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What To Eat The Night Before A Long Run For Maximum Results

Plus, five meal ideas to try out.

Runners, especially those in marathon training and ultramarathon training, put a lot of effort into planning their hydration and nutrition strategies for while they are running, and especially while they are racing.

While focusing on fueling during runs is important, preparing your body by establishing what to eat the night before a long run or big race is equally crucial.

Runners should treat long runs, particularly during peak training weeks, as preparation for race day. Long runs are race simulations that allow runners to practice specific racing strategies, one of the most important being nutrition.

How we fuel the night before has a massive impact on our performance the next day, so why not do everything possible to eat what will make us feel and perform at our very best? 

What To Eat The Night Before A Long Run For Maximum Results

Why Are Carbs Important?

Carbs, in some way, have become the enemy in a lot of nutrition plans and new diet methods.

There are a lot of low-carb or even no-carb diets out there today, such as the ketogenic diet.

I can say from personal experience that these low-carb diets help cut down your fat percentage greatly, and yes, they help most people lose weight. But those two objectives may not be on most of our lists as runners

When it comes to my priorities as a runner, I want to:

  • perform for maximum results

and 

  • feel great while doing it.

For avid runners, eating a runner-specific diet is crucial to reaching these goals. Don’t skimp on carbohydrates if you want to perform at your best.

We can’t expect to feel good and run well if we are constantly in a calorie deficit or not fueling with the right energy.

What To Eat The Night Before A Long Run For Maximum Results

What Are Carbohydrates, Glucose, & Glycogen?

I won’t bore you with technical details; instead, I’ll give you a quick understanding of what’s what.

Carbohydrates, more specifically glucose, fuel our bodies with the energy we need to run hard or run long…or both.

Glucose is stored in our muscles and liver as glycogen1Murray, B., & Rosenbloom, C. (2018). Fundamentals of glycogen metabolism for coaches and athletes. Nutrition Reviews76(4), 243–259. https://doi.org/10.1093/nutrit/nuy001 and called upon when needed. In other words, “glycogen is how the body stores carbohydrates for energy at the muscular level.”

Why Do Runners Need Carbs to Perform Well?

Glycogen is the primary fuel source when performing high—or moderate-intensity exercise, and fat is the second energy source.

So whether you are running a marathon and focusing on endurance or pushing an all-out 3K, carbs will be necessary to achieve maximum results. 

For endurance athletes, glycogen assists in maintaining consistent energy and helps prevent the athlete from hitting the wall or bonking. It helps higher-intensity runners tolerate faster speeds for a more prolonged period. 

Any effort level over 60% of your VO2 max will first call upon glycogen stores for energy. If they are adequately stocked, you’ll have a better chance of feeling great and running well.

What To Eat The Night Before A Long Run For Maximum Results

If you do not have the necessary glycogen levels to fuel your running, you could experience muscle damage, fatigue, and even overtraining. 

Increasing carbohydrate intake before a marathon, or for our purposes, a long run, and consuming carbohydrates during will help prevent weakness and fatigue. This can improve not only our performance but also our speed and recovery.

In contrast, low carbohydrate diets show a decrease in performance because the body is trying to work with glycogen depletion. 

A moderate to high-carbohydrate diet is strongly recommended if you wish to achieve maximum results. We need to keep our glycogen stores up to have adequate energy for each following training day. 

We know we need to eat carbs, but what to eat the night before a long run? Simple? Complex? Let’s take a look.

What To Eat The Night Before A Long Run For Maximum Results

Simple and Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates are great for general health and nutrition, but the night before a long run, all the rules change

Simple carbs are easier to digest than complex carbs, which take longer to break down. Therefore, simple carbs can provide you with the energy you need to perform more efficiently.

In addition, many complex carbs are full of fiber, which we want to avoid the night before a long run or race.

I have provided a list of examples of each type of carbohydrate to ensure we choose the right ones for our pre-race carb-loading meals.

Even though I am suggesting simple carbs for your pre-long run meals, you may be able to tolerate complex carbs as well. Trial and error is the way to determine the best foods for each athlete.

Simple Carbohydrates: (Fructose, Sucrose, Glucose, Maltose, Lactose)

  • White bread, bagels, English muffins
  • White rice
  • Pasta
  • Couscous
  • Fruit 
  • Table Sugar
  • Juice 
  • Honey 
  • Maple Syrup 
  • Dairy
  • Sports Drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade (they also provide electrolytes)
  • Energy gels, energy chews, and other sports-focused supplements
What To Eat The Night Before A Long Run For Maximum Results

Complex Carbohydrates:

  • Wheat bread
  • Brown or wild rice 
  • Barley 
  • Legumes
  • Beans
  • Oats 
  • Starchy veggies such as sweet potatoes

I would like to share some examples of what has worked for me over the years as pre-run dinners the night before anything from a half-marathon to a long-distance ultra.

Because I run quite a bit of weekly volume, I prepare these meals consistently. Some weeks I may need to eat carb-filled meals 2-3 evenings to ensure optimum performance for my speedwork sessions and long runs in my training plan.

How Can I Fuel For Optimal Performance On My Long Run Day?

We all have different dietary needs depending on body weight, metabolism, dietary needs and restrictions, and specific training.

