When Kristy Baumann’s clients are looking for suggestions for a pre-run snack, the dietitian often has a somewhat surprising recommendation: Pop-Tarts.
Baumann, who specializes in working with distance runners, recently shared on her Instagram how, though Pop-Tarts are often demonized as “junk food,” they actually contain exactly what athletes need before a run: easily digestible, simple carbs that convert to quick energy and won’t cause GI issues.
It’s a recommendation that shocks runners and non-runners alike, she says, since there’s a misconception that exercise should be fueled by non-processed foods, or foods that we think of as “healthy.”
But in reality, says Baumann, simple carbs (including sugar!) are a runner’s best friend. Reaching for a Pop-Tart could give your pre-run snack not only a nutritional upgrade, but a fun and convenient one.
What to look for in a pre-run snack
For Baumann, the first order of business is often convincing clients to eat something before a run. Not only can it improve your performance by providing additional energy, but it can actually be a key injury-prevention tool. If you run too long on an empty stomach, your body may begin breaking down protein for fuel, which means it’s depleting the amino acids in your muscles, leaving you at a higher risk of hurting yourself.
“There’s so much benefit to eating besides just feeling good on your run,” she says.
The best kind of pre-run snack gives you a quick source of energy without causing GI issues or sitting too heavy in your stomach. This means you want to look for foods that contain simple carbohydrates (which, unlike complex carbs, digest quickly for that immediate energy boost), and are low in fiber and fat, which are more difficult to digest and may bother your stomach.
The case for Pop-Tarts pre-workout
The Pop-Tart fits the bill in terms of its nutritional profile: It’s full of simple carbs, both in the breaded outer section and the filling inside, says Baumann, and it contains almost no fiber, minimizing the risk of a mid-run dash to the bathroom. Plus, each tart’s nearly 34 grams of carbs are densely-packed: Compare that to the classic pre-run snack of a banana—which on average has 28 carbs but is typically larger than a Pop-Tart—and you’ve got more bang for your proverbial buck and less food sitting in your stomach as your run.
The Pop-Tart is also highly convenient—Baumann says she literally eats one while walking out the door for her runs. And you can’t discount the joy of having a nostalgic childhood throwback. But the real proof is in the pudding (or should we say the frosting?): “I’ve had so many runners try it and say it helped them a lot,” Baumann says.
Why runners shouldn’t demonize certain foods
Pop-Tarts aren’t the only sweet treats that can fuel your run: Baumann says candy (think gummy worms and Swedish Fish rather than chocolate), dry sugary kids’ cereals (like Lucky Charms), Stroopwafels, graham crackers, and Eggo waffles all check the boxes of high in simple carbs and low in fiber.
Though these snacks might not be something we think of as part of a healthy diet, Baumann says it’s important not to think of foods as “good” or “bad”—all foods can serve a purpose in our lives, including before a run. “We have to look at the big scope of things,” she says. “There’s absolutely a time and a place for all foods to fit.”