Part of my transformation into a “long-distance runner” was learning how to properly fuel my body before a long training run or on race day and how to refuel afterwards. The food you eat prior to a long run will significantly affect your performance and the food you eat after a long run will significantly affect your recovery and muscle mass overtime. After several trial and error attempts with pre-run and post-run meals, I was able to get my fuel and refueling down to a science and identify the most important aspects of fueling for the long run. Whether you are just starting out with long-distance running or are an avid runner, following these guidelines and tips will help you train and complete your first distance race or give you the competitive edge to get that PR you are working so hard to achieve.
(The night before my 2nd Women's Half, carb-loaded & ready to run!)
Pre-long-run: The main focus should be on consuming sufficient carbohydrates before a long run, since carbohydrates are the main source of energy during physical activity. According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
Strenuous exercise of all intensities makes great demands on the body’s carbohydrate stores and glycogen depletion will lead to fatigue. Because glycogen stores are limited, and because they provide a critical contribution to both anaerobic and aerobic energy production, one important objective of sports nutrition is to protect glycogen and enhance access to fat for long duration, moderate intensity activity"
and they recommend a relatively high daily carbohydrate (CHO) intake (> 6 g/kg/d) and CHO ingestion (30-60 g/h) prior to, and during, exercise in order to delay the onset of fatigue and increase long-distance performance.
For this reason, it is very important to consume a small meal or snack with a high concentration of carbohydrates prior to a long training run or race. These smaller meals or “snacks” should be consumed 30-120 minutes before a long run or race (depending on the size and contents of the meal and how hungry you feel as well as the duration of activity). These meals should be low in fat and fiber (for quicker, easier digestion), moderate in protein (10-20g), and moderate-to-high carbohydrates (30-60g easily digestible carbohydrates) for sufficient energy and optimal performance.
- Power Oats (closer to 90 - 120 minutes beforehand due to higher fiber content)- ½ cup cooked plain oatmeal topped with half a banana and 1 tsp agave or honey
- Eggs and toast – 2 slices whole grain bread with 1-2 eggs (hard boiled, scrambled, over easy…)
- Banana toast – 1 whole grain bagel, English muffin, or 1/2 a Lavash wrap topped with 1 tbsp natural nut butter and ½ banana (sliced)
- “Last resort” options= A “clean” energy bar (like RXBar, Lara Bars, or GoMacro Bars) or homemade energy bars (click here for awesome energy bars you can make yourself!)
(My favorite pre-run meal: 1/2 a Lavash wrap with PB2 and banana slices)
Post-long-run: These meals should be consumed within 1 hour of exercise and the size and contents of the meal depend on the intensity and duration of the run. These meals are necessary to replenish the glycogen (energy) stores that were used up during the run and should consist of a 3:1 carbohydrate –to-protein ratio (3g of carbs for every 1g of protein) and low-to-moderate in fat. The carbohydrates are also important for more efficient delivery of protein to the damaged muscle tissue. As previously mentioned, low fat and fiber is important for quicker digestion and delivery of nutrients to the muscle tissue. The “window of opportunity” to replenish glycogen stores and rebuild skeletal muscle tissue is approximately 30-60 minutes following exercise, therefore it is important to consume this post-run meal within 1 hour of exercise.
- Peanut butter and banana sandwich – 2 slices whole grain bread, 2 tbsp natural peanut butter, and ½ banana (slices)
- Veggie omelet and whole grain English muffin (breakfast)– 1 toasted whole grain English muffin (with 1 tbsp real fruit jam, optional) with a 1 egg + 2 egg white omelet with sautéed vegetables (spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms…)
- Chicken and rice bowl (lunch) – 4 oz white chicken breast and sautéed vegetables over ½ cup – 1 cup brown rice (or Quinoa!)
- Tuna salad wrap (lunch) – 4 oz chunk light tuna (in water) mixed with 1 tsp mustard and 2 tbsp plain Greek yogurt, wrapped in a small whole grain tortilla / pita with tomato slices and spinach
- Homemade “real food” protein shakes
Protein Shake ideas: Liquids are digested more quickly than solid foods, so post-workout shakes are an extremely effective way to deliver carbohydrates and protein to muscle tissue within the “window of opportunity” – especially when whole foods cannot be consumed within an hour of exercise.
- Chocolate milk shake – Blend 8 oz reduced-fat chocolate milk with 1 small banana and ice!
- Green Monster shake - Blend 2 cups spinach, ½ cup plain Greek yogurt, 8 oz unsweetened non-dairy milk, 1 banana, and 1 tablespoon peanut butter with ice
- Power Oats Shake – Blend 8 oz fat-free milk, 1 scoop protein powder, 1 cup frozen berries, 1 tbsp flaxseeds or chia seeds, and ¼ cup dry plain oats with ice
- Search through my Thirsty Thursday Smoothie recipes for more ideas on how to make the perfect post-workout smoothie!
(My favorite post-run meal: Egg white omelet (with tomatoes, spinach, & avocado slices) with a side of dry Gluten-Free toast and fruit)
See!? Fueling and refueling are extremely important for long-distance running performance and can be a fun and delicious way to treat your body right :-)