August 6, 2012

What to eat before, during, and after long runs

First, thanks so much for all of your e-support after that crapster run this weekend. You all are what I love about the blogging community! Supportive, friendly, encouraging, helpful. And you've been there.

It's been a long time since I posted anything even slightly informative in any way, unless you count the various poopcidents I've recounted to you, but after this weekend's rendezvous with death (or feeling like death) during my long run, I decided to remind myself about nutrition while running. So what I learn, I share with the people.

Before you run

Um, especially when it's blazing outside, definitely drink and eat before your run.

According to Advanced Marathoning (my new running bible), you should eat about 200 to 500 calories. I usually eat a Clif Builder Bar because they are super easy to grab and eat on the go, and I can buy them in bulk. They are 270 calories, so they fit the calorie range.

I wish Costco sold the chocolate mint ones in bulk. Heaven in a seafoam green wrapper.


Advanced Marathoning also said to drink a pint (two cups, y'all) of fluid before your run. The ideal time for these is a few hours before the run, but I've experimented with times closer to an hour before the run (for both eating and drinking), and my system handled it well.

Run Less, Run Faster uses the following formula:

(hours before race)x(body weight in pounds)=(number of  calories to eat)

So if a 150-lb person wakes up at 4:30 a.m. for their 5:30 a.m. run, this would be their formula:

1x150=150 calories

It's getting super complex up in here.

While you run

On my shorter, weekday runs, I just drink water. On my weekend long runs, I have to kick it up a notch to avoid a dazed shuffle at the end.

Your body has about 90 minutes of stored carbs, according to RLRF, but start eating and drinking earlier than that so that you don't empty out your storage.

I think of it like toilet paper. If I wait until the last roll to go out and buy more, somebody in this house is going to be unhappy in a big way.

An easy way to get calories while running is through some type of sporty drink, dried fruit, gels, gummies, or other delicious and non-crumbly food. During my dream run in Kentucky two weeks ago, I tried Shot Bloks and loved the fire out of them. I liked that they came in small chunks so that every time I thought about eating, I could just take one. With gels, I am constantly trying to time it right so that I don't have half a pack of gel oozing out in my shorts pockets.

Neon Blonde Runner just posted a link to the Portman Calculator (go visit her for excellent step-by-step instructions on how to use it), which you can help you figure out how much fluid and calories you need for a run.

Portman Calculator

I punched in numbers from my Kentucky dream run, and according to the calculator, I should have had 197 calories and 20 oz. of water. The Shot Bloks I ate were 200 calories (right on the money for what the calculator wanted me to have!), and I drank 48 oz. of water. I think on a cool day, 20 oz might have been enough, but I definitely needed every drop of that 48 oz for that hot, humid summer run. So adjust fluid intake accordingly.

The site is a super great way to geek out on running numbers.

After you run

My new favorite post-run drink is a frozen banana blended in chocolate milk. Cold, refreshing, delicious, superb, my new best friend. Did I mention that I love it?

Basically, you have 30 minutes after you run when your body is working hardest to resynthesize glycogen (even more major geeking out on this topic found here), which is a great time to chug something like chocolate milk. Then you have a two-hour window to get in some more substantial food (think something with nutritional value) to help aid your recovery. I love bagel sandwiches with egg, ham, spinach, cheese and a sprinkle of chia seeds.

Something like this.

From Ratty Gourmet

And outside of the long run, these are some of my more general nutrition goals:


  • Drink a haul of water. I have large plastic cups that I fill up during the day to drink at home and a 32-oz water bottle that I take in the car with me. At the gym, I always, always have a water bottle. Just having it around me at all times encourages me to drink.
  • Eat a fruit and veggie with every meal. And make veggies easily accessible, like preparing a veggie tray for you and your family to snack on all day. If it's in front of you, you will eat it. The same is 100% true for kids. They will eat what you put in front of them (unless you put a cupcake right beside the veggie tray). 
  • Limit sweets. This one is the hardest for me and the biggest downfall of my nutrition overall. You aren't hungry for vitamin-rich foods when you eat a Nutella sandwich for breakfast. 
  • Take a multivitamin. Even though I would much rather get my nutrients from food, I have had issues with iron deficiency that taking a multivitamin seems to help.


Eating well is so important to performing your best! And after my death march experience on Saturday, I can definitely say that I will be trying even harder to remember that on my next long run, which is hopefully my 20 miler this weekend.

So go get some kale and saute up some good racing mojo!

What are some of your nutrition goals? 

