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Eating before exercise - what's best and how to stop that stitch?

February 09, 2017

Before exercise snack

In this week's blog everactiv co-founder Linda discusses eating before exercise and ideas on how to prevent getting that dreaded stitch.

linda barclayI’ve been coaching running for over twenty years and I have a keen interest in understanding nutrition and performance, particularly in making sure that the young athletes that I coach are fuelled and ready to train or race. Parents and kids often ask me what they should eat before a training session or competition, particularly to avoid getting a stitch.

First and foremost, you need to experiment and find foods that you like ! There’s little point in making someone eat something they don’t want to just because it’s “good” for them. Fuelling up for performance should be a positive and empowering experience – not a negative one.

When you eat before a training session or race is as important as what you eat! I’ve occasionally seen young athletes eating a chocolate bar just minutes before the start of a race which can lead to sluggish performances, upset stomachs or getting the dreaded “stitch”. Some people can exercise comfortably almost straight after they have eaten, but these people are in the minority. Nutritionists have found that most people feel best when they have eaten around 2 hours before they exercise. It’s all about knowing your own body.

girl running

Why does a stitch happen?

Recent research indicates that getting a stich may be related to what’s happening in around your abdominal wall. The abdominal wall is lined by a membrane that has two layers. The inner layer wraps around your organs and the outer layer attaches to the wall. The space between this layer is filled with a small amount of slippery fluid that allows the layers to glide over each other. When the layers get stuck you may get the pain you know as a stitch. This pain sometimes transfers along your nerves into your shoulder. So, why do the layers get stuck? Scientists think that this may happen when you have a full (distended) stomach that pushes them together or when there is a reduction in the lubricating fluid between the layers.

The best way to avoid a full stomach is to not eat or drink too much before you exercise. If your training or race is going to be very intense, like a speed track running session you may need as much as 3 hours between eating and exercising. A general guideline is to leave 4 hours between a main meal and exercising and eat light snacks up to 2-2.5 hours before exercise.

What are good foods to eat before exercise?

Foods that are high in fat (like cheese) or high in fibre (like vegetables) may take longer to leave your stomach so are best left to main meals. It is also a good idea to stay away from spicy stuff, which could upset your stomach.


Closer to racing or training time (2-2.5 hours before) ideal snacks can include toast/bread/rice cakes with jam or honey, a banana, a small bowl of cereal or porridge, or a yoghurt. Eat slowly and chew well to start the digestion process in your mouth. Hydration is also important. Avoid concentrated drinks like fizzy juice, strong cordials and fruit juice. These empty from the stomach more slowly than water and leave your stomach fuller and more distended for longer.  It’s best for athletes to drink small amounts of fluid regularly during exercise, so keep a water bottle on hand during training and sip your way through!

girl running with bikeeveractiv’s co-founder Catriona is an international athlete. Her top tip is that you should never try eating or drinking anything new on race day because you don’t know how your body will react. Use your training sessions to experiment with what foods and timings work best for you so that on competition day you are perfectly fuelled for a great performance.


If you have any questions about nutrition; what to eat or not to eat before, during or after exercise, then just contact us and we will be happy to advise!

Size Guide
Get measured up to be sure to get the best possible fit for comfort and performance from your everactiv sportswear. 
everactiv size guide sportswear children girls young people  
1) Chest: Measure all the way around your chest at the fullest points.
2) Waist: Measure around the narrowest part of your waist.
3) Leg Length: Measure from the inside at the top of your leg to your ankle.
4) Hips: Measure around the widest part of your hips.
Use the size chart to work out your fit. If you are between sizes order the larger size for a looser fit. If you prefer a tighter fit, order the smaller size.
Centimeters/Inches XS S M L
Height Guide 128-134/50-53 140-146/55-57 152-158/60-62 161-167/63-65
Chest 64/25 70/28 76/30 82/32
Waist 56/22 60/24 64/25 70/27
Hips 66/26 72/28 78/31 84/33
Inner Leg 57/22 62/24 67/26 72/28
Numeric Age Guide 7-8 9-10 11-12 13+