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.
BEFORE THE RUN
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!
DURING THE RUN
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.
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 RUN
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!