Fueling for your Long Run

Tips from Coach Marc on what to eat before, during, and after a long run.

When thinking about fueling for a long run, there are a few really simple tips you can follow to ensure you’re doing all you can to have a good run and subsequent runs.

For starters, make sure what you are eating will properly fuel you.  Candy is tasty, yes, but won’t do you very well when you’re trying to have your best long run.

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Second, aim for foods that you might want to have on race weekend.  A meal you can replicate and bring on the road is an added bonus.

Third, keep it simple.  There is no reason to have this elaborate scheme to trick the system.  Eat real foods and you can’t go wrong.

Lastly, make sure you’re eating an adequate amount of calories to sustain the work you’re putting in.

3 times you can work on fueling your long run: before, during and after
Tips for fueling your long run

Before the Long Run

Before your next long run, plan out what you might want to eat on race day. Not sure what you’d want to eat? Here are some basic suggestions for you. Of course, your stomach might be stronger or weaker than Coach Marc’s, so you’ll have to see what works for you.

  • Oatmeal
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
  • Bagel with light spreading of cream cheese

All of these options are really simple to make and include a majority of the calories as carbohydrates. While I’m not a nutritionist, I do know that carbs are really good for runners. You’ll want to seek out more information from a specialist for the finer details.

Fueling your long run: before, during and after
Tips to fuel your long run

During the Long Run

During my recent marathon training plan, I had an idea from prior training programs what kind of nutrition I wanted to use. I set my eyes on Gu Energy Lab products because of my prior experience with them.

I tried flavors that I thought I would like including Birthday Cake, Campfire Smores, Strawberry Banana, Chocolate Outrage and my favorite (and race day flavor) Salted Caramel.

On top of Gu, I also sampled RunGum as an added boost to my system. The one thing I didn’t try but wish I had, was trying drinking while running. If and when I do another long distance race, I’ll be practicing with different drink types to get more calories in my system.


After the Long Run

Since we’ve ruled candy out as being an effective aid in recovery, we’ll move to the more traditional forms of food that can help you recover your fastest. As soon as possible (within the first 30 minutes) you should be aiming to have some form of a meal. After the long run, a combination of carbohydrates and protein are your best options.

Fueling for your long run
Tips to help you fuel for your long run

On top of “real food”, you can supplement your recovery efforts with a recovery drink, which might include Gatorade, Endurox or Nuun.

On-the-go foods you might want to consider include peanut butter and jelly sandwich, an apple or banana or any kind of protein/carb combo bar.

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When you get home and settled back into regular life, you should try consuming a more substantial meal within the first thirty minutes to one hour of finishing your run.  This time window is the optimum time for your body to absorb nutrients to aid in recovery.

The ultimate goal for post-run nutrition – long run or otherwise – is to get food into your body so your body can begin to recover in preparation for your next workout.


Summary

The food you put into your body will ultimately help you perform at your best. If you’re putting in less than desirable foods, you’re likely to get less than desirable results. Ultimately, the quicker you can get healthy foods back into your system, the faster and stronger you’ll come back.

If you are having problems knowing how much you eat or whether you eat the wrong foods, you should seek a nutritionist to help you or look online for additional help.


Did you find this article helpful? Let me know by leaving a comment below or join the conversation on Twitter or Facebook.


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Dr. Jack Daniels VDOT & USATF Certified Running Coach
Dr. Jack Daniels VDOT & USATF Certified Running Coach

Marc is a USATF Track and Field & Dr. Jack Daniels VDOT O2 certified running coach. I have more than 19 years of experience running and more than 10 years of experience coaching runners. Click for more information!


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28 thoughts on “Fueling for your Long Run

  1. So true about that pre-race meal, that’s why i always try to keep it simple. I do a lot of racecations and I always try to stick to pizza or a small plate of pasta for my pre-race meal – it hasn’t failed me yet (knock on wood)!

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  2. deborahbrooks14 May 1, 2019 — 8:22 AM

    Remembering to take sips of water and use my fuel is my biggest challenge. I just forget sometimes until it’s too late

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  3. I’m all about the post long run refuel 😛

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  4. I have been tinkering with fuel for so long! different gels or dried fruit or even small raisin rolls with honey for marathon training. it’s a work in progress! but definitely important to train with your fuel and stick to your plan! I have a friend who always has a steak dinner the night before her marathon. I would never do that, but it seems to work for her so she sticks with it!! Me, I’m all about pasta! But I know people who swear by a few pieces of pizza. Fuelling is incredibly complicated sometimes and other times it feels easy! Good to remind us how important fuelling really is.

