A few months ago, stories of a Colorado-based serial pooper circulated the internet. After a Colorado Springs homeowner began to notice an unusual pile-up of feces in their lawn, tales of premeditated defecation buzzed throughout the national running community, deeming this jogger the Mad Pooper.
Although the Mad Pooper was far more of a menace than the average runner, any fitness enthusiast can relate to the panic of a mid-workout emergency potty stop. Misbehaving bowels are a common theme among athletes and gym-goers, posing the age-old question of what the heck to eat before a workout.
While there is no magic formula or superfood guaranteed to alleviate workout-induced gut bombs, there are a few steps you can take to reduce the chance of keeling over mid-squat or frantically looking for an appropriately sized bush to conduct your business behind.
Here are three steps to eliminating your exercise related tummy troubles.
What sits well in your stomach?
The most important aspect of a pre-workout fuel is finding something that agrees with your digestive system. If a certain snack gives you gas in your everyday life or makes you feel icky after eating it, chances are your stomach will full-on revolt when you put it to the jogging test. Start with foods that already make you feel good. From there, you need to experiment with your easy training days to see which of those foods work for you.
Avoid fatty or high-fiber foods. They sit in your stomach and take longer to digest. Ideally, you want a snack with a good blend of simple and complex carbohydrates and maybe a dab of protein to keep you sustained throughout the workout.
How much food will you need?
Chances are, most athletes and gym-goers severely overestimate the number of calories and carbohydrates they need to complete their workouts. While fueling is essential before a grueling workout, too much fuel can completely ruin the day at the gym.
According to studies, the average person has enough glycogen stored in the muscles to fuel a two-hour workout. Therefore, with a typical and healthy diet, you shouldn’t need to load up on carbohydrates or calories before most of your normal training sessions. That being said, a small snack before a run or scheduling your meals around gym-time to top off glycogen stores can help improve the quality of your run or workout. I’ve found that especially if you workout in the morning after several hours of sleeping and fasting, a medium sized snack or small meal 30-120 minutes before your run is ideal.
When should you eat?
Regardless of what you eat, a poorly timed meal can be the end of a workout before it even starts. Like most aspects of fitness, the optimal time to eat before a workout varies from person to person. Unless I’m limiting myself to processed carbohydrates like energy gels, I personally need at least an hour to digest my meal before heading out the door. If I have the time or a hard workout, I’ll take two hours and eat an energy gel five minutes before I head out the door for an easily digestible extra kick to my run.
Just when I think I have it all figured out, I’m reminded of the fragility of my stomach and my system with punishing gastrointestinal consequences. That’s why I’m continually evaluating, and re-evaluating what works for me.
Try eating a medium sized snack 90 minutes before your next run. If your stomach handles it well, try moving the same snack forward, and eat it an hour before your workout. Conversely, if you experience stomach issues eating within 90 minutes of your workout, push back the timing of your snack 15-20 minutes. Keep moving forward or backward 15-20 minutes until you find the closest time you can eat before you start experiencing stomach or cramping issues.
In general, the harder you have to run, the further back your snack should be from this time threshold. Likewise, the larger the meal or snack, the further you’ll have to push back from your closest pre-workout eating time.