What to eat or drink after a long run is a hot topic among runners. What you do or don’t consume can effect how you feel later in the day, as well as at your next workout.
After a long run, your biggest priority should be to replace fluids lost from sweat. Hopefully you drank some water or sports drink on your run, but you will still need to replace some fluid. The best way to determine how much to drink is to weigh yourself before and after your run (without clothes). For every pound lost, drink at least 16 oz of water; better yet, 24 ounces. At this point, there is little need for sports drinks, as long as you’re planning to eat something shortly. Your next meal or snack will replenish the lost sodium and glucose. However, sports drinks can be a good option if your stomach isn’t ready for food. Chicken broth, cola, or gingerale are other popular options that may help settle a queasy stomach.
Remember to continue to drink fluids throughout the day to continue to stay hydrated. You can monitor your hydration by the color and amount of your urine. When properly hydrated your urine will be a pale yellow (unless you take supplements, in which case, the color may be brighter), and you will urinate every 2-3 hours.
In addition to properly hydrating, you will want to eat shortly after a long run to replenish your glycogen stores. Make sure this meal or snack is a mix of carbohydrates (to refuel) with a little protein (to repair). While many runners strive for a ratio of 4 to 1 or 3 to 1 carbohydrates to protein, the exact ratio isn’t mandatory. Just be sure you fill-up with more carbs than protein. That is, don't have just a protein shake!
Some easy to prepare carb-protein recovery meals include:
- Fruit smoothie made with yogurt or milk
- Turkey sandwich with a piece of fruit
- Yogurt with berries and granola
- Bowl of beany soup such a minestrone, with whole grain crackers and low fat cheese
- Oatmeal with milk, raisins, and slivered almonds
- Peanut butter (or other nut butter) and banana sandwich
- Vegetable omelet with toast
If you aren’t ready for a meal after your run, make a small snack such as a glass of chocolate milk, a bowl of cereal with milk, or an apple with peanut butter.
Rapidly refueling by eating immediately after a run is most important for people who will be running again in the next 4 to 6 hours. Most of us can simply eat within an hour after running and will recover well. Yet, a benefit to eating shortly after your run is to keep the cookie monster from showing up!
Even if your stomach doesn’t feel hungry post-run, your muscles want fuel. Feed them! Signs of hunger include irritability and fatigue. Eating even just a small snack post-run and then your meal a few hours later can keep you from becoming ravenous and overeating later in the day. You will also likely feel more energized and recover faster.
Now that you know what to eat before your long run (and have hopefully been practicing), it’s important to figure out your fueling plan for during the race. When exercising for more than 60-90 minutes, it’s important to consume quickly absorbing carbohydrates to keep your blood sugar and energy levels stable throughout your run. Here are some recommendations on what and when to consume during long runs and race day.
How much to consume?
The amount of carbohydrates needed will vary from person to person (body size, speed, intensity, and training will all effect this), but aim for between 150-250 calories of carbohydrates per hour. This can be from a mix of sports drinks like Gatorade and food like Gu, candy, or dried fruit.
What to consume?
The goal is to consume food that is primarily made up of carbohydrates. When running for many hours, such as during the marathon, you will want to vary your food choices to keep you from getting tired of eating the same thing for 4+ hours. It’s easy to get through a half marathon relying only on Gu, candy, or dried fruit, but it’s difficult to keep that up for twice the time. You’re likely to get “sugared out,” meaning your taste buds or stomach may not tolerate the same food for that many hours. Varying both flavor and texture can help you get through the race without feeling like you can’t eat as much as your body needs. So, try out a few different options during your longer training runs to see what your stomach and GI tract tolerate and what gives your body the most energy.
Engineered vs. Real Food
The big advantage to engineered food such as Gu, Chomps, Sport Beans, and the like, is convenience. Most come in pre-packaged 100-calorie servings, and they are easy to carry with you. However, real food can work just as well, particularly for slower marathoners who will be pounding the pavement for more than four hours. Here are some common choices among runners:
- Raisins,dates, dried cranberries—or any dried fruit
- Swedishfish, jelly beans, gummy bears, or other chewy candy
- Minipeanut butter and jelly (or honey) sandwiches*
- Banana(with peanut butter or other nut butter)*
* If you choose foods that aren’t convenient to carry inyour pocket, ask friends or family to stand along your race-day route at pointswhen you know you will need fuel.
