Having a nutrition strategy and timing your meals so they correlate with your workout sessions will have a significant impact on your ability to perform. Having a plan for both your training and eating, will ensure that you give your body the optimal fuel, before, during and after the session. But when should you eat, and what should you eat to optimize?  There is, of course, no answer that fits all, but below we’ll give the best prerequisites to ensure that your energy stores are ready to be combined and fit right in to your training plan! 

What is a “runners tummy”?

A lot of runners have had the unpleasant experience of a “runners tummy”. It can be a variety of symptoms from the gastrointestinal tract, resulting from what’s been eaten, when its been eaten combined with the physiological processes in the body during running (lack of blood flow to the gut when trying to digest the food). Basically, one reason can be due to not having a clear nutrition strategy.

Remember, when training or before a race, it’s good to skip carbs rich in fibers and high-fat meals close to the session, since they decrease the digestion speed. For training sessions or competitions needing carbohydrate replacement: avoid highly-concentrated sweet drinks, such as fruit juice prior to and during a run. Sports-specific drinks are preferable. Timing of your meals will also be central, not only for your “gut comfort”, but also for your energy levels. 

Are there any foods that don’t work for you before training? Take note of them and avoid them when it comes to training. You’re the expert on your own body, so if you want to test new foods or products, be sure to do so well in advance, and only in the context of training – not during the race. We cannot emphasize how important it is to reflect, both when it feels good and less good.

Before training: 

Eat a larger meal (i.e. lunch or dinner) 3-4 hours before. By tracking in Lifesum, you’ll easily ensure you’re meeting your daily macro recommendation. Make sure you don’t forget the carbs! Here you can mix complex and simple carbs as you prefer. You can read more about different types of carbs and the best time to have them here. TIP! Lifesum’s in-app Recipe Tab is loaded with delicious recipes, like our Chicken Patty with roasted sweet potatoes, or our Tomato Pesto Pasta!

If a long training session is planned, eat something snacky approximately 1-1½  hours beforehand. These should preferably be simple carbs and protein, to supply you with energy and help you to avoid gastrointestinal upsets. Try foods like bananas, smoothies, juices, sandwiches with egg, quark with fruit etc.

During training: 

When training <1½  hours: water is ideal. If you ensure you have well filled glycogen storage before the training session, this will be enough. 

When training >1½ hours: you’ll need water and carbs, depending on the purpose of the exercise. 30-60 g/h of carbs are recommended, but if you’ll be training for more than 2½ hours, up your intake to 90 g/h of carbs per hour. It is important to try this approach during training if you are planning to use it for a race or competition. This is so you can fine-tune and tailor the amount best for you. This could, for example, be a sports drink or gel.

An example during hot and humid conditions, would be 250 ml of 5% carbs solution every 15 minutes; this would provide 50 g carbs and 1 litre of fluid per hour.

TIP! Check the nutritional labeling or scan with Lifesum to get the carb amount per serving. 

After training:

After training (depending on duration and intensity) your body is low on glycogen and has an increased ability to store and refill glycogen levels in your muscles, making for faster recovery. It’s best to eat something high in carbs and protein within 30 minutes of finishing. A snack with similar macro levels that you ate before training is better than nothing. 

Ideally, a larger meal (ie lunch or dinner) in the few hours post-race is recommended. If your next training session falls within 8 hours, make sure you fill up again with simple carbs; they’ll store energy faster than complex carbs! 

Planning – The key to success

How we react to different products during training and which ones we prefer is down to the individual. Make sure you try them out multiple times while training for your next race or competition.

Meal order is central. Make sure you have at least 2-3 larger meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and 1-4 snacks per day, depending on the type and intensity of your exercise, and your energy requirement.

Planning your meals and nutrition before each day will make everything much easier. Will you be at home so you can prepare your meals there? If not, will there be food available? Or do you need to bring something?  

Some examples of snacks that are easy to bring: Boiled eggs, fruit, rice/corn crackers, fruit, bars, dried fruit, sandwiches, smoothies, overnight oats etc.

If you know you’ve got an intense week ahead, meal prepping will help out a lot. Set aside a few hours each Sunday for meal prepping, for example, and you will have delicious, nutritious food prepared for the whole week. In Lifesum’s Recipe Tab, you’ll find heaps of inspiration and recipes made for meal prepping. 

Meal strategy depending on the time of training

Training – early morning: Have something small before training (ie a banana or a smoothie). Make sure you fill up afterwards with a proper breakfast. There are plenty of delicious breakfast recipes in our Recipe Tab – why not try the Banana Oatmeal or Yoghurt bowl?

Training – midday: If training between main meals, make sure you have a snack before and try to refuel with a larger meal after training (ie lunch or dinner). 

Training – evening: Same as above. After the workout make sure you refuel. If you’ve already had dinner, a carb and protein-rich night snack helps optimize recovery.

A nutritional strategy combined with a running schedule will benefit both your wellbeing, speed and recovery- so if you haven’t had one before today, sit down for a few minutes and do one right away!

Kajsa holds a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics from Umeå University, Sweden. Having worked as a Clinical Dietitian with a focus on dietary treatments for both individuals and groups, Kajsa now supports the Lifesum team in providing professional and evidence-based interventions to users. Kajsa is a self-confessed training nerd and admits her greatest passions are anything to do with food, science and health.

All posts by Kajsa Ernestam