Long runs are a staple of any good distance running training plan – but knowing how to fuel them, or what to eat before a long run, can be tricky.
It’s especially hard if your long run is first thing in the morning, right after rolling out of bed.
It’s common to perform shorter early morning runs on an empty stomach (though I recommend always having at least a banana). But when you’re heading out for more than an hour, you really need to prime your body with some fuel a while before you begin your exercise.
Being properly fuelled before a long run means your glycogen stores are topped up (those are basically your muscles’ source of energy as you run). Not having sufficient glycogen means you’re much more likely to bonk / hit the wall!
And your fueling can start the night before your long run – all those carbs can top up your stores, helping you run further.
Let’s look at how to eat before a long run!
Long Run Fuelling and Digestion Explained
During long runs, most of our energy comes from carbohydrates. Our bodies convert these to glycogen, which is stored in the muscles and liver – ready to power our workout.
The longer we run, the more we deplete these glycogen stores. That’s why it’s important to both . . .
i) load up on carbs before our run, and
ii) top up our carbs during our run.
It’s also important to understand the role digestion plays when planning our long run nutrition.The problem is, digestion can be difficult during a long run. During prolonged exercise, blood is diverted away from the internal organs and is pushed to the large muscle groups.
The longer you run for, the longer your internal organs have diminished blood flow. That’s why it’s so common to suffer from GI problems on long races.
So it’s important that we consume the majority of our fuel at least 1-2 hours before our long run, and that anything we eat during the run is easy to digest. Having some food in the stomach promotes blood flow, reducing the probability of discomfort and GI issues.
What To Eat The Night Before a Long Run
While it’s not essential to be fuelling the night before a long run, it can serve as an opportunity to top-up some of those carbohydrate reserves – so you’re fully fuelled the next morning.
I recommend eating a carb-rich dinner, though no need to eat a bigger-than-normal serving size.
Aim for 60% carbs, 20% protein, 20% fat.
An easy option is a pasta dish; I often opt for spaghetti in a home-cooked tomato sauce.
This way I’m getting a good loading of carbs (related: carb loading guide), while keeping things healthy.
Other night-before meal ideas include;
- Chicken casserole with potatoes
- Stuffed bell peppers with rice
- Stir fry with meat
- Thai curry
The key points for this meal are to:
- Don’t over-eat.
- Eat early (rather than later).
- Choose something you know you’ll digest easily.
- Stick to minimally-processed whole foods (as opposed to processed / ready meals).
- Keep portion size normal, just choose a high-carb recipe.
You’ll also want to avoid alcohol and caffeine the evening before a long run.
What To Eat Before a Long Run in the Morning
The best way to fuel a long run is to eat a 200-300 calorie meal, 1-2 hours before you start running.
Unfortunately this stays true even if you’re going for a dawn session.
In other words, you should wake up 1-2 hours before your run to have a meal.
Although this might be more painful to schedule, your body will thank you for it during your run – and you’ll definitely notice the difference in your performance.
The best food to eat before a long run is typically anything carb-based which you know your body likes.
So…what to eat before a long run?
Popular ideas include things like:
In other words, look for simple foods, high in carbs, that you enjoy eating.
For me, that’s a big bowl of porridge (just oats and water) and a huge spoon of peanut butter dunked in the middle.
Getting these carbs into your system 1-2 hours before your run is the best pre long run meal you could have.
It starts topping up those glycogen reserves and gets the digestive system going.
And don’t forget your sports nutrition too!
I recommend taking a gel or sports drink 15 minutes before you start your long run, then again for every 30-45 minutes of exercise.
These easy-to-digest snacks keep your fuel stores topped up!
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