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  5. I am a little bit of a detail person with my before race fuel. I am pretty insistent that it stay exactly the same from race to race. I even travel with my pre-race oatmeal in a ziplock if I’m traveling. Obsessive … perhaps but its also one less thing to worry about. Good tips.

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  6. That’s a good idea – especially being in the road for a race. Keep it simple and basic! Good plan!

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  7. I definitely waited too long to hydrate during the marathon – I didn’t want to get cramps. But then I obviously missed out on replacing electrolytes.

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  8. Oh heck yes. Give me a good egg and cheese bagel and I’m good to go.

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  9. Steak? Wow. Your friend has an iron-clad stomach! I keep it basic and simple – spaghetti and some meat sauce and I’m good to go!

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  10. I did the same thing! Oatmeal, pb and honey in a small Pyrex container. I’m totally on board with what you do!

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  11. I stick to the same.

    Pizza the night before. Oatmeal the morning of. Salted caramel gu during. Hasn’t failed me yet.

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  12. I have not historically been good about fueling (with food or water) before long runs but I am slowly figuring things out. I just did the London Marathon on Sunday and felt adequately hydrated without needing to stop and pee, so that right there is a win for me!

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  13. Kim at Running on the Fly May 1, 2019 — 10:28 PM

    Fueling is so personal, and for me it’s ever-changing. I used to love GU, but my tummy majorly revolts if I even think about it now…bummer, because there were some decent flavors.

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  14. Debbie Woodruff May 1, 2019 — 10:38 PM

    I’m actually, after more than 20 years of marathon running, looking to make some changes in my fueling protocol. I tend to get hypoglycemic (when I’m not running). My sugar levels drop and I get shaky, slightly dizzy, and sweaty. A reader suggested when I was describing my issues at the Phoenix Marathon that it might be because of my hypoglycemia. That makes sense to me so I want to find a more sustaining energy source, on top of pure carbs like Gu. I’m thinking about creating my own that contain a little protein and maybe even a little fat. I’m thinking a blend of dates, almonds and avocado. Any thoughts? I’d love feedback or suggestions.

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  15. I hear that. In training runs I had some flavors that ruined runs. I guess I got lucky that I found salted caramel and it worked for me.

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  16. That’s a great game plan. If it works, stick with it!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I think one reason I struggle with the half marathon distance is that I don’t fuel my long runs. I don’t need it for 10 miles but probably should for longer. This has good ideas for me.

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  18. I do struggle with fueling. My stomach is kind of a jerk, so what works one day doesn’t necessarily work the next. Gu during runs seems to be doing well for me, but before and after are hard. It’s all a work in progress though, an done day I’ll perfect itl.

    Thanks for some great tips!

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  19. I am not always great with post run (or workout) fuel because I am never hungry after hard cardio.
    I will keep these in mind as I continue to work on my fuel each week!

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  20. Would a smoothie or shake be better than trying to get food in?

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  21. Yeah, that does stink – I need lots of time between my last meal and a run – so maybe yours is similar. I do my best to keep it as basic and plain as possible as to not upset it.

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  22. Those are definitely the foods you want to go with, especially if it tastes good and it’s easy on your stomach. What do you think you’d store that mixture in? Bar form or smoothie/liquid form?

    Also, would lots of small meals be better than 3-4 big meals?

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  23. Fueling for long runs and races has made a huge difference for me! I used to feel soooo tired and useless for the rest of the day after my long run, but when I started fueling properly, I was able to function like a normal human being afterwards. I think one of the hardest parts was nailing down how many carbs to consume and when, so I did a ton of research on fueling and it’s made a world of difference in my long runs: https://runningmybestlife.com/half-marathon-fueling-strategies/

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  24. That’s fantastic. I’ll give it a read shortly. Is there a certain food or meal that helps you get to the ratio you desired?

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  25. I go over my favorite fuel sources in the fueling article, and my favorite breakfast foods are on this one: https://runningmybestlife.com/best-prerace-breakfast-foods/

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  26. I reassess my fueling with each training cycle to ensure it meets my needs. My usual pre-run breakfast is the same (bagel or toast with PB and a banana). Last year I transitioned to using whole foods on my long runs (Honey Stinger waffles), which I really liked and worked well for my stomach. The next time I do a marathon, I might try a combination of the waffles and chews.

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  27. Interesting. I haven’t tried waffles or chews. I am not really sure how I’d carry a waffle (logistically, at least). But it’s definitely something that I’ve heard a lot of good things about.

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  28. Def have used smoothies post workout. They usually work ok, when I am able to get to a kitchen right away 🙂

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