A few days ago in our Chat, a fellow subscriber posted this question:
“Hi THM community — any advice on how to avoid legs losing strength after about 3 hours of running. Does a specific meal before a long run help? (Training for a marathon in late October — in all my past marathon attempts, I’ve had to slow down in the 4th hour and then walk-run after 5 hours to finish the last 3 miles).”
This got me wondering, as I know it’s something I’ve thought a lot about, researched and read up on some, and yet still feel overwhelmed by the amount of information out there around what to eat for running — in terms of, what can we eat the day before a long run or a race, to ensure we feel our best when we’re out there doing it?
When I played soccer in high school, our coach constantly preached the gospel of complex carbs — he wanted us eating pasta, as much as possible, the night before a game. But that was a long time ago, and nutrition science (I’m sure) has brought new ideas to the fore since then.
What do you eat — whether it’s during training or the day/night before a big run — so you’ll feel strong and energetic for your run? — Terrell
I'm so glad you posted this. Fueling as a deliberate part of my training is something that I really want to learn more about over the next six months or so.
I already incorporate a lot of starches (especially rice or potatoes) in my day to day nutrition. For shorter morning runs, I go for toast or crackers with peanut butter. I don't really like gu or gels -- I'll carry mini Kind bars and mint lifesavers for fuel.
I like sushi the day before a long run. But when I do a half marathon, I'm usually traveling so my pre-race dinner is usually steak and baked potato with salad so I don't have surprise gut issues.
If I am out more than an hour or doing fierce speed work I have oatmeal with my morning coffee. I also bring Haribo gummies or cliff shots on runs longer than 90 minutes. My nutrient timing needs to occur about every 75 minutes, but less fuel than what packets of gels recommend so I go for chewable
Yes those are the ones…Extreme Sport Beans…they are so tasty too!
I like to take dry figs with me as a substitute for the gels. Figs are a great natural carbohydrate fuel source. I also tend to get leg cramps on longer runs and my son in law recommended that I drink pickle juice for that. 🤮 But it worked! Pickle juice is filled with electrolytes Potassium and Sodium. I buy at the dollar tree those clear travel shampoo bottles and fill it with pickle juice. I put them in the freezer so that by the time i start feeling the leg cramps( for me it’s after mile 10) it’s not frozen but cold and that helps because drinking pickle juice is gross but drinking hot pickle juice is very gross. For me it’s like that Would you Rather Game my grandkids play. Would you rather take a quick pickle juice shot or suffer for a long time with leg cramps. I’ll pick the pickle juice :)
Thank you for the insight and a smile to my face. Since a pr for me is around 5 hours plus in a marathon, breaks are key to my health and sanity. When I train with my running partner I place water,gu, gator aide and fruit at about 5 miles. We will plan our routes to hit the water at least twice on 10 plus training runs. For us it’s like a game to place the treats in the perfect spot. The reason I enjoyed the thought is because when your injured it’s the little things you miss.
Lots of podcasts delve into fueling for a run, short or long. Exactly what to eat and even during the race. I know gels are a big thing. But definitely research it!
I don’t eat anything before races at home but will munch on a bagel pre marathons. I’ve never done any of the Gu etc but did find these jelly beans that are awesome!
I order a sushi sashimi platter and consume the entire thing all by myself. Pure lean protein and carbs are my go-to the night before. Morning of, usually a banana and/or spoonful of peanut butter. Gu if necessary during the race.
Nutrition for long-distance running is so important and something that I take seriously. I don't typically do anything special the night before for my regular weekend long runs (10-20miles). For breakfast I'll have a banana and oatmeal, as well as fuel w/ Skratch chews and Gu gels every 30mins during my run. For race prep, I have a meal plan for the whole week leading up to the race, making sure to load up on dark leafy green and fruits early in the week (nitrates in things like kale, arugula, beets & chard help blood flow to the heart, and increase the muscles' ability to access energy during hard efforts). Lean proteins (chicken, salmon, legumes, eggs) all week will repair and build muscle from all the training you've done! And I will start loading on the complex carbs on Weds (whole grain pastas, sweet potato, bread, tortillas, rice, etc) eating my last (raw) fruit or vegetable at lunch 2 days prior to race morning. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate all WEEK, not just the day before. I have yet (knock on wood) to have any stomach issues or 'dead legs' (from fueling) in the runs/ races I have done in the 5 - 10hr range. In my opinion, the nutrition factor needs to be happening as part of the running lifestyle, for maximum running benefit. And then you feel awesome all the time! Yay!
I went all in on the Maurten products (which are a little pricey but I've found them to be worth it). I take a bar/drink mix 3 hours before my run and then just follow the fueling guidelines. It feels a little weird not to eat anything if I just do the drink mix but I ran 22 miles last week and didn't feel hungry before or during really.
