Run and Eat or Eat and Run?

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Prior to this year, running was something that 20-something Courtney did not do. During high school, I ran the cross country summer miles then promptly forgot my running shoes for a week straight and would have been so far behind in 5 AM make up runs until I gave up. That outlook changed in January. It wasn’t a new years resolution. My new years resolution was to be happy no matter what. It sounds cheesy but at the time my mood was so inconsistent until all I wanted was happiness.

I started running in late January. I had a huge life change and  I desperately needed something to distract me from how much of a mess my life had become in just a few short days so I started running. It was cold. Georgia has relatively temperate weather, but my tolerance is low.

Let me be clearer – If it’s under 60 degrees, I’m an ice cube.

So I realized that while running outside actually made me feel better emotionally, I couldn’t handle the cold. I also needed a plan. I set a goal to run one one time race per month. In just about everything that I do, I need something to look forward to – a goal, a vacation, even dinner plans. I’ll admit that I’m a planner but my inner optimist just can’t handle anything with no twinkle in the distance. Now you understand that opening statement about being happy.

I brought my runs indoors. Running on the treadmill worked for almost a full month. I felt like I was getting stronger, my ability to increase the speed and keep going was improving, yet every time I did a race, all the improvement I’d noticed on the treadmill disappeared. At first, I assumed that it was because these races were so early in the morning. Maybe my body isn’t awake, maybe my muscles are cold, maybe I need to eat.

I spent a few days eating fresh fruit immediately before a run. It was OK. I felt as though my endurance was slightly better but I would always have a stomach ache at the end. I switched to Kind bars. Some improvement – no stomach ache but I felt a little sluggish. Tried smoothies but I could literally feel like the liquid in my stomach which made me nervous about the next logical step when you feel things moving around. I knew I couldn’t run on a full stomach – I can barely walk on a full stomach. I started to research what other people eat before running and the resounding answer seemed to be nothing unless you are absolutely starting. I even read a few articles about committed runners who planned all of their meals around their running schedule. I’m not there quite yet, but I did start to notice that I wasn’t hungry before those timed races so food probably wasn’t the answer.

I continued Googling for answers and stumbled on an article offering advice to new runners – run outside. Not only run outside but vary the terrain. When I read this,
it jogged (haha, get it?!) my memory of a friend once saying that he believed treadmills weren’t nearly as useful because it causes you to use less effort since it’s moving. The ground, obviously, doesn’t give you this kind of assistance. I stopped eating immediately before a run and started running outside. Here’s what I learned:
1. My mind clears so much more quickly when I’m running outside.
2. Food is not an issue if I run in the mornings, but I have to plan ahead in the evenings.
3. Pre-planned evening runs help me to avoid sugary snacks at work.
4. Consistency is key.

I have to eat something at least a few hours before if I go running in the evenings. If I don’t, about 30 minutes into the run, my stomach declares war on the rest of my body and I begin to get light headed.

I finally nailed down a good schedule and returned to the Kind bars a few weeks ago. As long as I’ve got breakfast in by 9:30 AM, I’m hungry for lunch between 12:30 – 1:30 PM. In the evenings, I never go running before 6 PM so that gives me 4.5 hours to get some digestion going if I don’t eat. Again, that whole not eating thing doesn’t really work for me. So around 4 PM, I have a Kind bar or a banana.

Something about bananas work for this purpose. They are just heavy enough to keep me full and light enough to not weigh me down. Then right after I run, I do a cool down stretch, and head home for a real dinner.

Meal prep makes this so much easier. I pick up the box of Kind bars and a few bananas on Sundays when I’m at the grocery store and then when I’m ready for dinner all I have to do is warm it up. For me, the warming is a big of a process since I’m using the oven but it gives me a chance to get out of my sweaty running clothes, maybe do a 15 minute yoga session, and wind down before the meal.

How do your meals impact or change based on your workouts?