How to Fuel Before, During and After a Long Run

The long training run is the bread and butter for a long distance runner, and developing your personal fueling recipe will aid in stocking your muscles with plenty of energy to prepare for the run, supplementing energy, fluid and electrolytes during the run and provide the nutrients necessary for efficient recovery post run. Although there are guidelines for what to eat before, during and after a long run, the key is to keep a log and begin to develop a fueling recipe that works for your system. What works for your buddy may not work for you, and vice versa. Practice with various recipes while in training and you’ll develop a successful system come race weekend. Use the following guidelines when developing your recipes. Pre-Run Fueling Tips
  • Consume 200-300 calories of easily digestible carbohydrates.
  • If you consume solid food like toast, peanut butter and a banana, eat at least 1-2 hours before the start of your run.
  • If you eat within 60 minutes or less of the start of your run, experiment with liquid fuel like a sports drink, juice or foods that are higher in water content like a banana. I eat my favorites 1 – 1.5 hours before my long runs – banana and teaspoon of almond butter or a smoothie with two ice cubes, 8 ounces almond milk, half banana and half cup of berries.
  • Consume 8-12 ounces of water or fluid an hour before the start of your long run or race. A great way to do this is to have a glass of water at your bedside and drink it as you wake up.
Fueling During the Long Run:
  • The American College of Sports Medicine recommends consuming 30-60 grams of carbohydrate (about 240 calories) per hour during activity lasting longer than an hour.
  • The purpose for fueling during the run is to replenish energy, fluid and electrolyte (sodium, potassium, chloride…) stores – not replace them so it is key to find the balance between too little and too much.
  • For long runs lasting 60 minutes to two hours, keep it simple and consume one source of carbohydrate energy (a sports drink, or gel with water). My favorite is a sports drink because it contains all that a runner needs with fluid, energy and electrolytes and is easy to digest and carry.
  • For runs lasting longer than 2.5 hours, use a combination of carbohydrate sources like a sports drink, gels or low-fat, low-protein and low-fiber solid foods (bars). My favorite combo is a sports drink plus a gel later in the run washed down with water.
  • If you develop stomach issues, it can mean that you’re either consuming too much fuel, too frequently, or the type of carbohydrate fuel doesn’t agree with your system.
  • It can be helpful to set a watch alarm for every 10 minutes and take sips of fluid – or to consume a larger volume of fluid every 15-20 minutes.
  • Fuel products like sports drinks and gels are made with about a 4-6% sugar concentration. If you consume a combination of energy all at once, it will increase this concentration and can cause issues with sugar belly (nausea, stomach cramping). For this reason, it is wise to space out your energy consumption. For instance, drink a sports drink alone and when consuming a gel, consume it with water to dilute it in your system.
  Post-Run Fueling Tips:
  • Within 30 minutes of finishing your long run, eat a meal or drink a smoothie with about 300-400 calories and with a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein to maintain blood sugar levels, replenish muscle glycogen, and repair muscle tissue.
  • Some examples include a turkey sandwich and pretzels or a veggie egg omelet and toast. If it’s a hot, try a liquid recovery drink or blend up a smoothie with protein powder, water, banana and berries. If it’s cold, soup tastes great.
  • Continue to nibble on balanced snacks and meals that include three to four parts carbohydrate to one part protein throughout the day and sip fluids to rehydrate.
Long run and marathon nutrition is all about experimentation to find your personal fueling recipe. Like our daily diet, your recipe may shift seasonally, so keeping track and tuning into what your body prefers will help you best define your optimal recipe. Happy Trails. Coach Jenny Hadfield Coach Jenny Hadfield is a published author, writer, coach, public speaker and endurance athlete. To find out more, visit our Meet Our Writers page or visit Coach Jenny’s website.