If you drink Gatorade or other sports drinks, remember that this contributes to your carbohydrate intake. Just pay attention to how much you are consuming so you can adjust your food intake. Diluted fruit juice can work well for some too.
When to consume?
Your breakfast will likely get you through the first hour to hour and a half of the race. So, most runners like to start consuming carbohydrates whether it’s from a sports drink or food beginning at 45 minutes to an hour into the race. But, pay attention to how you feel during your long training runs to figure out when is a good time for you to start fueling. Some runners choose to start slightly earlier or later. Earlier signs of hunger (or fuel needs) include thinking about food, reduced energy, or tired legs.
As noted above, plan to consumer 150-250 calories per hour.You can spread this out over 15-30 minute intervals, and mix it up between drinks and food.
Remember that it’s important to test this out during your long training runs to avoid any race-day surprises!
Here’s a recipe that’s sure to please the whole family. (Older kids might even enjoy helping you by filling the shells!) The recipe includes protein- and calcium-rich Greek yogurt. The yogurt adds a lighter texture to the ricotta filling, without any change in taste.
As with many pasta recipes, only one-third of the calories are from carbohydrates. Hence, if you are carbo-loading, be sure to round out the meal with crusty whole grain bread, steamed green beans, and fruit salad.
1 box (16 oz) jumbo pasta shells 2 C part-skim ricotta cheese 1 C Plain 0% fat Greek Yogurt 2 C shredded mozzarella 1/2 C grated Parmigiano-Reggiano 1 to 1.5 26-ounce jars spaghetti sauce (depending on how much you like) 1-2 tsp dried oregano
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add shells and cook according to directions. Drain the shells and cool on a baking sheet (so the shells so not stick together).
2. Combine the ricotta, Greek yogurt, 1 cup mozzarella, 1/4 cup Parmesan, and oregano in a bowl. Set aside.
3. Pour 1 cup sauce into bottom of shallow baking dish large enough to hold shells in single layer. Spoon cheese mixture into shells and arrange seam side up in baking dish.
4. Top shells with the remaining sauce, mozzarella and Parmesan. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes or until cheese melts and sauce bubbles.
Here is Part II of this Marathon Prep series, written by guest blogger Sarah Gold.
What to eat before a long run can be a stressful decision. You need to figure out what foods will provide adequate fuel without upsetting your stomach or the rest of your gastrointestinal tract. As you read last week, training your gut to tolerate food is important, but knowing what foods to choose and which ones to avoid can improve the performance and enjoyment of your training runs. Remember to practice your race-day breakfast on your long training runs leading up to the big day!
What should I eat?
Before a long run, your meal should include carbohydrates that digest easily and are low in fiber. Aim for approximately 2 calories of carbohydrates per pound of body weight (0.5g carbs per lb). A 150lb runner would want approximately 300 calories in carbohydrates. This will add to your glycogen stores and play a role in keeping your blood sugar constant. It will also keep hunger down during your run.
Don’t go crazy counting carbohydrate grams; this is just a guide. Adding a little fat or protein can help with satiety and flavor, but the carbohydrates are the most important factor here. Also, too much protein or fat can sit in the stomach, making for an unpleasant run. Some good pre-run choices include:
o Toast (or a bagel) with jam & a medium banana
o Cereal with milk and a banana
o Oatmeal with berries or raisins
o Pancakes (1-2) with fruit
o Granola bar that is low in fiber
o Fruit smoothie: 1 large banana, ½ cup berries, ½ cuplow-fat milk (or yogurt for extra creaminess), ice cubes.
o Trail mix with dried fruit, cereal, and pretzels
o Crackers with hummus and fruit
When should I eat?