Thanks so much for all this feedback, super helpful! I’m doing the Parks 1/2 M on Sunday ..will definitely try carb loading today and tomorrow (I typically do pasta only night before) and maurten gels which I’ve never tried (GU and Gatorade don’t do the trick for me). If all goes well (1/2 M is relatively ok to handle for me) repeat for the MCM in 7 weeks.
It’s still so hot to train though.. good luck with the weekend running everyone!
Night before pizza and beer. Morning of, English muffin with peanut butter and jelly washed down with tea. That’s powered me for 38 years of half marathons.
This has been such a complicated topic for me because you hear so many different things and heavens forbid you’re seeing a nutritionist I get so overwhelmed. I am also training for a half my first ever and I’m a slow runner so eating for me is a big deal even more so to avoid bonking out. A lot of good tips here to try!!!
If you are just looking at the night before, you are limiting your ability to fuel properly for a long run. As one is training for a marathon it is best to eat more carbs regularly, rather than to carb load the day before. This helps to ensure adequate glycogen stores throughout the week to support the entire week's worth of training. I have found that eating a high carb meal, such as a pasta dinner 2 days prior to the long effort works best. For me, eating a plate of pasta the night before can cause some unexpected potty breaks. During the run fuel early and often. As a rule on long runs I take a gel every 3-4 miles. When I was training for Berlin I started using the Maurten products and find them to be quite good. The day prior to a long run I will have a 320 drink in the afternoon. The morning of I have a 160 drink before I run and then the gels mentioned above. This fueling strategy has worked very well for me. Also get some electrolytes in there if you can. That can help a lot too.
Typically I will carb load for 2 days leading up to a race. Thai food and pizza are my preferred go to's. Morning of race is more challenging. How do you balance feeding the machine and avoiding an unwanted forced pit stop due to an upset stomach? I will usually drink some powder electrolytes (like Gnarly hydrate) and force myself to eat some protein bars early since I dont usually eat before 10 am. Then, take whatever is offered during the race. Sometimes 2. :)
I ‘discovered’ UCAN at the SF Marathon (half) and have used it ever since. Pasta deliciousness the night before a big event, then 10 oz UCAN an hour before race start and then every ~1.5 hours. I love that they have little gel packs now so I don’t have to carry extra water bottles for refueling! At the local marathons, my mom drove around to meet me at spots along the course with a fresh bottle -- like a pro runner, just much slower 🤣 That said, I have an iron stomach, so I am a running omnivore and happy to grab whatever weird stuff people are handing out on the street 🍩🥞🌮🍕🧁🥒🥨
I eat a big pasta meal the night before races / long runs, but I find that fueling well during the run makes a big difference for me too. Gels are great, but I also like those little applesauce pouches made for toddlers (lol), graham crackers, little bags of salty chips, chocolate or candy, and little squeeze packs of peanut butter or nutella. I've only done halfs, not a full marathon (yet!) but eating something really small every ~40-60 mins through the race has helped me a lot!
Do you eat before running? And how long so you wait after eating to start running?
For long runs, I try to prepare a day or two in advance by upping carbs almost to marathon carb loading level. That means eating a lot of calories in the days prior but I find if I don't then it makes that run even rougher. Like you, I'm a high 4, low 5 hour marathoner and train in Florida. I ran yesterday afternoon for an hour 20 and it was brutal. Not a fan of 5 am wakeups but when it has to be done, it has to be done. All that being said, I fuel long runs with Maurten, switching between regular and caffeine every 30 minutes, I carry an 18oz bottle with LMNT and refill that every hour or so. This does 2 things for me. It gets my gut ready for these runs and I'm used to the fueling. Hoping all of this helps me next month in Chicago to a PB. Keep up the good work. Fueling is key.
I don’t really change my diet much anymore (I’m 72) and only run halfs not full marathons anymore. Before a race it’s peanut butter on whole wheat toast and a couple of gels (usually chocolate) during the race. Seems to get me through.
I usually run first thing in the morning (it’s already too hot at 5am here in FL), so it makes it even harder!! My body needs a LOT of fuel to be able to run, even slowly. If I do a tortilla with banana, cinnamon, honey, and pb first thing, shove down half a bagel 15 minutes later, and then get going I am usually good to go. Always bring gels if I’mma be gone more than 90 minutes tho
Such an important question! I try to consciously eat more carbs for a few days before an event but I usually don’t eat rice or pasta so I don’t even follow my own advice. Especially for women it’s important to fuel up about 2 hours before the event, a balance of protein, carbs and fat. During a long run, I use Maurten gel. It’s fantastic. Highly recommend. Nutrition cannot be underemphasized.