“Food is fuel”
Ah, food. One of my favorite topics. It nourishes our bodies and keeps us alive. It’s delicious and a key part of numerous social events. It also fuels our workouts and aids in recovery of the tough ones.
Last week, my friend, Trav, embarked on his longest run prior to an upcoming half marathon. With 12 miles on the plan Saturday morning, he asked my advice for what he should eat to help him make it through. Naturally, I was happy to provide my two cents.
On many occasions, I’ve had people ask me what to eat the morning of a run, and also what they should eat the night before a race.
As food is perhaps the most important choice you make before a long run or race – the morning of and the night before – I decided it would be a great topic for this month’s Q&A series.
Q: Why should I eat before a run or race?
A: The basic answer is to eat something that you know won’t upset your stomach, and is enough to fuel your needs without making you feel heavy. Some people focus on fat or protein, while most stick to the tried-and-true carb-load strategy. No matter which you choose, food plays a major role in how well we perform in endurance runs.
The most important piece of advice I can give to everyone is experiment and find what works for you. That said, don’t do this experimenting and try something new or wild the night before a your big race. You might wind up with stomach trouble throwing off your entire run.
Here are three each of my top meal suggestions.
The night before:
The right pre-run dinner serves a two-fold purpose: it sits well, leaving you feeling satisfied but not bloated, and it provides proper fuel rich in carbs and some protein. There are three I’ve found that strike a perfect balance.
1. Pasta and Garlic Bread
There’s a reason pasta is synonymous with pre-race dinner. This is my classic night- before-a-marathon dinner and I’ve been doing it for years because it has worked well for me. I typically combine spinach-based pasta noodles (not wheat-based) with zucchini noodles, add a few extra veggies, and finish with a red sauce. Carnivores, you could add the meat of your choice. I top it off with two small slices of garlic bread. This one is the heaviest and most carb-rich of my favorites so I typically reserve it for my biggest long runs when my metabolism is at its peak, and the night before a marathon.
Pizza-lovers rejoice – this food favorite is a great pre-run meal as long as you keep it light. There are so many variations of pizza you can do, from lighter lavosh crust to regular (I’d avoid super thick or deep-dish style), to various meat and veggies. In addition to keeping the crust light, I also recommend going light on cheese and sticking to a basic tomato sauce.
3. Breakfast for Dinner
Eggs, potatoes, and toast or frozen waffles with peanut butter. I’ve found this one, packed with more protein, is the least substantial and carb-rich of the three so it’s not enough for me during marathon season. But, it has proven to be great the night before lower mileage long runs or a 10k race.
The morning of:
Again, everyone’s stomach is different so experiment with your morning fuel on shorter runs to find what works. It’s best to allow at least an hour and a half or more between eating and racing to ensure everything has time to settle.
It’s probably the one you knew was coming and with good reason. Bananas are friendly on most stomachs and provide good carbs without feeling heavy.
2. Toast with Peanut Butter
Another that’s probably not a huge surprise again, because of its ability to digest easily in most of our guts. The peanut butter adds the slow energy release that helps sustain you through the miles.
p.s. This was my recommendation to Trav before his 12-miler.
I personally like to combine the two above; two slices of wheat bread, a light dose of peanut butter, topped with half a banana, sliced. My favorite race-day breakfast.
3. Get or Energy Blocks
There are some who just can’t deal with food in their stomachs the morning of a race. Or, what if you oversleep and have less than an hour from the time you jump out of bed to the moment you step up to the start line? An energy gel or blocks are a great option for both of these scenarios. They offer a few calories, a kick of caffeine, and just enough substance so you’re not running on an empty tank.
With all of these scenarios and, especially with gels or blocks, make sure you’re drinking plenty of water. Happy running!
Do you have more questions about foods for runners? Or any questions about lifting, running, or working out in general? Submit your question to be answered in an upcoming blog by leaving a comment below or tweet me @runlikeagirl311 on Twitter.