While you want to allow 1 to 2 hours after a substantial pre-run breakfast to allow enough time for digestion and absorption, you can likely tolerate a smaller (200 to 300 calorie) snack within an hour pre-run. If you don’t have any trouble with running with food in your stomach, you can shorten this window. However some runners with digestive concerns get up early, eat breakfast, and then go back to bed. Others eat an extra snack before they go to bed, and then eat something smaller in the morning only 30 minutes before a run.
What if I get an upset stomach or GI tract when I eat before a run?
By starting with small amounts of food, most runners can train their GI tract to accept some food. Even a little fuel can improve energy and performance. Some people like sports drinks because they may feel less heavy in the stomach. If you really struggle, try to eat your breakfast the night before. Before you go to bed, enjoy a carbohydrate-rich snack, such as a bowl of cereal or a bagel . However, I would not recommend running the full marathon without eating the morning of the race, so it’s best to try to train your gut to tolerate food.
In preparation for the Boston Marathon on April 16th, this new weekly series will provide you with tips and strategies for eating while training for a marathon. I have invited guest blogger Sarah Gold to write this series. Please check back each week for a new topic!
Week 1: The Importance of Training Your Gut
Most runners prepare for a race with a fairly detailed training plan, with a specific number of runs and miles per week, perhaps including some speed work and usually culminating in a long run on the weekends. What many runners forget to include in their training plan is a fueling strategy. A well-practiced fueling plan can enhance performance and minimize stomach and gastrointestinal (GI) upset during runs, and most importantly on race day. While there are many foods that runners tend to gravitate towards, each runner has a different tolerance for foods before and during runs. Finding a fueling strategy that works well for you during your training will make race day less stressful, and more enjoyable. There are a lot of unknowns and things you cannot control about race day, but what you will eat and drink shouldn’t be one of them!
The night before
Your fueling strategy should start with dinner the night before your long run. Your meal should include carbohydrates, some protein, and a little fat. Examples:
--pasta with tomato sauce and turkey meatballs,
--baked chicken with rice, vegetables, bread, and cranberry sauce.
Meals that are high in fat such as a burger may lead to GI upset the next day. As you try different meals, pay attention to how you feel when you wake up the next morning and during your long run. Did you feel energized or did you feel like your meal was still sitting in your stomach the next day? Make note and adjust on your next run if necessary until you find a meal that works well for you.
The morning of
The morning of the long run is often the toughest meal for runners. However, if you eat something before a long run, you will likely feel more energized and be able to run for longer. The best option is a carbohydrate-based meal or snack. Each runner will need a different amount of fuel, but a good estimate is about 0.5g carbohydrates per pound of body weight. Therefore,if you weigh 150 lbs, you would eat 75g of carbohydrates (about 300 calories). Examples:
--a piece of toast (or half of a bagel) with jam and a large banana,
--a bowl of cereal with fruit and milk.
If you are prone to stomach upsetduring runs, start with smaller amounts of food (a banana or a few crackers) and add a little more each week.
Another option is to test out different foods before a shorter weekday run, so you’re less likely to stress about what willhappen on a long run. Just as you train your legs to run further each week, you can train your GI tract to tolerate food before and during a run.
Most runners prefer to eat at least 30 minutes to an hour before they run to lessen the chance of cramps and stomach upset during the run. But, food eaten even five minutes beforehand can still get digested while you run, as long as you are running at a pace you can maintain for more than 30 minutes.
During the run
Each runner tolerates different foods and drinks during arun, and each runner will need a different amount of fuel. Consuming between 100-250 calories of carbohydrates per hour after the first hour of exercise will help you to maintain a normal blood sugar level, and enhance performance.There are a variety of engineered foods such as GUs, and sports beans to choose from. But real food works just as well, and it can be less expensive. Examples:
--dried fruit such as dates or raisins,
--candy like jellybeans or Swedish fish.
Also, as your runs get longer, you may find you need a few different options because it can be difficult to consume GU gels for 3 hours. Again, testing out different combinations and seeing how your stomach tolerates it is an important part of training.
The most important thing to remember is that training is the time for trial and error and you want to have if figured out by race day to avoid any surprises!
What is your favorite way to fuel your runs? Have you found that certain foods work better for you than others?