Best workout snacks for runners

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Nicole Elphick

It’s important to time your eating so your digestive processes don’t interfere with your exercise.

It’s important to time your eating so your digestive processes don’t interfere with your exercise. Photo: Getty

There’s nothing that takes the spring out of your step during a run faster than a stitch. Or worse still not being able to give your all in a pre-marathon training session because of a gnawing hunger in your gut. Here’s how to ensure your diet is syncing up with your workout schedule so you can function at maximum capacity.

Pre-workout snacks

“Because during running the majority of your blood flow is being diverted to your skeletal muscles – mostly your legs – your digestive system has reduced blood flow, so is less effective than usual,” explains nutritionist Kristen Beck from Beck Health & Nutrition. “Therefore drinks and snacks taken in before or during running or high intensity exercise must be small and easily digestible, so not too much dietary fibre, fat, or acidic foods, such as orange juice. All of these foods can potentially cause digestive discomfort, cramping or even diarrhoea during high-intensity exercise.”

Instead a carbohydrate-rich snack is your best bet before a run. “Carbohydrate snacks prior will boost both your blood sugar levels and your muscle glycogen levels to help you power through your run,” says Beck. Bananas, wholemeal sandwiches or a small bowl of breakfast cereal are all great pre-run options.

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It’s also important to time your eating so your digestive processes don’t interfere with your exercise. “Prior to running you should be looking to eat a meal no closer than an hour, preferably two hours, before, or a small easily digested snack around an hour, no more than 30 minutes, before.”

During your run

Staying hydrated is crucial during exercise, but no-one like getting a cramp. To avoid digestive distress while running be sure to regularly drink small sips of water or sports drinks (no gulping!)

Now, to sports drink or not to sports drink? Water is generally sufficient for the average amateur runner to keep hydrated. “However if you are running in very hot conditions, your run is more than an hour or if you are running at a very high intensity, sports drinks can better hydrate you. They provide electrolytes as well as around 8 to 10 per cent sugar that can increase the absorption of water from your intestines and provide you with extra carbohydrate energy to keep you running for longer durations,” says Beck. “Basically, sports drinks are useful to athletes and competitive runners, however are not required if you are running simply for fitness, recreational or weight loss purposes.”

Post-workout snacks

It’s fine to have a snack once you’ve finished your run but Beck advises waiting at least 15 minutes to allow blood flow to recover back to your digestive system. “Post-exercise snacks should ideally be a combination of carbohydrates to replenish sugar and glycogen from your muscles, as well as protein to aid muscle recovery. Protein in your post-exercise snacks and meals will also increase your muscle glycogen recovery,” says Beck. A few of her suggested post-exercise snacks are yoghurt, a skim milk smoothie, eggs with wholemeal toast, a tuna or salmon sandwich, or trail mix.

Training for a race

If you have a big race coming up your diet needs to have an even closer eye kept on it. “If you are running competitively, it is always advisable to ‘rehearse’ your pre-race snacks and meals in the weeks leading up to your big race in order to tailor the best, most easily-digested meals that deliver the best performance for you,” advises Beck.