How to Fuel for the Long Run

Hi Runners! Happy first day of autumn πŸ™‚ The weather here in Southern Maryland is absolutely perfect for running. I hope you are experiencing similar weather wherever you are. 

This past Sunday I had an 18-mile training run for the Philadelphia Marathon. For those of you who know me, you probably remember how sick I was making myself earlier this year training for the  Myrtle Beach Marathon once I got into longer training runs. My anxiety was pretty bad, and it affected my stomach so I was nauseous before all my long runs. Some mornings it would take me an hour or more just to be able to eat all my breakfast before one of these runs. It was miserable. Luckily, I’ve been able to overcome the fear and anxiety this time around and can actually eat before and during my workouts! πŸ™‚

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about running and nutrition. When I started getting into endurance running a few years ago I purchased a book called Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes by Monique Ryan. This book has taught me so much about properly fueling for running. It is a must-have resource for any athlete looking to take their sport to the next level.

Today I want to share with you how I fuel for the long run. Remember though, that every runner is unique and every body needs to be treated differently. This is how I do things based on what I’ve studied and how my body has reacted and adjusted to different methods.

Let me begin by defining “long run”. A long run is the highest mileage run during your weekly training schedule. In general, most runners don’t need to do anything special for fueling until they pass the 10-mile mark, or find themselves running for 90 minutes or more. This is because, assuming you’re eating a healthy well-balanced diet, the body can store enough energy to work aerobically for approximately 90 minutes before running out of fuel.

Fueling for the long run really starts the day before the actual training run. If I’m planning to run a long training run first thing Saturday morning, I would typically eat a lunch on Friday that is high in carbohydrates. I also make sure there is plenty of vegetables and some protein. 

Through experimenting I have found that my best pre-long run/pre-race meal is a Chipotle burrito bowl. I get the brown rice, peppers, onions, sometimes I get meat and sometimes I do the vegetarian option, a few difference salsas, guacamole, lettuce, cheese, and sour cream. The last two items might not be the best, but I haven’t experienced any negative side effects from them (and they’re yummy). If I don’t do Chipotle, my other go-to meal is what I call “unstuffed peppers”. It’s basically the recipe for stuffed peppers, but instead everything is chopped up and made into a casserole served over rice. The key to both these meals for me is the rice (NOT white rice) and vegetables.

According to Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes, for a very high level of activity, with several hours of training, your body needs 24 to 29 calories per pound for the entire days worth of energy. My 18-mile long run falls into this category because I was running for just over 3 hours. For someone weighing 139 pounds this could mean 3336 to 4031 calories during a long run day. The book breaks it down even further, and shows how your calories should be broken up between carbohydrates, protein, and fat in order to meet your ideal energy needs. 

Carbohydrate: 3 – 4.5 g/lb
Protein: 0.5 – 0.6 g/lb
Fat: 0.4 – 0.5 g/lb

For example– If a 139 lb person that is running for 3 hours

139 lb x 3 g/lb = 417 g
417 g x 4 cal/g = 1668 cal from carbohydrates 

139 lb x 0.5 g/lb = 69.5 g
69.5 g x 4 cal/g = 278 cal from protein

139 lb x 0.4 g/lb = 55.6 g
55.6 g x 9 cal/g = 500 cal from fat

The morning of your long run, you should wake up early enough to eat something before you start. On a short run you could easily run with enough fuel from your dinner the evening prior, but it is not recommended to try that during a long run. Something I’ve learned the hard way, and then was reiterated during research, was that once your muscles are depleted of energy, you can’t restore it during the run. You must continue to fuel during your run or you run the risk of hitting the infamous “wall”. 

My typical pre-long run breakfast includes organic granola cereal with milk, a banana, and depending how far I’ll be running, I’ll eat a Cliff Bar, apple with peanut butter, or bagel with peanut butter in addition. 

Some other simple pre-long run morning meal ideas include:
– Oatmeal with milk and raisins
– Pretzels and hummus with a glass of juice
– Liquid meal replacement (Ensure drinks actually got me through the last training cycle)
– Crackers with peanut butter and banana
– High-carb energy bar and banana
– Smoothie with milk, yogurt, and fruit
– Toasted waffle with syrup and fruit

As I’ve mentioned, when you’re out running long, it’s crucial to consume some fuel during your run to avoid “bonking”. You may not think it will happen to you on a training run, but it definitely can if you deplete your energy stores and your blood sugar drops. You’ll notice it when you start to feel hazy or dizzy, your legs feels heavy, or you have trouble thinking. 

In general, my blood sugar tends to drop easily (you may notice that I always carry fruit or an energy bar with me). I found out, again the hard way, that I needed to fuel differently during long runs. I tried Gu and other sugar-spiking energy supplements during long run, but they made me very sick. It took me a while to figure out what was causing it, but ever since I’ve started to eat real food during long runs, I’ve had no issues.  

One of the major things I do to keep a constant blood sugar level during my long runs is to mix Gatorade with my water. I typically do a 50-50 mix in my CamelBak. As I get more and more into healthy living, I’m trying to find alternatives to the Gatorade method. I want to try coconut water because I’ve heard great things about it, but I haven’t tried it yet so I can’t speak to it’s success. As far as food goes during long runs, my go-to is fruit. At the Myrtle Beach Marathon, Nick carried a banana for me in his CamelBak, and when I didn’t finish it during a walk break he carried my half peeled banana until the next walk break so I could finish it. I’m hoping to not make him do that at Philly πŸ™‚ I just purchased some dried bananas and plan to try them on my next long run. Other fruits I typically eat during long runs are blueberries, grapes, and apple slices. I’m planning to try raisins soon as well. I also generally carry a Cliff Bar in my CamelBak as an emergency food. It might sound silly, but it makes me feel better knowing that I have it, just in case I get too dizzy or my blood sugar gets too low. 

Nutrition #fitness #nutrition #eatrealfood
That’s pretty much it for my long run nutrition strategy. As we get close to the race, I’ll be posting more on my week-prior nutrition plan. 

So, tell me– how do you fuel for your long runs? What methods have worked well for you? Share your tips and tricks in the comments below πŸ™‚ 

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