Nutrition for Long Runs Demystified

Long run

Long runs often take more plan­ning than the actu­al race. These mys­te­ri­ous runs leave plan­ners won­der­ing about routes, lay­ers, obsta­cles and more, but the ques­tion that seems to scratch sweaty heads is what to eat before, dur­ing and after. Hope­ful­ly this guide will pro­vide a basis on where to start with your long run nutrition.



Carb Load­ing
Carb-load­ing has some­how gained noto­ri­ety as a sta­ple for pre-long runs or as a pre-race meal. The truth is it’s real­ly not that help­ful the night before. If you want to ben­e­fit from the extra car­bo­hy­drates, have your carb-rich meal two days pri­or to your long run. It’s also vital to dis­tin­guish that car­bo-load­ing is not syn­ony­mous with overload­ing. You should eat a high­er per­cent­age of car­bo­hy­drates at a meal, but not a high­er num­ber of calo­ries over­all. Three heap­ing plates of spaghet­ti will mere­ly accom­plish a stom­achache or bloat­ing because your body is still work­ing on break­ing it down.

Known gas-induc­ing foods should also be avoid­ed a day or two before a long run for obvi­ous rea­sons, but avoid­ing unfa­mil­iar foods is just as unwise. Mid­way through a 17-mil­er is not when you want to learn that your body does­n’t do well with those fan­cy new ener­gy bars.

In an effort to begin your run as ful­ly hydrat­ed as pos­si­ble, skip the beer the day before your run and add in an extra glass or two of water. The beer will taste bet­ter after the run anyway.


What you select for break­fast the morn­ing of is real­ly going to make or break the run—it should nev­er be skipped! You would­n’t pop a squat in a field of poi­son ivy now would you?  So why start a run on an emp­ty tank?

The vital meal should be eat­en 1–2 hours before the run, depend­ing on how sen­si­tive your stom­ach is. Ide­al­ly it has good bal­ance of car­bo­hy­drates and pro­tein like a piece of toast with nut but­ter or a banana and a small ener­gy bar. Don’t for­get a glass of water with that meal!



Quick Carbs

There are plen­ty of options for trans­port­ing calo­ries with you. Many run­ners opt for ener­gy gels, blocks, chews, and jel­ly beans (not the can­dy ones) which are designed to pro­vide the quick car­bo­hy­drates. Chewed with a bit of water, these ener­gy foods enter the blood stream quick­ly, deliv­er­ing sim­ple car­bo­hy­drates to your mus­cles, keep­ing blood sug­ar lev­els even. Most run­ners can actu­al­ly feel the ener­gy kick in a few min­utes after ingest­ing a chew or gel.

Orange slice

Nat­ur­al Quick Carbs
Oth­er nat­ur­al foods that work as quick ener­gy boost­ers include raisins, orange slices, banana chunks, and pre-soaked chia seeds. Go ahead and use your long runs to exper­i­ment with dif­fer­ent foods, chews, or gels to fig­ure out which one works best with your body. Always chase any­thing you eat with water though, as your stom­ach can only absorb a lim­it­ed num­ber of car­bo­hy­drates at a time. The water helps dilute the ener­gy and stretch it out.

Run­ners should gen­er­al­ly begin tak­ing in calo­ries on a long run 30–45 min­utes into it. This is like­ly before you actu­al­ly feel hun­gry, which is the goal. Once you begin feel­ing hun­gry or thirsty, your blood sug­ar and hydra­tion lev­els are already unbal­anced, and it’s a very slip­pery slope from there. An ide­al long run keeps blood sug­ar and hydra­tion as even as pos­si­ble the entire time.



After the long run, it’s easy to just hop in the show­er then crash out on the couch. You have a lim­it­ed amount of time, how­ev­er, to replen­ish the calo­ries and nutri­ents you just burned. With­in half an hour of return­ing from your long run, eat some­thing with both car­bo­hy­drates and pro­tein, like a sand­wich or smooth­ie and a large glass of water. Your body will be hun­gry for pro­tein and 40 grams an hour is the gen­er­al max­i­mum that a pro­tein starved body can absorb.

Then, by all means, sit down and rest. You’ve earned it!