There’s nothing quite like starting your day off with a long run. There’s something special about meeting the day on the road, running as the sun rises.
If you enjoy running in the early mornings, the best way to fuel yourself is to eat the right foods at the right time in the right proportions the night before.
Eating a large breakfast before running can make for an uncomfortable run. Food takes time to digest, and you may find that you start to feel nauseated or uncomfortable during your run if you eat a lot immediately before.
To fuel yourself efficiently, you can’t just eat whatever you want the night before your run. There are some rules, and following them may just surprise you.
Why Is Eating Before A Long Run So Important?
Eating before a long run is important. Even if you are trying to lose weight through running, you have to fuel the work you want to do. The calories you consume during your meal will serve as your fuel for your run.
You may be wondering why we’re talking about eating the night before your run and not immediately before.
As we mentioned above, eating a bunch right before a run can lead to you feeling uncomfortable and not as light as you’d like!
But there are other reasons that the previous night’s meal is better for fueling than a pre-run meal.
Digesting food takes between six and eight hours. When you eat, those calories contribute to your body’s energy stores. When you run in the morning, then, you’re utilizing that stored up energy from the previous day, and don’t have to worry about feeling too full or too heavy.
What Should You Eat While Training For A Full Or Half-Marathon?
There’s no simple answer to this question. Ultimately, it depends on the person! When you’re training, pay attention to what you’re consuming. How does the food you’re eating make you feel?
If you’re serious about using nutrition as a way of fueling yourself for a half marathon, then it’s a good idea to keep a food diary. Write down everything you eat or drink during the day, as well as any stomach problems you may have.
Take care to add a timestamp to each one. After a week or so, you may start noticing patterns. For example, if you’ve had stomach cramps three times during the week, consider what you were eating just before. Can you find a common food?
For a full marathon, you’ll need to keep a food diary for at least a few weeks before race day.
Tailor your carb, protein, and fat intake to suit your training. Some people find that carbs give them an energy boost, while others may find that fats work better for them.
This issue of what macronutrients to focus on is the subject of debate. Carbs (and the glycogen they are converted to) are our bodies’ main source of energy. We all have about 90 minutes’-worth of carb-derived energy when we are properly topped up. For a certain set of runners, that will take care of a half-marathon. Plenty of athletes, though, train themselves to be “fat-adapted,” meaning that they eat a low-carb, high-fat diet. When your body uses fat instead of carbs for energy, your energy stores are far, far deeper. A too-simplified review of the the science suggests that fat-adapted athletes trade the top end of their speed for far greater endurance.
It may also be a good idea to take a blood test if you can. This could give an indication of what compounds are present and what should be avoided in order to be in top shape.
Why Do Some Runners Have Stomach Issues During A (Long) Run?
According to stats, about 4 people out of every 10 suffer from some form of stomach issue during long runs.
Sometimes it’s just that they have a sensitive stomach. Sometimes it’s the curry they ate the day before. But many times, it’s from a bad choice of food the previous night.
During a run, blood gets diverted from your stomach and sent to the muscles to power them through the run.
That means that whatever undigested food is still in there is going to weigh you down, and could cause cramps and just plain discomfort.
In other words, some runners have stomach issues during long runs simply because they ate the wrong thing at the wrong time.
Physical activity is also know to shall we say kickstart the concluding stages of the digestive process. Coincidentally, eating (and consuming caffeine, for you morning coffee-lovers) has a similar effect. Keep your pre-run meal light to help avoid trips into gas station bathrooms along your route.
What Should You Avoid Eating The Night Before A Long Run?
Before we get into the things you should be eating, let’s discuss some stuff you definitely shouldn’t be chewing on the night before you run.
If you put a bit of thought into it, foods that are heavy on the stomach are logical to avoid. These can include:
- Cream and dairy products
- High-fiber foods
- Processed foods
- Foods high in sugar
- Cruciferous veggies (fiber!)
- Beans and other legumes (fiber!)
It’s also important to eat the same amount you normally would. Take care not to undereat or overeat. Both have consequences that won’t help your performance the following day.
What Are The General Rules For The Night Before A Long Run?
When considering your dinner the night before your run, don’t just choose any old thing! Put some thought into it if you want to have optimal results the following day.
