More from Erin!
Proper nutrition for your long run can make or break your performance and recovery. I am not an authority on nutrition so much of what I am going to say is what I have learned through reading and personal trial and error.
First, think of your long run in terms of time instead of miles. This will help you determine when and if you need fueling. For this blog post, we will consider anything longer than an hour a long run.
Before your run:
If running greater than an hour you need to give your body something to use for fuel before it starts relying on your stores. Eat anywhere from 1-2 hours prior, with a meal containing a mix of carbohydrates/protein that is easy on your stomach. Carbs should make up at least 75-80% of your meal. There should be little fat. Caffeine is okay and some studies show it can enhance performance. Drink fluids so you start your run hydrated. Tidbit: train your body to go to the bathroom now so that you are, ahem, cleaned out before your long run and don’t have the dreaded CODE BROWN or runner’s trots.
Suggestions: peanut or almond butter on bread or bagel, oats with nut butter, smoothie, banana, energy bar
During your run:
Your source of fuel during a long run is your glycogen stores. If you run long enough you will use up your stores and bonk, also known as hitting the wall. The trick is to figure out when you typically bonk and start fueling PRIOR to this point. Personally, I found that when running an hour and a half, I would get really tired and cranky around 1:15. I experimented and found that eating every 45 min prevented that from happening. At this point, you need simple sugars that are quickly digested. The key is to find something that tastes good and doesn’t upset your stomach. Stomachs are notoriously finicky when running so trial and error is usually needed to figure out what will work best.
Suggestions: gels (i.e. GU), chomps, chews marketed as performance foods, raisins, jelly beans, gummy bears, honey
Hydration is widely variable based on person, temperature, humidity, and intensity of run. For me, during the winter I can run an hour without water breaks, but if I run longer I bring along a bottle to drink roughly every 20 mins. However, last summer I found myself stopping every 10-15 mins to drink water or Gatorade, no matter the distance. When sweating a lot drink something to replace electrolytes, but otherwise you should be fine with water. Again, this is personal preference.
Hydrating tips: drink 4-6 ounces every 20 minutes. If you are thirstier than this, drink more! Hydration the day before and day of your run will affect how you feel, as well.
Alternatively, calculate your “sweat rate”: Weigh yourself before a run, run an hour, then weigh again. Each pound lost is equal to 16 oz of fluid. So 2 pounds lost means you need 32 oz fluid during your run, at intervals of 15-20 minutes.
After your run:
Nutrition after the long run is critical for the recovery process. Your muscles are tired and depleted of their stores, so you want to replenish that glycogen with carbohydrates. But you need protein too–it helps heal muscle damage and speeds up glycogen replacement. Most suggest a carb:protein ratio of 3:1 or 4:1. Ideally, eat within 30-60 minutes to get the most benefit.
Suggestions: low fat chocolate milk, greek yogurt, apple with peanut butter, recovery smoothie
Special thanks to Runners World and No Meat Athlete for providing me with a lot of the above tips over the past year!