Eating for the long run

Eating: It’s one of life’s great pleasures. But when you’re training for a big race, sometimes you need to take a more business-like approach to consuming calories. Food is, after all, energy. Eat right, and it’s easy to remember why “run” rhymes with “fun.” But make poor food choices, and a jog becomes a slog (hey: that rhymes too).

While you’re training, you don’t have to count calories or measure out grams of protein. Make mostly smart food choices during the week, aiming to eat plenty of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein. (Don’t fret: everyone gives in to the siren call of the M&Ms or French fries occasionally.) The night before your weekly long run, pay special attention to consume enough calories and to ensure a good amount of them come from carbohydrates, like pasta, rice, or baked potato.

Put another way: If you run long on Saturday mornings, Friday night is not the time to try to subsist on chips, salsa, and a few Corona Lights. Then, at least an hour before your long run, eat a mix of carbs and protein, like a bowl of oatmeal topped with yogurt or multigrain toast spread with peanut butter. (And it goes without saying, we hope: stay well hydrated before, during, and after your runs.)

Even if you work out first thing in the morning, there’s no need to eat anything before a run lasting less than an hour or even 75 minutes: our body stores enough energy in our muscles to carry us through “shorter” runs. That said, if you need a banana or a handful of cereal in your stomach, have at it. But when your training runs climb into the double-digits, you definitely need to fuel on the road (or treadmill). Most experts advice taking in some fuel—an energy gel like GU, energy chews like Honey Stinger Organic Energy Chews, an energy bar, cookies, hard candies, or even a Snickers—after 45 minutes of running, then every 30 minutes after that. Let’s say you know you’re going to be running for nearly two hours (gulp!) and you start running at 7:00. Take in some calories at 7:45, and again at 8:15 and 8:45. It’s also important to practice taking in fuel on your practice runs as you’ll need to stoke your fire during the actual race. Figure out what works for you; some people’s stomachs can tolerate anything, while others get queasy at the mere thought of an energy gel.

Staying well fueled on your training runs will make them much easier—and enjoyable—to complete, we promise. And the best part about long runs? You have plenty of time to figure out what you’ll eat when you finish.

Sarah Ratzlaff