Know what makes the biggest difference in your performance on a long run? It isn’t how fast you run, or how many times a week you run. It has more to do with how you treat your body, and how you fuel up for your long runs. Which is why runners are always looking for the best answer to this question: what to eat the night before a long run?
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Just hang around a group of runners for five minutes, and you are likely to hear tips being traded for how each runner fuels up. What they like to eat before a long run, what they don’t, and what has worked magic for them in the past.
That is because every runner knows that what you eat the night before a long run WILL have an impact on how you feel during your long run, so it is important to take it into consideration, especially if you are looking at long term training that involves weekly long runs, like say, a half marathon training plan. If that is the case, you should be treating each long run as practice for the big day, including how you fuel up.
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So What to Eat the Night Before a Long Run?
Here’s the basics:
- Vegetables and Fruits
Why are carbs important to eat the night before a long run? They help keep your energy high and replenish glycogen levels. Carbs are the literal fuel your body will feed on during a long run. But don’t just eat any old carbs. Healthy, energy packed, and whole grain carbs are best!
Suggested carbs the night before a long run: whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, and rice.
Why are proteins important to eat the night before a long run? Protein rebuilds muscle and contributes to muscle growth. Choose low fat proteins.
Suggested proteins to eat the night before a long run: eggs, fish, milk, and chicken.
Why are fats important to eat the night before a long run? A reasonable amount of good fats are fuel for metabolic energy. Stick to healthy fats like polyunsaturated fats.
Suggested fats to eat the night before a long run: Nuts, fish, avocado
VEGGIES and FRUITS:
Why are vitamins and minerals important to eat the night before a long run? Two words – vitamins and minerals!
Vegetables and fruits are an important part of a runner’s diet because they provide necessary vitamins and minerals. Vitamins and minerals do it all – they contribute to energy, help rebuild muscle, and maintain bone strength. The best source of vitamins and minerals comes from fruits and vegetables. And bonus, some fruits and vegetables not only provide these necessary vitamins, but they double as healthy sources of carbs, like sweet potatoes!
Suggested vegetables and fruits to eat the night before a long run: sweet potatoes, kale, spinach.
So Why Do Runners Need Carbs?
It probably seems pretty clear at this point that runners need carbs, but why exactly? Carbs are essentially glycogen, and glycogen is how our body is fueled with the energy it needs for activities like long distance running. In fact, glycogen is the primary fuel source for our bodies (fats take second place by the way). Studies have proven the benefits of a diet rich in good carbs for runners.
This glycogen is stored in our muscles and liver, and called upon when our bodies need it. Which is why it is important to add to our glycogen levels with sufficient, healthy carbs, before a long run. Which is why carbs are an important part of what you eat the night before a long run.
Suggested Meal Plans for the Night Before a Long Run:
Here are just a handful of examples to give you ideas of what to eat the night before a long run.
- Grilled chicken topped with spinach, with whole grain pasta and carrots
- Steamed fish with brown rice and a kale salad
- Baked potato with whole grain bread, couscous, and steamed broccoli
- Whole grain crust pizza
- Sandwich with whole grain bread, avocado, protein of your choice, tomato, spinach, and cheese
- Stir Fry with chicken, veggies, and rice
- Sweet potato hash with eggs
- Turkey burger with sweet potato fries and salad
Tips for What to Eat the Night Before a Long Run:
- Keep it easily digestible – avoid high fiber foods to be safe
- No experimenting – nothing new, eat what has worked for you in the past
- Make sure it sounds good – don’t torture yourself or deprive yourself trying to be strict
- Enjoy those healthy carbs (sweet potatoes, whole grains, rice, fruit, vegetables)
- Make sure it is a balanced meal (don’t only focus on carbs and overstuff on bread rolls only) – enjoy some healthy fats, protein, and fruits and vegetables
- Don’t overstuff or underfuel – this is where your previous training comes in handy. If you treated your previous long runs as continuing practice runs, then you’ll know what amount works for you best
- Consider minimal or no alcohol the night before a long run
- Consider what you eat the night before a long run as practice for the night before race day (if you are training for a long distance race)
- If you are training for a long distance race like a half marathon, know that you should start to gradually increase your healthy carb intake over the week prior to race day. Check out these posts for more “week before” race day tips, and race day morning tips!
What to Avoid the Night Before a Long Run:
Know what to do, but also what NOT to do!
- Don’t overdo the fiber
- Don’t overdo the carbs – you don’t want to push it too far to the point where you might feel sluggish from being overly full
- Don’t overdo the fats, especially the non healthy kinds
- No experimenting or trying new foods, and make sure that your food choices are easily digestible as well
- Not fueling up the proper way – this can lead to fatigue, weakness, and a decrease in performance, due to glycogen depletion.
- Consider avoiding common culprits of gastrointestinal distress:
- Overly sugary foods
- Cruciferous vegetables (what is a cruciferous vegetable?)
- Raw foods
- Overly fatty foods
- Spicy foods
- Sugar Alcohols
What Other Tips Do You Need Before a Long Run?
- Focus on this week and this long run only – don’t worry about if you had an off week last week, or worry about how you are going to increase your mileage next week. Just focus on today.
- Find Motivation – rewarding yourself with a “runcation” destination race, an occasional splurge meal, new shoes, a personal goal, etc.
- Vary Your Routes – this will also help to keep you motivated on long runs, and reduce the chance of burnout.
- Use the Right Gear – get all the right beginner running gear here!
- Be Intentional – make a plan, schedule it out in advance, and stick to it! Don’t run “when you get around to it”, or “when I make time for it”. Your body will try to talk you out of those long runs, so make an intentional plan and stay one step ahead. The best way to do this is to invest in a running training calendar!
- Decide on Solo or Group – figure out what motivates you. Some people need the head clearing, de-stressing time on a solo run, whereas some people find the motivation in morale with others. If you prefer solo running, make sure you do it responsibly with these 7 solo running safety tips! Check out this post on finding local running groups near you, if you find yourself falling into that latter group.
- Hydrate Consistently – don’t just chug water 5 minutes before a long run, make sure that you are hydrating consistently every day all day! Make this easier on yourself with this handy daily water tracker!
- Do I Need to Fuel During a Half Marathon?
- The Truth About Peanut Butter for Runners
- 17 Training Tips for Running a Half Marathon
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