Long Runs: How and What to Eat?

>> Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Along with the question we answered yesterday: How do you guys adjust your eating to fit the demands of marathon/distance training? (Which we answered in our Endurance Athletes: How and What to Eat? post) . . . we get another question: How and what do you eat before, during, and after long runs? I've recruited Stephen to answer this question for y'all. He's much better at fueling the way you SHOULD fuel.

Basically, he's the textbook example. (Or at least way closer than I'll ever be!)

Stephen writes:

It's only fitting that two of my favorite activities are attached at the hip: running and eating; more specifically, the Sunday long run and the food-tornado that follows.

Pre-Run Nutrition

I try to eat my pre-run meal 45 minutes to an hour before running long. I allow less time if I'm running short. But in all reality, it's more like 20-30 minutes. It's difficult for me to abide by the Runners World advice of eating two hours before the run/race. A 7:00AM race start or long run translates to eating breakfast at 5:00AM. Or in our case, scooping peanut butter out of a jar with a pen and spreading it over cold bread before the Philadelphia Marathon. Too early! I never listened to the "wait 30 minutes before swimming" rule either.

(Heck, I figure I've made it this far!)

In the hot summer months, I try to hit the pavement by 7:00AM or earlier, so, for me, a cup of espresso as soon as a I wake up is the best way to jump-start my engine. I would happily drink drip coffee, but it was cheaper to buy a refurbished espresso machine than to replace my broken coffee pot. Good news for runners is that caffeine in modest portions can actually improve energy, strength, and speed. In fact, I run my best tempo and interval workouts after a cup-o-Joe. I feel I am able to maintain a faster pace for longer. I wouldn't recommend drinking more than a cup before a run, or else you may find yourself desperately looking for a pit stop mid-run.

One of my favorite pre-run meals is a variation on Ashley’s Scrambled Banana Sandwich: a toasted English muffin spread with peanut butter, raspberry jam, and sliced banana. Nutritionally, it carries quite a punch. The potassium in the banana helps regulate the water in your cells, so you can keep better hydrated, and the combination of protein and fat in the peanut butter helps curb your hunger over a longer run, too.

During Run Nutrition

For runs shorter than 60 minutes, I don't bother bringing snacks or drinks. But for Sunday long runs or mid-week runs topping 10 miles, I bring along my Nathan Hydration Belt and fill one bottle with water and the other with diluted Gatorade. I fill the back pouch with a mix of dried fruit (keep your eyes peeled for our review of our new food dehydrator!), unsalted nuts (cashews and walnuts are my favorites), and cereal (Kashi Go Lean is the current favorite).

If I know I'll be running by water fountains, I'll bring an extra scoop of Gatorade powder in a plastic bag and stuff it in the back pocket. When running long, it's definitely important to drink something with electrolytes to replenish your stores and sodium to help your body retain water. I try to stay away from Cliff Shots and GU, not because I don't think they're useful, but because my stomach feels much better eating real food. In fact, we're toiling away, trying to invent our own version of GU and healthy energy chunks to bring along for long runs and races.

Let's just say: There are few stomach sensations worse than feeling 6 ounces of cappuccino Clif Shots sloshing around in your stomach at mile 23 in a marathon.

Post Run Nutrition

Okay, the post long run meal is my favorite meal of the week -- maybe even my favorite time of the week. Not because I am happy to have the long run over with, I actually savor every mile (as long as it's not 80 degrees), but because the post-run meal begins the minute I step out of the shower and ends the minute I retire to bed. It's important to replenish your fluids soon after returning, especially on cool rainy days when you don’t realize you’ve lost significant fluid. Ashley always reaches for a coconut water, which is rather expensive, but well worth it! Lately, I have been drinking chocolate almond milk, which helps restore protein to your muscles. My initial meal after running is usually delicate, something easily digestible to curb the initial hunger. Kale and garbanzo beans sauteed in olive oil works best for me. It doesn't hurt that kale is a super food packed with vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber.

. . . a few hours later, once the hunger returns (and it will after burning 2000+ calories, I like to settle my stomach with a toasted English muffin and two over easy eggs.

. . . a few hours after that -- heck -- the process goes on and on!

Once "dinner" time rolls around, my appetite still ravenous, I revert to my Elvis cravings. Mega sandwiches like The Lover and the vegetarian Juicy Lucy always hit the spot!

It’s important to listen to your body, so if you’re hungry, EAT! If you're not, well . . . if you're like Ashley and are not hungry until one to two hours after running, pay attention.

There are two important windows or checkpoints to meet after a strenuous workout: the two hour window and the thirty minute window. Replenishing your body within these windows ensure that you can properly recover and prepare for the next workout.
  • Within two hours of a long run, it's essential to eat a meal balanced with carbohydrates and protein; peanut butter and jelly works perfectly, as do eggs and toast, or kale and couscous.
  • The thirty minute window is your chance to literally top off your gas tank with carbohydrates. If you miss it, your body won't be able to fully recover before the next workout. Sports drinks are a popular choice, especially the newer ones bolstered with protein. But over anything on the market, I have to favor a tall glass of chocolate (almond/soy) milk after all, it's real food!
What are your favorite pre-, during, and post-run meals? We'd love to hear from you! Just leave a comment or email us at neverhomemaker [at] gmail [dot] com.

If you're looking for more tips and tricks for your running training, you're in luck! We just totally re-organized our (never home)makers Run Wild page. Check it out for all kinds of running-related information.

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