What to eat the night before a long run?
Runners, especially marathon and ultra runners, put a lot of effort into planning their hydration and nutrition strategies for while they are running, and especially for while they are racing.
While being focused on that is important, it’s easy to forget how crucial it is to prepare your body by establishing what to eat the night before a long run.
Runners should treat long runs, particularly during peak training weeks, as practices for the big day. Long runs are race simulations that give the opportunity 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?
In this article, we are going to take a look at:
- Why runners need carbohydrates in their diet.
- What carbohydrates, glucose, and glycogen are.
- How carbohydrates provide essential energy for maximum running performance.
- The difference between simple and complex carbohydrates.
- 5 meal ideas of what to eat the night before a long run for maximum results.
Let’s jump in!
Runners Need Carbs
This is a controversial statement due to the number 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 cut down your fat percentage greatly, and yes, they sure do help most people lose weight. But those are two objectives that 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
- 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. If we are constantly running while at a calorie deficit, we can’t expect to feel good and run well.
Why is this?
Let’s take a look.
What Are Carbohydrates, Glucose, & Glycogen?
I’m not going to bore you with a lot of technical detail, but 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 glycogen and called upon when we need it. In other words, “glycogen is how the body stores carbohydrates for energy at the muscular level.”
See also: 11 Tips To Nail Your Long Run On A Treadmill
Why Do Runners Need Carbs to Perform Well?
Glycogen is the primary energy source when performing a high or moderate-intensity exercise, and fat comes in as 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 avoid the athlete from hitting the wall. It helps higher-intensity runners tolerate faster speeds for a more prolonged period.
Any effort level over 60% of your VO2 max will call upon glycogen stores for energy first. If they are adequately stocked, you’ll have a better chance of feeling great and running well.
If you do not have the necessary glycogen levels to fuel your running, you could experience muscle damage, fatigue, and even overtraining.
Studies show that 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.
Suppose you are a runner who puts in hours and hours and miles and miles consistently every week. In that case, a 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 day.
Now we know we need to eat carbs, but what to eat the night before a long run? Simple? Complex? Let’s take a look.
Related: Here’s How Long To Wait After Eating To Run + 4 Helpful Tips
Simple and Complex Carbohydrates
For your general health and nutrition, complex carbohydrates are a great way to go, but the night before a long run, all of 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.
To be sure we choose the right ones for our pre-race carb-loading meals, I have provided a list of examples of each type of carbohydrate.
Simple Carbohydrates: (Fructose, Sucrose, Glucose, Maltose, Lactose)
- White bread
- White rice
- Table Sugar
- Maple Syrup
- Wheat bread
- Brown or wild rice
- Starchy vegetables
I would like to share some examples of what has worked for me over the years as pre long run dinners. Because I run quite a bit of volume, I prepare these meals consistently. Some weeks I may need to eat carb-filled meals 2-3 evenings to ensure optimum performance in my running.
5 Sample Meal ideas for The Night Before a Long Run
We all have different dietary needs depending on our weight, metabolism, and specific training.
Seeing a sports nutritionist can aid in calculating how many portions of carbohydrates, protein, and fat to include in your day-to-day diet and pre long run and race carb loading meals.
This is why I have not included specific portion sizes in the recipe ideas below. It is still important to calculate how much of each meal you will need to eat to be prepared.
Related: How Long Should Your Longest Long Run Be?
#1: Giada’s Lemon Pasta
This is my personal all-time favorite meal that I always eat before a race and quite 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.
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 specific 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.
I love mixing couscous with a whole variety of things, but for carb-loading before a long run, I keep it simple. To create a delicious carb-filled skillet, I throw in some shrimp, parsley, and parmesan cheese. You could add anything you like!
Be sure it is “couscous heavy” though so the carb is the majority of the meal.
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 straight from the bakery and fill it up with your favorites.
My personal 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!
#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!
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 long run (but don’t forget about your carbs here as well; they aren’t just for before the run, but for during and after as well).
#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 these 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 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.