What food for runners should you consume is a question that you should have leading up to every long run. You should be mindful of what you are eating and when you are eating it. Everything that you put into your body will either fuel you, keeping you energized during your long run or will negatively affect your performance whether it’s your pace or just how well you feel during the duration of your long run.
It will come down to trial and error with each and every long run but once you find that perfect magic sauce for you, you can systemize the process! Did you read that correctly? The magic sauce for YOU! Yes, everyone will be different. Different things will work for different bodies and so you need to test what works for YOU!
I want to help you out though by giving you some guidelines, food for runners recommendations and a timeline that you can start testing out on your next long run!
Before we start, I want to emphasize that we are specifically talking about nutritionally preparing for a long training run and not a race. There are similarities but if you want to learn more about what you should be eating before a race then read this page.
Also, I have a great resource for you if you are getting ready to start training for a marathon or if you are currently in training! Get my FREE Ultimate Marathon Training Checklist Package a series of 5 checklists to simplify the process for every phase of your marathon training!
24 Hours before your long run: Start to be mindful of what you are eating and drinking 24 hours before your scheduled long run. I like to up my carbohydrate intake by about 50-100 grams the day before a long run. This will allow extra glycogen to be stored for fuel the next day.
Focus on eating solid, whole foods, and lots of complex carbohydrates for steady release energy throughout my run. There is a food for runners recommendation list below that list some of the best options for you before your long run.
The night before your long run: Have a meal that contains lots of complex carbohydrates such as pasta, quinoa, whole grain breads, beans (if you don’t have trouble digesting them) with a bit of protein such as chicken or fish. Combine this with about 8 ounces of an electrolyte drink or your energy drink. Also take about 500mg of Vitamin C.
4 hours before your long run until your long run: Drink about 8 ounces of your energy drink. Eat something that is mostly carbohydrate but easily digestible (such as whole grain crackers). Eat some complex carbohydrates that provide the steady release energy (such as oatmeal) but also include a few simple carbs that give you a mix of quick release energy to get you started (maybe some pretzels) and drink at least 8 ounces of water. Take any supplements that you normally take throughout the day.The closer you are to your scheduled long run starting time, the more you will want to focus on liquid nutrition such as your energy drink or an electrolyte drink that will provide energy faster to your body than solid foods. The problem with consuming solid foods is that they won't be stored in time to help fuel your long run but instead will weigh you down and send blood flow to your digestive system instead of recruiting everything to your cardiovascular system to help you have a great long run.
If your long run is later in the day then try one of these breakfast ideas that you can prep ahead!
Sources Used: Katch, Frank I., et al. Sports and Exercise Nutrition. Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2012.