Fuel Your Long Distance Run The Right Way: Before, After, & During
When you're training for a marathon and running 30 plus miles per week, you burn about 2 full days worth of calories, which is insane. It's incredibly important to find a good balance between fueling yourself properly to avoid catabolism and not over doing it with either the wrong types of foods or with way more than you actually need.
On a typical day, I eat paleo, or a diet rich in low carb, high protein and fat meals. About 12-18 hours before my long runs however, I start incorporating specific foods to make sure that I give my body the things it needs to actually help me during my run.
For an early morning long run, here's what my typical meals look like from around dinner the night before to after lunch the day of:
My meal the night before a long run is not anything too drastic or special. With my dinner, I add in some form of complex carbs like whole grain pasta or bread. As per every other meal, I avoid dairy as it tends to bother me the next day. Trader Joes has a great vegan pesto that is perfect for adding to a chicken penne or salmon linguine dish. Throughout the meal, I make sure to drink at least 1 liter of water. This may seem obvious but I also avoid all alcohol the night before a run. Even one glass of wine tends to have a deleterious effect on me.
10PM: Before Bed
Before bed, I make myself a fruity or high carb snack such as banana "nice" cream or a smoothie. This vegan pumpkin one is basically a dessert. Between dinner and bed, I'll have drank at least a liter of pedialyte or other electrolyte rich drink such as powerade zero or gatorade. To get ready for the next morning, I'll set my alarm for at least an hour and a half before my intended start time.
5:30AM: Wake up call
Right when I wake up, I put my running clothes on to get comfortable and start drinking water. I try to get at least a liter in before I head off. My breakfast, which I try to eat within the first half hour of waking up, consists of some complex carbs, a little bit of protein and fat, and quick-burning carbs such as sugary fruits like mango or banana. This ends up looking like: 1/2 cup of oats, 1 scoop of protein powder, 1 banana, and 1 tablespoon of almond butter. I either cook the oats conventionally or blend these ingredients with almond milk into a smoothie. Oatmeal "pancakes" are also a great pre-run meal. This meal is always supplemented with at least a cup of coffee - which in my opinion is the absolute best pre-workout.
6:30AM: Pre-run Jitters
Lately I've been supplementing my run with BCAAs, which is the only supplement (besides protein powder) that I take. It is supposed to help with muscle repair and prevent your body from breaking down your muscles to use them for energy during long intense workouts.
I have a scoop before and after my longest runs. Research about this supplement is still on-going, and more can be read about that here, but I've had markedly less soreness with it as opposed to without it. I drink my BCAAs while doing some dynamic stretching and a little bit of foam rolling (more on my routine here). 20-30 minutes before I go, I'll eat a date or two as another quick source of energy. Some people prefer to eat an energy gel or chew, but I think it's unnecessary before training and not worth the money.
Every hour during the run I supplement with an energy gel. For example, for the marathon, which should take me (hopefully!) around 3:35, I plan to eat three gels. My favorite brands are GU and Hüma. Hüma is an entirely natural gel made with chia seeds which is nice for those people like myself who get sketched out by ingredient lists. I like ones with a little bit of caffeine, though I've heard that they make some people jittery, so I definitely recommend trying the gels out that you intend to use on race day first. I also run with water, which makes all the difference! It's so important to make sure that you're hydrated during your run, and I find that I get light headed and feel so depleted when I run over ninety minutes without it.
The first thing I do when I get back (besides wanting to collapse) is start drinking pedialyte. I have at least a liter of this before switching to my BCAA drink. Within a half hour of ending my run, I try to eat a recovery meal. This typically is an egg hash, consisting of roasted sweet potatoes, kale, 2 eggs and egg whites, and avocado. The post-run fueling routine basically happens simultaneously with my stretching and foam rolling.. all incredibly important for recovery.
This is the last meal that I eat that revolves around repair before going back to my typical diet. This lunch normally looks a lot like my pre-run dinner, and most of the time I have whole grain bread with a protein & veggie-rich salad. At this point, I've switched over to drinking water for recovery and limit my activity to sedentary tasks such as writing or other computer work. After running is definitely not the time to get ambitious about chores. I find myself wanting to mostly sit for the rest of the day.
After trying out a bunch of different fueling strategies, I believe that this one, that focuses on the 18 hours surrounding the run is the absolute best to maximize performance and recovery. Let me know what you think!
Disclaimer: I realize that people who come to my blog for paleo recipes may look at this like, but wait but this isn't paleo. Yes, I write about paleo / Whole30 meal plans, because that happens to be the way I like to eat to feel my best. But when I run for multiple hours, that type of diet doesn't really serve me, so I modify it. It's simply small adjustments that account for the clinically-proven best ways to prepare for and recover from long distance runs.