Here are some tips:
- Go for cooked foods rather than uncooked
- High-quality whole foods are a good option; organic vs. conventional is up for debate
- Eat a similar portion to what you usually would
- Make sure the meal is well-balanced
- It should contain lean protein and complex carbs
- Avoid processed foods and sugars
- Do NOT skip this meal!
Why Is Pasta Popular The Night Before A Long Run Or Marathon?
If you’ve been running for any length of time, you’ll know that pasta is a hugely popular meal the night before a long run.
There is merit to this, though. Pasta is a carb source that’s generally easy to digest, as it’s fairly bland on its own.
It doesn’t take long to prepare and can be customized in a bunch of different ways.
Here’s what we recommend if you choose pasta as your pre-race day dinner:
- Choose whole-grain pasta for all the good carbs and fiber.
- Pair it with a low-fat meaty sauce to round out your nutrition.
- Avoid the temptation to eat more than your portion.
What Does Carbo Loading Look Like?
Carbo loading can become confusing. There’s a ton of info out there. In a nutshell, the recommended amount of carbs you should be eating per day when training is 5 to 7 grams per kilogram of body weight.
Three or four days before your big race, up it to between 7 and 10 grams per kilo. Don’t introduce any new foods to your diet in the week leading up to race day!
What About The Protein And Fat Intake?
If you get your carbs right, you’ll be nicely fueled up before your big race. Protein and fats make much less difference in this context. It’s still important to make sure you’re getting both in, though, and in high-quality foods.
A good rule of thumbs is 1.2 to 1.4 grams per kilogram of protein. Fat is less important, and you’ll most likely fill your quota in the other foods you’re eating. When considering fats, though, focus on healthy fats. Ditch the bacon and french fries and opt for olive oil and avocados. Fats are necessary for your body to properly process some vitamins, so don’t skimp on them. But be selective.
Specific Foods To Eat Before A Long Run
Now that you know what NOT to eat, let’s get to the good stuff! These are the foods you can eat the night before a long run.
Carbs and Nutrients (fiber/vitamins/electrolytes)
It’s essential to choose nutrient-rich carbs and not empty, processed ones. Some great carb choices include:
- Rice (brown or white)
- Other wholesome grains
- Vegetables (particularly potato or sweet potato)
- Fruits (bananas, dates, berries)
Fat and Protein
When it comes to fats, try to limit saturated fat and choose healthy Omega 3 instead. Chew on:
- Chia seeds
- Dairy (low-fat)
- Olive oil (great for cooking with)
In terms of proteins, lean meat is always best. Fish is a wonderful source of Omega 3, and boiled eggs are excellent little protein and fat bombs.
You may be wondering why to add salt to your meal the night before. Remember, sodium is an essential electrolyte and you need a good amount of it in your body when you begin your race to prevent electrolyte depletion.
You can add salt to your food, or choose to incorporate a salty food into your meal, such as sauerkraut or pickles.
Fluids are just as important to stock up on as food!
Avoid sugary drinks and energy drinks the night before your race. You can drink as much water, tea, black coffee, and carbonated water as you’d like.
Alcoholic drinks should be avoided, as the liver will use glycogen to process out the alcohol. But if you’re like me and love a glass of wine with a bowl of pasta, drink in moderation.
Alcohol also contributes to dehydration, and you really don’t want to start your race dehydrated. It can affects your sleep, too, and you need to be well-rested for race day.
Examples Of Good Meals
If you aren’t quite sure how to put all that info together into something tangible (and edible), here are some good examples of meals you can eat to fuel yourself the night before your run:
- Whole grain pasta, chicken, and pesto
- Baked potatoes with veggies (minimal oil)
- Brown rice and fish risotto
- Sushi mix
- Healthy burger
- Healthy pancakes
What Should You Eat For Breakfast Before A Long Run?
Although you shouldn’t eat a large meal before running, it’s important to have something in your stomach before you set off.
Eat 2 to 3 hours before your run is due to start. It should be a light, easy-to-digest meal, such as:
- Toast or a bagel with a thin layer of jam or light cream cheese
- Oatmeal with berries
- A small portion of leftover carbs from the night before
If you’re feeling like it, you can chow a high-glucose energy bar or gel about 30 minutes before starting.