Seeing a sports nutritionist can help you calculate how many portions of carbohydrates, protein, and fat to include in your day-to-day diet and pre-training run and race carb-loading meals.

I have not included specific portion sizes in the recipe ideas below for this same reason. It is still important to calculate how much of each meal you will need to eat to be prepared.

What To Eat The Night Before A Long Run For Maximum Results

#1: Giada’s Lemon Pasta

This is my all-time favorite meal I always eat before a race and often on nights before a long run. It is high-carb, low-protein, and low-dairy, making it easy to digest and absolutely delicious.

Of course, you can switch out the lemony sauce for a tomato-based sauce as well. However, I would shy away from cream-based sauces as too much dairy may harm your tummy.

#2: Pizza

Can I eat pizza the night before a long run?

Some of you may think that this one seems strange, but it sure works for me. If you are lactose-intolerant, you want to ensure you use lactose-free cheese or avoid it altogether. The last thing we want is a GI issue during our long run. 

However, I make my own homemade pizza instead of ordering out. This way, I know every little last thing in it and can cater to my needs and likes.

When adding toppings, use whatever your stomach is used to processing. This is where you could add a bit of protein if you’d like, but the main event is the simple-carbs crust.

What To Eat The Night Before A Long Run For Maximum Results

#3: Couscous

I love mixing couscous with a whole variety of things, but for carb-loading before a long run, I keep it simple. I throw in some shrimp, parsley, and parmesan cheese to create a delicious carb-filled skillet. You could add anything you like! 

Be sure it is “couscous heavy,” though, so the carb is star of the meal.

#4: Sandwiches

This may seem a bit odd for dinner, but I’m talking about an absolutely delicious sandwich. Not just your run-of-the-mill PB&J. 

Pick up a fresh, warm ciabatta from the bakery and fill it up with your favorites.

My favorite is a slice of prosciutto and manchego cheese, with a smidge of balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

The great part about this mix is that the flavors are so intense, you only need a tiny bit of filling, keeping the majority of your meal focused on yummy fresh bread, carbs!

What To Eat The Night Before A Long Run For Maximum Results


#5: Breakfast for Dinner

I absolutely loved it as a kid when my parents said we were having breakfast for dinner. Well, guess what? This works out great for us runners the night before a long run.

How about a nice big stack of pancakes and maple syrup to stock up on those carbs? 

And if you want to add a little protein, you can throw a couple of slices of bacon on top!

French toast, a bagel and nut butter (a healthy fat, but delicious), or even cereal could work.

These are just some ideas that work for me, but as each of us is different, you’ll need to try out a variety of meals to see what works best for you. Here are a few final tips to go by when picking out recipes.

What To eat the night before a long run: 3 Final tips

#1: Avoid High-Protein Meals

Leave your high protein meals for recovery after your morning run (but don’t forget to add carbs yo your meals with lean protein as well; they aren’t just for before the run, but for during and after as well).

If you are going to fuel post-run with a protein powder shake, be sure to add some carbs or even a health fat such as peanut butter to make it well-rounded to aid in recovery.

What To Eat The Night Before A Long Run For Maximum Results

#2: Avoid Fiber

The last thing we want to worry about during our long run is an uncomfortable pit stop. There’s nothing better than going out on your run knowing your tummy will behave and your digestion is at its best. 

High-fiber foods can provoke unwanted bathroom trips, bloating, and discomfort. Avoid beans, lentils, whole grains, broccoli, and other high-fiber fruits and vegetables the night before a long run.

#3: Eat Enough, But Not Too Much

When carb loading, you want to avoid under-eating and overeating, as each has its downfalls. Undereating may leave you fatigued and without sufficient energy, while overeating can provoke GI problems. 

Consult a sports nutritionist or dietitian2Beck, K., Thomson, J. S., Swift, R. J., & von Hurst, P. R. (2015). Role of Nutrition in Performance Enhancement and Postexercise Recovery. Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine6(6), 259. https://doi.org/10.2147/oajsm.s33605 to help you out or calculate your estimated carb intake with the following equation: 

8 x your weight in kilos = total grams of carbohydrates per day during a carb load

At the end of the day, the best solution to eating the night before a long run for maximum results is carbs, carbs, and more carbs! 

Build up those glycogen stores, and let’s get running! For more information on carb loading, check out our guide here.

References

  • 1
    Murray, B., & Rosenbloom, C. (2018). Fundamentals of glycogen metabolism for coaches and athletes. Nutrition Reviews76(4), 243–259. https://doi.org/10.1093/nutrit/nuy001
  • 2
    Beck, K., Thomson, J. S., Swift, R. J., & von Hurst, P. R. (2015). Role of Nutrition in Performance Enhancement and Postexercise Recovery. Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine6(6), 259. https://doi.org/10.2147/oajsm.s33605
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Katelyn is an experienced ultra-marathoner and outdoor enthusiast with a passion for the trails. In the running community, she is known for her ear-to-ear smile, even under the toughest racing conditions. She is a UESCA-certified running coach and loves sharing her knowledge and experience to help people reach their goals and become the best runners they can be. Her biggest passion is to motivate others to hit the trails or road alongside her, have a blast, and run for fun!

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