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What to Eat Before and After a Long Run

Hey friends! I’m back with more sports nutrition info to help out with your marathon training long runs! Last time we talked about how to fuel a long run during the run. Today we’ll get into what to eat before and after a long run! Getting energy in during a long run is important to make sure you can cover the distance successfully, but eating the right things before and after are necessary for optimal performance and recovery. Read on for nutrition Q & A and some of my best recipes for before and after a long run!

Do I Really Need to Eat Before a Long Run?

I often hear from clients that they run on an empty stomach because they’re not hungry for a big meal first thing in the morning, or because eating breakfast upsets their stomach during a run. Without any fuel before a long run, though, you’re likely to bonk. (Even for short runs, I’d still recommend having a little something – as simple as half a banana with a smear of nut butter – beforehand to help with energy levels and performance.)

Eating before a long run serves a couple purposes. For one, it gives your body some blood sugar to work with as fuel. Think of it like filling up the gas tank in your car – you’re nearing empty after not eating overnight, and while you can make it for a little before you’re out of fuel, you’ll want to top it off so that you can go as far as possible without worry. 

You don’t need to eat a ton before you head out for your long run, but providing your body with a small amount of fuel is important. This is where it’s necessary to listen to your body and test things out as you go through your longer training runs – some people do great eating a slice of toast with nut butter 5 minutes before heading out the door, while others need an hour to digest half a banana or else they’ll cramp up.

MY OTHER RECIPES
 

how to fuel before and after a long run

What Should I Eat Before a Long Run?

You’ll want to aim for a pre-run meal that is lower in fat, protein, and fiber, which all slow digestion, and higher in simple carbs, which are digested quickly. I always joke that running fuel is the opposite of what I’d normally recommend – but eating a meal with lots of fiber, protein, and fat is likely to upset your stomach once you start moving.

I like eating a slice of toast with a thin layer of nut butter and a sliced banana before long runs. The carbs give me a boost of energy, and the fat and protein from the nut butter are enough to keep me satisfied without making my stomach hurt. A few handfuls of low-fiber cereal or a few nut butter stuffed salty dates would work well, too.

Do I Really Need to Eat After a Long Run?

Every time you exercise, your body breaks down muscle fibers and creates tiny tears in your muscles. Then, during recovery, your body repairs these tiny tears and actually strengthens your muscle fibers for the next time you exercise – that’s essentially how you get stronger as you keep exercising. However, repairing and rebuilding your muscles requires adequate nutrition. If you restrict calories after a long run, your muscles won’t be adequately repaired and you risk weak bones and stress fractures!

After you exercise, you have about a 30-45 minute window before your body starts working to rebuild your muscles in recovery mode. That’s when you’ll want to replenish energy so that your body can recover effectively. If you wait too long to eat or forgo post-run fuel, you’ll be forfeiting a lot of the muscle strengthening you could be getting out of your workouts!

how to refuel from a long run

What Should I Eat After a Long Run?

After a workout, it’s important to replenish carbs and protein in particular. Your body uses up glucose and glycogen (the body’s storage form of carbohydrates) while you work out, so it’s important to replenish blood sugar. Your body uses protein to rebuild your muscles during recovery mode, so getting protein in during that 30-45 minute window is also necessary to make sure your recovery is effective. Aim for roughly a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein for after a workout. Chocolate milk (which I’m pictured enjoying below after a fun Chapel Hill run way back in the day – I miss being able to run to a creamery!) has that perfect carb to protein ratio, or a smoothie with fruit and milk could work too! If you feel queasy right after a long run, try liquid nutrition first, then aim for a full meal after you shower and clean up. For the rest of the day, return to a normal balanced diet, keeping in mind that you’ll need more calories to replenish those lost during your long workout!

chocolate milk after a long run

Favorite Pre-Run Recipes:

Favorite Post-Run Recipes:

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll also love my Nutrition for Runners program! Get started for FREE here

More running related blog posts:

What are your favorite things to eat before and after a long run?

Comments

  1. 1

    Thanks for the great information, Anne! I’m training for my first half marathon (Rock n Roll Nashville) so I’m loving learning more about sports nutrition. Have a great weekend :)

  2. 3

    I love a bagel with nut butter before a long run and something salty (often cheesey eggs) after!

  3. 5

    this smart and helpful, thanks anne.

  4. 6

    when I ran a lot, I always had oats post workout- a HUGE bowl did the trick to refuel my body! My mom is a big runner and she usually does bananas and toast pre run!

  5. 7
    Roadrunner says:

    Excellent advice, Anne, thanks!

  6. 8

    Such great information – I never tend to eat before a run but am starting to think I need to!
    Izzy

  7. 9

    Hey, some great info!!
    I’ve recently started seriously training for a half marathon, hopefully I am able to reach that goal this year.

    Just started documenting my ideas and stuff on my own blog. Love this!

  8. 10

    As a keen runner myself, this is a great and accurate post! Thanks Anne, Val x

  9. 11

    It’s really important of what to eat before and after the long run as it affects a lot, but not many people know this. Thanks you for spreading the information. Love your blog by the way!

  10. 12

    I always find bananas and cherries are great for me so I was pleased to see these in your ingredients list Anne!

  11. 13

    I typically can’t work out/run until after my little family eats dinner and we put our toddler down for the night. I’m always unsure if I should refuel with something afterward, even though it’s too late for me to be really hungry. Do you have any advice for if I should have more protein afterwards? Thank you!

  12. 15

    I’ve pretty much got rid of all pre-workouts and energizer fuels in my life except for UCAN, that is my number one recommendation for anyone who asks me what to eat before they workout! Post workout so many people down a protein shake but miss carbs which are ESSENTIAL to your recovery! Love the recipes can’t wait to try them!

  13. 16
    Roadrunner says:

    More excellent tips! Thank you!

  14. 17

    I know it varies for each person, but how long before a long run or a race would you eat toast/pb& banana? I can never figure out the timing on it!

    • 18

      I would do some trial and error to see what works for you, but for me, I usually eat about 30 to 45 minutes before I start my long runs. On weekdays, when I’m having something smaller and doing a short run, I often eat 15 to 20 minutes before I run.

Trackbacks

  1. […] As training for spring races is ramping up, I wanted to post today about something that I get a lot of questions about: how to fuel a long run! Whether you’re new to distance running or have been running long distances for years, it’s important to understand how to keep your body fueled properly so you can go the distance. Read on for some running nutrition Q&A – and my best real food fueling recipes! And don’t miss my other main fueling blog post: what to eat before and after a long run. […]

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