Tips for New Runners – Nutrition Before & During the Long Run

When you start training for a long distance run, start testing out the foods you want to eat before and during the race early on.  Long runs can make our guts a lot more sensitive than they normally are, so the last thing you want to do is eat strange foods or drink strange drinks on race day. That could be a one-way ticket to a miserable time in the porta-potty or really embarrassing streaks down your legs. You may also choose to eat a very low fiber diet the day before your long run, for the same reason. I found that to be a very effective strategy while I trained for the marathon. Also, due to the laxative effects, stay away from coffee the morning of a long run. If you need the caffeine, green or black tea should help wake you up without causing you any intestinal troubles.

Jeff Galloway has some involved recommendations for how & what to eat the day before the run. I’ll admit that I didn’t really follow his recommendations before the marathon, or the marathon-length training run, but they were in the back of my mind and did moderate my eating a bit.

If at all possible, find out what sports drinks and gels will be provided during your goal race and try them out on your long training runs. That way, you’ll know how they’ll affect you on race day and whether or not you can consume them. I was not able to test out the sports drink provided by the Missoula Marathon, so I did not consume any of it. And the gels were not labeled as gluten free, which is an issue for me, so I just carried my own.

Some runners get hungry during long runs. I don’t. This may be due to what I eat for my breakfast (see below), or it just may be how I work. On runs of 15 miles or more, I do take nutrition with me. As mentioned before, I use the Honey Stinger Gels, mixed into my water, and the Stinger Gummies. Both are gluten free and they got me through my marathon training and the race quite well. And to be fair, on my long Saturday runs of around 13 miles, I do stop to have a snack and coffee around mile 11 when my group run is over but before I run home, so it’s fair to say that I use some sort of nutrition on runs over 10 miles, even if it’s just a quarter of a banana and cup of coffee. Check out your local running and athletic stores for other ideas, as well. They may have quite a selection of things for you to try, both in solid and gel form.

If you get hungry during your runs or if you’re going to be running really long runs you may need something that is more like actual food. Some folks take pretzels or nuts along, and I’ve even heard of people carrying sandwiches. It really just depends on how sensitive your guts will get, and what your needs are. Experimenting during training is the way to figure out what will best get you through the race.

So, if you’re wondering what I eat before long runs, let me tell you. I’m a gluten free eater due to some digestive troubles and oatmeal causes me troubles too. So finding something to eat before my long runs was a bit of a challenge at first. Eventually I settled on socca with peanut butter & honey on it and a couple eggs. There are some carbs in there, to get me going, and a fair amount of protein, fat and fiber as well, which could be why I don’t get hungry during my long runs.

Socca is a flatbread made from chickpea flour, water and olive oil. I find that using warm (not hot) water and covering the bowl tightly can shorten the amount of time you need to rest the batter, but always let it sit at least 30 minutes. Recently I have found a recipe for chickpea flour pancakes that I really like, and may use it in place of the socca, as it is easier to make and doesn’t heat up the house as much in the summer. I will also try out these coconut flour & almond flour pancakes as pre-race fuel, because they are really delicious and the recipe yields exactly the right amount of batter for just me.

So to recap the important points:

  • The day before a long run, try out a low fiber diet.
  • The morning of a long run, stay away from coffee. Green or black tea may help.
  • Try out the food and drink you plan to eat on race day, during your long training runs.
  • If at all possible, try out the gels and sports drinks that will be offered during the race,  on your long training runs.

Finding the right nutrition for you can be tricky, but it can sure save you a lot of discomfort and trouble on race day.

Happy running!

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