Please share any of your successful long-run fueling tips! 

19 comments:

  1. For my long runs I always have Nuun with me. I like the Clif Bloks, a lot, but this weekend I'll be testing out Vega energy gel because they're less chemically! :-) Nice info here!

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    1. Just trying Nuun for the first time. Which flavors do you like? And I've never heard of Vega. Guess who's going to be googling that one!:)

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  2. Thanks for sharing this. I still have a lot to learn about fueling for long runs. During I always have my GU chomps but I'm not very consistent with what I eat before and after.

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  3. I am all over that Portman thingamajig. I did not drink enough for last weekend's 20. I reloaded at 12 but had the whole wad gone by 18 miles. Need to figure this out.

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    1. I agree! If only I could put information into practice.

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  4. Great Info!!! I am way too lazy to start doing math computations before a run so I just eat a cliff bar before any run in the 10 mile range. If it's going to be more like a 15 miler, I eat a bagel, a banana and a cliff bar and I always try to hydrate the day BEFORE the run do I'm not all water logged the day of. I always refuel with fruit and water and then start grazing on whatever I can find but I find that fruit is great because it;s quick, natural sugar and it goes in fast:)

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  5. Very helpful information...thank you! I either have a Clif bar or PowerBar before my long run. I have 1 bottle of Gatorade and 1 bottle of water for my long runs too. Sweets are my biggest downfall...and pizza, lol.

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    1. Do you like Papa John's? I just saw that they had a half off promo code, SUMMER50. Expires 8/12. I'm ordering.:)

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  6. What a great reminder. I tend to have a very bad habit of running & refueling on empty... i get caught up doing things right away afterwards and I don't like running with food in my stomach. So I know that's not good for me!

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  7. TWINNNNNN! Love it.

    This was a great post. Great minds think alike ;)

    But in all seriousness, this was helpful, I've been trying to figure out how much to eat before runs. I'm going to do a follow up post or two on this topic--- I found some good info on post-run eating too.

    Frozen banana, yummmmm

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  8. I love Advanced Marathoning!! Isn't it the best book ever!?

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  9. Great advice. Maybe it will save me from more sucktastic runs. Apparently it was going around this past weekend.

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  10. Totally random...but I got my Foot Rubz today! Ahhhh! I have have happy feet. :) Might have to go buy another, because hubby STOLE it. Thanks again! :)

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  11. Soooo informative! Now, do you have a link to that guy who recommends 8 beers before the run and 12 after?

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  12. This is really useful...I need to read this again in more detail before my next long run!! I like to drink diluted apple juice on my runs. I've tried nuun and other electrolyte drinks and I just hate the taste. I've decided that the sugars from the apple juice will do the trick. And so far, no dramatic fail. And I've discovered chocolate Gu which is just about heaven. I have worked out that I need two in a 12 miler (one at 7/8, one at 10/11). I tried to take a third during my Half, but couldn't face it!!

    I'm not convinced about chocolate milk, but had a glass of milk after an evening long run a few weeks ago and that was spot on!!

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  13. I have been having a hard time with this. As a runner training for a my first marathon, I'm a bit large (I'm 5'11, have had 4 babies in 6 years, and weigh about 170.) I'm trying to drop about 15 more lbs while wrestling through the training. Normally, my body responds poorly to carbs...as in stores them all up in my booty. But, I can't make it past 10 miles without bonking if I don't have some carbs in the meals leading up to it....So, I eat pretty lean and green most days...eat a little bit of carbs tues night before the semi-long run wed. Friday night I try some whole grain carbs...saturday long run day...I eat a bar or banana, GU at mile 9, and shot blocks or more GU at mile 12 or 13...On Saturday, I eat pretty much whatever I feel like...Sunday it's back to protein, smoothies, salads, etc. This plan seems to be working...my jeans are falling off, but I still have energy for the longer runs. (Tootallfritz assisted me with this plan.)

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  14. Love this post, thank you for the helpful information in a language I understand!

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  15. Pre-long run I usually go with my staple: toast w/pb and raisins. During the long run, alternate water, some kind of electrolyte drink nuun or powerade zero, and a gel or 2, depending on the distance. I have found my post run heaven, iced coffee with Choc milk. Read somewhere that mixing about 8 oz caffeine w/ a carb drink (like Choc milk) will speed recovery. And freaking tastes delicious!

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  16. Great post, nutrition and hydration is HARD!! I was bewildered at myself last spring when I found myself still struggling with it training for my 4th marathon.
    It takes a lot of experimenting to get it down!

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