Fitness Wellness

What to Eat Before Running to Fuel Your Runs

  • December 6, 2017

Are you new to running?

If you are new to running, you may be wondering how to eat for optimal results. Fueling your runs is a process and can include three stages. Before, during and after a run. Other factors may include the length of the run, and whether the run is a training run or a race.  With that in mind, this article will discuss some basic fueling concepts, how to fuel your body based on the length of run you have planned, and the three stages of the run.  

Basic Fueling Principles Defined

Carb Loading: Is when you eat a higher percentage of carbs than normal to increase your glycogen stores before a long run, or a run of at least 13 miles or more. You do not increase overall total calories, it’s just that more of those calories should be carbs while carb loading.

Carb loading is designed to induce glycogen storage to fuel your run.

Some runners simply eat a bit more carbs a few days before a race, especially if it is a half marathon or similar distance. Protocols for full marathons are more intense. The idea is to “top off” your body glycogen levels before the race.

Note: Other athletic disciplines use carb loading for different purposes, so when researching carb loading, be sure to look for carb loading as it applies to runners.

Glycogen Defined: Glycogen is produced when we eat carbs. Carbs are converted to Glucose in our body. Glucose is the main fuel source for cells. When there is extra glucose, our bodies store it as glycogen. Glycogen is stored in the liver, which holds about 400 calories worth of glycogen max, and the muscles, which together hold 1600 calories max. The idea with carb loading is to eat sufficient excess carbs so that the liver and muscles are storing their max capacity before a race or long training run.

What is “The Wall”? The Wall Is NOT the best Pink Floyd album of all time. The name of that album is “Another Brick in the Wall”. And I am really dating myself.  The Wall is a point during running when a runners energy tanksSome folks say that runners hit the wall because they are out of fuel and need some carbs. This can cause you to slow down significantly; to the point you can not move your muscles. I have heard it feels awful, and usually means the end of the race for you.

How long is your run? 1. The short run: Morning Jog/ 5 miles

What to eat before a short run:
  • Immediately before a short run – some say it is best to avoid eating because the process of digestion diverts blood to the stomach instead of the muscles, slowing you down and making the run less efficient. They also say it can make you hurl, and no one likes that.
  • 90 min or so before a short runeating a small meal like a banana and some peanut butter toast about an hour and a half before a short run will elevate blood sugar and ward off hunger. Try experimenting with timing to see what works best with your tummy.
What to eat during a short run?:
  • Honestly, probably nothing. Re-fueling during a run is generally for runs longer than an hour to an hour and a half.
What to eat after a short run?
  • Post run is time for your body to recover. Since running depletes glycogen stores, it is advisable to have some carbs. You will also need a bit of protein to help the body repair muscles, and a ratio of 4 parts carbs for one part protein is ideal.

2.Moderate length: 6 miles to  Half Marathon

What to eat before a medium length run:
  • In the week leading up to a race – simply focus on eating healthy.
  • The day before you should slightly increase your carbs as a percentage of total calories. Healthy whole grain cereal, all kinds of fruits, whole grain pasta if you can eat gluten, yams and energy bars are simple ways to get in additional carbs. Also, drink water with electrolytes.
  • The morning of the race – eat 4 hours before start time. Eat a few slices of toast with honey, jam, almond butter or peanut butter. Some people eat oatmeal, but it can be heavy.

What to Eat Before Running A Half Marathon To Run Your Fastest Race Ever In this video Triathlon Taren explains the details of eating right for a half marathon or 10k.

What to eat during a medium length run:
  • If it is hot, you may need to re-up on electrolytes, from a sports drink of some similar drink. 
  • About an hour or so into the race, you may need some quick fuel, such as a gel or pureed baby food like pureed bananas, applesauce or something with a lot of fruit sugars. Dried fruits like raisins work too.
  • Banana baby food is so awesome because they have potassium, an electrolyte.
  • Pretzels and saltines may work because they have salt and potassium, electrolytes your body needs, plus simple carb to keep you going.
  • Eating is not required, and not everyone needs to, but some runners practice eating at the one hour mark, and find it helpful.

Pro Tip: The best time to eat during the race is while you still feel OK. Don’t wait till you hit “The Wall” to re-fuel if you need it.

What to eat after a medium length run:
  • A protein smoothie that includes healthy oil. For recovery you will need protein to repair, carbs to replenish glycogen, and fat for log term fuel.
  • The protein can come from Greek yogurt, which is high in protein. Any fruit will provide quick absorbing carbs. A mango or banana would be delicious. Some chia seeds can add health fat as well.

Hot Tip: In my research I learned that a runner should never try anything new on race day. That goes for food, drinks, shoes and other gear. You want to give all food and shoes a test run before race day to make sure they work for you.  If you decide to get shoes for the race, be sure to use them for several trainings to break them in. We have some recommendations for  vegan friendly running shoes to give you a few ideas.

3. More than 13.1 miles to Full Marathon Length

My longest run ever was Nike’s One Hit Wonder. It was a 10K and I was proud that I finished, and that I ran the entire time.  With that said, I searched for the experts for advice with long runs, since I have never run the 26.2 miles myself. It’s on the bucket list, but I am not there yet.

What to eat before a long run:

Michelle Khare, an experienced marathon runner has a few things to say on marathon nutrition. In fact, she says it is as important as training for success.  While she is not a nutritionist, she does work with one to prepare her for marathons. She says unequivocally: No Gluten, No Dairy, No Dessert. She compares it to gasoline; you must fill your car with the proper grade if you expect the best results, and so it is with fueling your body to run.  From what I learned, the way you eat before a marathon is similar to how you eat for a half marathon, excerpt instead of starting to increase carbs one day before the race, begin 3 to 5 days before with carbo loading.

What to eat during a long run:

This is a little different from other types of running. Pretty much all runners running a full marathon need fuel during the race. Many use gels while some use pureed bananas and other fruits. Electrolytes are essential as well, and on race day will be found at drink stations. Of course on training days you need to bring your own.

What to eat after a long run:

The most common answer I found regarding what to eat after a long run was a recovery type protein shake.  Following that, a meal that includes the three macronutrients, carbs, fats and proteins, to aid in recovery.

What great advice and tips! No matter how big the race is, these tips are sure to get you on step closer to your goals and help give you that ‘edge’. One could even follow these tips to help get #Happiest5K ready! 😉 Let us know in the comments what race you are training for, or what your favorite race fuel is. We would love to hear from you!

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Author:

Michael is just regular guy who has found his true passion in fitness and traveling the world. He’s always up for challenging himself while traveling and is doing the same in the world of fitness. You can find Michael on his personal blog at: garagegympower.com

Disclaimer: The views and opinions in this article belong to the author. No product or event mentioned is being promoted or sponsored. The information contained here is for the sake of general public information and interest.

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