Running After Thanksgiving Dinner
I spent much time today thinking about how to complete Thanksgiving preparations and still get a run in tomorrow. According to my schedule it’s not a rest day, and running OCD says we can’t possibly rest on a non-rest day. At the same time, there’s a lot to do tomorrow and starting at a very early time.
I suspect that many of you face similar challenges. Perhaps you’re driving early, or cooking and preparing for guests, or just generally busy getting ready for a day with family. A morning run simply may not fit. Given this, can we still sweat out a few miles in the afternoon?
What is a Large Meal?
The question about running after eating typically arises with large meals. Eating a banana or oatmeal is not uncommon before heading out, and unlikely to cause any running stress. However, we’re not talking about a few pre workout carbs. This is Thanksgiving dinner, the Mother of all holiday meals. Given that a large meal is typically defined as 500-800 calories, and the average American consumes 4-5x that at Thanksgiving dinner, I think it’s safe to say this falls into the “large meal” category and therefore worthy of discussion.
What Happens After we Eat, and Why do I Feel Sleepy?
Digestion is a process, and processes take energy. To facilitate the digestion process, the body directs more blood to the stomach and other organs. Put this on steroids after a huge meal, and you soon feel that sleepiness that often accompanies Thanksgiving dinner.
More blood to internal organs also means less blood flow to our large muscle groups, like the legs and arms. Yes, the same muscle groups that we rely on to execute our runs.
Is it Healthy or Unhealthy to Run after Eating?
When we have a large amount of food in our stomach, running is uncomfortable because we are not designed to do both digestion and exercise at the same time. Stomach cramps, stomach aches, or GI distress are the most common complaints when trying to run on a full stomach. The mechanical mixing and jostling that naturally occurs while running can upset the digestive tract too.
That being said, if you can run after dinner and not feel uncomfortable, it isn’t a bad thing. If the choice is between getting exercise and not getting exercise, then it seems like you can run after eating if that is your only opportunity.
It’s all about timing.
How Long to Wait?
So if it’s all about timing, then how long is long enough to wait? As we’ve said, eating a large amount right before a run can lead to cramping and digestive troubles. It can also make you feel sluggish during your run.
According to the Mayo Clinic, you should wait three to four hours after a "large meal" before running. But we’ve already defined this as an exceptionally large meal. So where is the specific guidance? The answer is that there really isn’t any, or any that I’ve found.
Add to that, everyone is different. For some, working out after a large meal isn’t a problem to begin with. For others, a small snack can send us running to a restroom instead of down the training path.
If I Decide to Run, How can I Prepare?
If you do venture out, there are some tips to consider. Probably the simplest advice is to stay close to home. You don’t want to be miles away at the time of emergency. This might be the day to do rock a few laps around the house instead of that long out and back. Or if you do venture further out, plan a route that has bathroom access.
In addition, listen to your body. It knows best, and if it starts to tell you something, listen and start heading home or towards an area with restroom access. This isn’t something you want to chance!
This was a tough one. Thanksgiving is such an exceptionally large meal, and falls outside of any standard guidance you might see about post eating exercise. My thought is that eating 3,000 calories and then hitting the pavement is probably not a great idea. Then again, eating 3,000 calories and NOT hitting the pavement is not a great plan either.
If you can limit your caloric intake to a typical large meal, or even stay closer to that range, then strapping on your sneaks a few hours after meal time might be just what you need to refresh your energy and get those miles covered. This doesn’t mean you can’t grab a second helping of mashed potatoes and gravy. It means stick to reasonable portions, give your stomach ample time to digest, plan a route with restroom access, and listen to your body.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Thanks for reading, and keep doing amazing things. And however you run, Run Uncommon!
The Uncommon Runner