Eating Before Exercising Gives Me a Cramp

I like to run and I know that a good run requires energy, but I simply can’t run if I’ve eaten in the past two to three hours as I get a cramp. Even water gives me a cramp. Is there something wrong with me? Is it OK to run on a completely empty stomach such as first thing in the morning?

An answer from Dr. Sarah Brown

You’re right, running does require energy, so it’s very important to fuel your body for exercise and everyday healthy living.

Why you need to eat

Glucose, the primary source of fuel during exercise, is derived from eating carbohydrates. Fats (triglycerides) are your secondary source of fuel. Your brain, which is your control center, must have glucose in order to operate properly, so when you exercise on an empty stomach, your brain will raid your muscles for the blood and glucose (muscle glucose is called glycogen) that is stored there. This causes a lot of stress on the body.

Why eating may make you cramp

Exercise reduces the blood supply to the stomach. So if you have too much food in your stomach, cramping can occur when the blood supply is reduced. Food takes time to digest, which means that you should avoid consuming too many complex carbs, protein and/or fats to avoid sloshing and cramping. Complex carbs can take up to two hours to digest, proteins and fats can take three to four hours or more. Water also takes time to be absorbed, your body can only effectively absorb one cup every 10-15 minutes. If you drink more than that, sloshing around can occur. Did you know that water has to be body temperature before it can be absorbed?

What to eat and drink and when

The best foods to eat before a workout are simple carbohydrates such as fruit. As the digestion of simple carbohydrates begins in the mouth, be sure to chew your food well, even soft foods like bananas. Once the food reaches your stomach it is broken down further and in approximately 30 minutes it leave the stomach and enters the small intestine. In the small intestine is broken down and used for bodily functions such as glucose to feed your brain and glycogen to fuel your muscles. I recommend eating a piece of fruit approximately 45 minutes before you run.

And while you are fueling your body for a run, you must also hydrate. Hydration plays a vital role in your body’s ability to perform. When your body is properly hydrated, all systems of the body move fluidly. When you are running, your muscles heat up and more sweat is produced to cool you down. When your body sweats and does not have access to water, it slows down. Proper re-hydration makes your movements’ fluid, increases your muscle contractions (and decreases cramping) and will help you increase your speed.

For those of you who dash from bed to gym for a quick morning workout, keep this in mind: When you’re sleeping your body is repairing and detoxifying and by the time morning comes it has worked through the previous night’s dinner and snacks and it is ready to “break the fast” (breakfast). Your body performs best when there’s a constant supply of fuel and eating small, frequent meals is the best way to provide that fuel. Although your body does store excess energy (ie. from dinner) you need fuel to ignite your body to access that energy. Without your ignition key your body will hold onto the stored energy (in your fat cells).

Pre-exercise water intake

One hour before exercise = 500 ml of pure water
20 minutes before exercise = 250 ml of pure water
125-250 ml every 10 – 15 minutes during exercise
500 ml every hour post exercise and for optimal health…have a glass every hour, every day!

It may take a bit of time for your body to adjust to absorbing the water and what it feels like to have the fuel it needs. Over time, you may wonder how you ever worked out with out hydrating and fueling. ( as a former non pre-exercise eater, I will tell you it’s true). If you are truly pressed for time pre-workout try Vega Sport, a natural plant based performance optimizer.