You have to fuel the machine, especially for those long distance runs! Read this guide on what to eat before a run, when to eat, and how much you need to be performing your best.
We’ve all experienced it before. You’re 4-5 miles in one of your longer runs and making great time. Your watch tells you that at this pace, you’re sure to PR today. As glorious visions of the podium start sneaking into your head, you hit the dreaded “wall.” Suddenly your energy is shot, your legs feel like lead, and you end up with your slowest time of the season. Oh, come on! What happened?! Most likely it was a nutrition issue – just like putting gas in your car before a long road trip, you need to put the right fuel (aka food) in your body before your long run. Today we’ll be discussing proper running nutrition – when, what, and how much – to make your next run as successful as possible.
When should I eat before my run?
As a general rule, the bigger the meal the more time you’ll need to digest. You should allow 2-4 hours before running after eating a large meal. This will allow adequate time for your body to fully digest your food. If you don’t have 2-4 hours, eat a smaller snack. After consuming a smaller snack, 30-90 minutes digestion time should be sufficient (depending on how much you have eaten). In general, you’ll want to eat at least 30 minutes before you head out to avoid GI distress when you’re on the road.
What about fueling longer runs?
Whatever short-term energy source (carbs and fat) we have available is typically depleted after 60-75 minutes. At this point your body starts metabolizing proteins for energy. This process is a lot more extensive and requires a lot more work from your body. This is when we hit the “wall” as your body is working harder to supply your energy and not simply burning energy in your muscles. Nowadays, you can buy a number of different blocks, beans, chews and gels that are basically “shots” of simple carbohydrates that your body will metabolize immediately, to keep you running longer and stronger. Keep in mind, the amount of carbs in these products varies, and you will metabolize it differently. Make sure to experiment until you find the brand, type, and amount that works for you.
How much should I eat before my run?
When trying to determine how much food to eat before a long run, try using the following equation: You should consume approximately 0.5 grams of carbohydrate for every pound of body weight and then multiply that number by the number of hours you have before you begin your run.
Use this simple equation to figure out how many carbs it will take to power your next run.
What should I eat before my run?
We’ve established that food is fuel; therefore the better the fuel you put into your body, the better the performance your body will give you. It’s vital that you find the right type of food that will provide you with maximum energy without causing stomach discomfort while you run.
As we mentioned previously, when running we primarily burn a combination of carbohydrates and fat. Protein is usually spared from being used as an energy source as long as adequate carbohydrates and fats are available. However, if there aren’t enough carbs and fat readily available “in the tank” (if carbohydrate intake is low, or you run for longer than 60 minutes without eating before or during), protein will be used to meet energy demands. We want to prevent this burning of protein as much as possible, as it’s the least economical form of energy.
If you plan on a long run first thing in the morning, have a high-carbohydrate snack with a little protein before you run. A slice of bread or banana with a little bit of peanut or almond butter may work. If you find that to be too much, consider a liquid-based snack like a fruit smoothie made from milk (or milk substitute) and a banana. You might also try eating a snack with some carbohydrates and protein before you go to bed the night before. Some of my favorites include a yogurt parfait, cheese and crackers, or some fruit, nuts and milk. (This is in addition to a healthy dinner.) If you plan on doing an afternoon or midday long run, you don’t want to eat a large meal right before you run. As mentioned previously, main meals or larger meals are ideally consumed 2-4 hours before a run to allow for digestion. These meals should be well balanced and contain adequate portions of carbohydrates, lean protein, and some healthy fats.
A word about hydration
It’s vital that you drink plenty of fluids in the hours leading up to running. Remember to drink water throughout the day to hydrate, but also keep in mind that drinking all your fluids right before the run can cause discomfort and bloating. Start your run hydrated and make frequent stops along the route to stay hydrated.
Properly fueling your run can result in longer, faster, stronger running. Follow the tips mentioned above and see how far you can take your results!