“I don’t eat much before I compete because my coach told me a hungry dog fights harder. Right?” asked this high school cross-country runner who had made an appointment with me to figure out how to enhance his performance. The simple answer was: a hungry dog might fight harder, but a hungry teenage runner will drag through events and be in a bad mood. He agreed.
Too many people think exercising on empty is a smart idea. I have yet to see research that supports that belief. The studies consistently indicate that pre-exercise fuel enhances performance. Just as your car runs better with fuel, your body runs better when appropriately fed. Pre-exercise food boosts your energy, enhances your ability to focus and concentrate on the task at hand, enhances stamina and endurance—to say nothing of puts you in a better mood. Why be tired and grumpy when a pre-run granola bar, banana or pretzels could boost your energy and your spirits?
Granted, some people have trouble difficulty tolerating a full meal pre-run, but most active people can enjoy 200 to 300 calories of some fruit, bread or energy bar. Give it a try? Experiment, observe the benefits (or costs), and tweak your diet accordingly.
For more information on fueling pre-exercise: Chapter 9 in Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook.