Believe it or not, practice runs aren’t the only thing that will help you conquer an endurance run or race such as a marathon. The food you eat to fuel your body while training and on race day can make or break your run. Carbohydrates, proteins, fats and hydration are all important components to consider when planning your nutrition for a long run. Be sure to experiment with your eating plan before a big race, and don’t try out new foods on a race day!
Carbohydrates are fuel for our muscles. Our muscles need carbohydrates similar to how a car needs gas to go. While I don’t often recommend counting grams of carbohydrates, clients often ask about how many grams of carbohydrates they should consume while training. Aim to consume 3-5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight.
For example, a 130 lb woman would need approximately 390-650 grams of carbohydrates divided throughout the day. Some carbohydrates to try include whole grain bread, brown rice, faro, quinoa, bananas, raisins, peaches, apples, sweet potatoes, squash, corn, potatoes, oatmeal, cereal, chocolate milk, sports drinks, beans, pasta, and crackers. High fiber foods take longer to digest and if eaten right before a run can lead to digestive issues. For this reason, avoid high fiber foods on race days and limit fiber a few days leading up to a race.
Protein is necessary to rebuild muscles and help them recover following runs. Protein needs are increased to about .5-.6 grams of protein per pound of body weight for endurance runners. For example the same 130 lb woman would need around 65-78 g protein divided throughout the day. Including lean proteins at each meal and snack makes it easy to meet elevated protein needs. Some proteins to try include lean chicken, fish, roasted turkey, lean beef, eggs, low fat dairy, nuts, seeds, nut butters, beans, lentils, tofu and Greek yogurt.
Fats serve many functions in our bodies, and are an important component of a training diet. Fats provide energy, are needed to build healthy cells, and are necessary to absorb the fat soluble vitamins A,D,E,K.
Fat guidelines for endurance athletes are the same as the guidelines for the general population which is to choose healthy fats, and that fats should make up 20-35% of total calories. Some healthy fats to try include salmon, nuts, seeds, nut and seed butters, avocados, and extra virgin olive oil.
It is important to hydrate before, during and after your run. The amount of fluids needed will vary per individual. It is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of dehydration as dehydration will have a negative impact on your run. Some of the signs and symptoms include dry mouth, irritability, dizziness, lightheadedness, muscle cramps, decreased urination, headaches, rapid heartbeat and thirst. Aim to drink 6-8 ounces of a sports drink or water every 15-20 minutes during a long run to avoid dehydration. Weighing yourself before and after a training run can help show you if you are meeting your hydration needs. Weight lost will let you know fluids lost. 16-24 ounces of fluids should be consumed for each pound of body weight lost during a run.
Eating before, during and after the run
Sports nutrition is different for everyone and it is important to experiment to learn what foods and timing work for you. Pre endurance run meals should be high in carbohydrates, low in fat and fiber and include some lean protein. Allow 3-4 hours for larger meals to digest to avoid stomach discomfort during your run. Examples include oatmeal with fruit and nuts, toast with nut butter and a banana or grilled chicken on a wrap with fruit. As it gets to be about an hour to your run consume about 15-30 grams of simple carbohydrates such as a banana, cereal, or a sports drink. Those who cannot tolerate any food prior to a run might find they do better with liquid meals.
For runs that last for longer than an hour, it is important to have a snack of easily digested carbohydrates during the run. Some easy to consume snacks for during a run include sports drinks, bananas, sports gels, raisins, energy bars, or pretzels.
After a run it is important to refuel with a combination of protein and carbohydrates to help your body recover. This could be either a meal or a snack. Ideas to consider post exercise include greek yogurt and a piece of fruit, 2 slices of whole grain bread with nut butter, grilled chicken with steamed broccoli and brown rice, baked fish with faro and brussels sprouts, or chocolate milk.
Advanced planning will make eating healthy while training and running long distances easier. Keeping a food diary can also help you learn the best meal and hydration plans for you. Good luck with your runs!
Linzy Ziegelbaum, MS, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and owner of the private practice LNZnutrition LLC. She provides nutrition counseling and education to clients of all ages with many nutrition needs. Linzy enjoys sharing her love and nutrition expertise with others through counseling, her LNZnutrition blog and social media pages, including Facebook and Instagram.
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