Eating to go the distance

Hey Woodski!  
I like to bike and run long distances. If I eat before I go I get stomach cramps. I know it’s good to have eaten something, but I also don't want to carry a lot of snacks. Any recommendations?   Bell E Ache, age 16 (female, biking)

Dear Bell E Ache,

Running and biking are excellent ways to see more of the outdoors! Kind of a bummer that stomach cramps spoil the fun.

There’s good news: You can train your gut just like you train your muscles.

Just like a biker’s training plan gradually builds mileage over time, your stomach also can be trained to tolerate food and water before exercise. It will take patience, but you can do it.

Approach “gut training“ as two parts.

Ideally around 2-4 hours before exercise eat a pre-workout meal, such as a turkey sandwich on whole grain bread with some vegetables and hummus.

Around 30-60 minutes before exercise, eat something small and simple like a half banana or an apple sauce packet.

Don’t worry if you’re not there yet. Start with whatever’s currently comfortable with no cramps. Take a step-by-step approach; slowly adding more food and/or closer to exercise. Plan to experiment with different foods and timing strategies to see what works best for you.

Each step requires an adjustment stage of a minimum of two weeks before bumping it up again. The goal isn’t to make your stomach crampy. The goal is to go just short of discomfort, and then adapt for a few weeks before you take the next step. Repeat out loud after me: “I’ll take small, small steps and I won’t get impatient!”

Lastly, drink plenty of water throughout your day. If you continue to get cramps despite healthy sports nutrition, consult your doctor or a registered dietitian.


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The advice offered in this column is not intended to replace professional medical advice. Talk to your doctor before making any changes in your diet, exercise or lifestyle choices.
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