website here or email grownutritionwellness@gmail.com to get in contact with Taylor today.

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