Are you a newer distance runner? Perhaps you’re training for your first marathon? Or maybe you just need a refresher on how to efficiently fuel for a long run? Check out these simple guidelines and your tank will be full and happy come long run day.
There’s a lot of mixed information out there when it comes to proper fueling for endurance events. In general, the more balanced your diet, the better off you’ll be. I’m not here to discuss various fad diets. I’m here to tell you how to keep your body happy and healthy, particularly leading up to and during your long run.
Long Run Fueling
In the days leading up to long run day, you should:
- favor carb-dense meals in lieu of high fiber foods.
- eat fats and proteins, too.
- hydrate like it’s going out of style.
A general rule of thumb in the hours leading up to a run:
- Meals should contain roughly 60-70% carbohydrates. This will ensure your glycogen stores are full and ready to go. Fueling with carbs pre-run will also ensure you won’t start off hungry.
- Protein is also a great macronutrient to eat before a run (up to about 4 hours before). About 20-30% of your calories should be from proteins.
- Fats are the only macronutrients that should be avoided in the hours leading up to a run or race (up to 24 hours, in fact). Despite making you feel full and satiated, fats often cause GI distress, which is no good for runners (as many of us know!).
Practice, practice, practice!
Your long run days are dress rehearsals for race day. That means while you’re increasing your mileage and building your physical and mental stamina and strength, you’re also practicing for race day. You’ll practice everything from pace and what to wear all the way to what to eat and drink and when.
How do you know what foods and fuels to consume? If you’re a new distance runner, you’ll want to try a variety different foods and beverages on all your long runs. If you’re lucky, you’ll find what works for you fairly quickly. And if you’re not, chances are you’ll have several weeks left to figure it out. When I first started running, I started practicing eating during my 6-mile runs even though in terms of energy it was completely unnecessary. Practice makes perfect and my recommendation is to start practicing sooner rather than later.
A word of caution: what works for one person may not work for others. Our bodies are all so different that it’s hard to say “eat a gel every 30 minutes to avoid bonking” because what happens if your gut can’t handle the sugars in gels? Or what if they can but it’s unnecessary for you to take in fuel every 30 minutes and you do better taking fuel every 60 minutes? Sure, there are guidelines and yes they are helpful as a starting point. But nutrition and distance running are so individual that it’s really hard for anyone to tell you exactly what your body needs and when.
Since there’s a plethora of sports fuels on the market, head to your local running or sporting goods store and buy one of everything. Then start trying them out. You’ll quickly figure out which ones work for you and which ones don’t. Save the “bulk-buying” for future races when you already know what works for you.
And if your body can’t do the sugary sports foods at all, choose real foods like pretzels and cereal, or bananas and bite-sized granola bars.
Start hydrating early and often. Remember that being dehydrated by as little as 2% can affect your gastrointestinal tract as well as overall performance (as we discussed last week). Staying ahead of the game in the hydration department will help you run well and feel great.
Also – ever hear the old adage “nothing new on race day?” Believe it. This holds true for everything from apparel to food to drink. Stick with what you’ve practiced and you’ll be golden.
Head into your long runs with knowledge and a fueling plan, and you’ll be good to go for your race.
TALK TO ME!
What’s your favorite race fuel?
Do you choose sports fuels or real food?
Bonus question: How did you do with your homework from last week? Are you hydrating enough these days?