Have you ever felt drained during the last couple of miles during your long run or you can’t keep your pace at mile 10 for a half marathon or mile 20 for a full marathon?
In this article, we will be taking a deep dive into how you can fuel for a long run with our Special Guest Kelley Breyer, dietitian and co-founder of Long Run Nutrition. I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelley during our Monday Night SPARK Live Show within the Healthy Runner CT group. Long Run Nutrition was founded by two registered dietitians with a passion to provide quality and sustainable nutrition information! We will be covering: What is considered proper nutrition, how to fuel before our runs, what we should eat/drink during long runs and how we refuel after our long runs.
If you are more of the visual and auditory learner, check out the LIVE interview we did within our Healthy Runner CT Facebook group by clicking the YouTube video below outlining everything that is in this article!
So, first off- what goes into proper nutrition specifically for a runner?
Think of your body as a car. What you put into it, is like the gas you put into a car. So if you want your car to last and drive long and drive far, you want to put in good gas. You don’t want to put in corn oil- you want to put in the best fuel. The best fuel would be carbohydrates, followed by protein and fat. There’s nothing special about it! Those three are the best things you can put in your body. Carbohydrates are your breads, pasta and rice, and fruit. These are going to give your muscles the energy to run faster and run longer. You brain also runs entirely on glucose which is considered a carbohydrate. Proteins are found in meat, fish, eggs and dairy. This is going to help repair your muscles and help you to perform better. Lastly, fats will help you to feel full, help with hormones and help to make your food to taste good. This includes nuts, seeds, avocados, egg yolks and full fat dairy. Kelly likes to tell her clients to have a full meal with all three of these included in it. This will help you to feel satisfied and full and help give you energy to perform at your best. Essentially, you’re looking to have balance in your nutrition in the same way you’re looking to have balance in you exercise. The trainings that you do for your runs are important – everything is important to help you be a well rounded runner, from your mobility training to your nutrition.
What should we be eating or drinking before our long runs or races?
We’re going to define our long run as anything longer than 90 minutes. This can mean something different for everyone – for one person that could 5 miles for another person it could be 12 miles.
The reason for this is that the glycogen stores (the glycogen stored in your muscle) will start to run out. You want to make sure you’re getting something in before your run so that you’re topping off those stores! So what should you be eating? Carbohydrates!
This is going to be the main part of your diet before your run. Depending how far in advance before your run you’re able to eat is going to determine how much you can eat and what you can eat. The recommendations are about 1 gram of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight per hour before your run. What does that mean? If you’re 55 kilograms, you would eat 55 grams of carbohydrates 1 hour before your run, 110 kilograms of carbohydrates 2 hours before you run, 165 of carbohydrates 3 hours before, etc. However, that’s just a recommendation and that’s a lot of food. Figure out what works with you! For example, I have a glass of orange juice prior to my 4:30am run. If I have a little more time, I’ll add half a bagel to it. You might want to have some oatmeal or peanut butter toast! The important thing is to get some carbohydrates into your system so they can get to your muscles! Some things you might want to avoid include fat because that won’t sit well in your stomach. Peanut butter and eggs are okay, but you wouldn’t want to have fries or a cheeseburger. Fiber is also something to avoid. You don’t want to be having a large salad or a bean burrito. This just to minimize any gastrointestinal issues during the run. Focus on those simple carbohydrates to have in your system to get you through your run!
If you are going out for a run within 30-60 minutes, we want to go with a more simple carbohydrate. Something that’s really easy to digest and that will go right to you muscles. Maybe this is fruit or juice or a GU. If you have a couple more hours, then do a slower digesting carb like oatmeal or whole wheat toast because this will take a little bit longer for your body to take it down.
A couple hours prior to the marathon, try to get that full balanced meal in. The protein will help you to feel full and will help your blood pressure from spiking too much. The protein will stimulate an insulin response which will actually bring those carbohydrates INTO your muscles!
What should we be doing during our races or long runs in terms of nutrition or hydration?
Anything longer than 90 minutes, you want to have between 30 and 90 grams of carbohydrates for every hour. For a half marathon, go closer to the 30 gram mark and for a full marathon go closer to the 90 gram mark but that would also be more of a larger person like a male. 30 grams of carbohydrates would be equivalent to one GU (approx. 25 grams) or large banana, a couple of dates or a LARABAR. You don’t have to eat it all at once! Every 15 minutes or so, eat a little bit so that over the hour you’re getting those 30 grams of carbohydrates. Again, you want to be minimizing the fats and fiber during your run and you really don’t need any protein. Just simple carbohydrates that will go directly to your muscles.
For fluid, it’s a wide range as well and it will be personalized to everyone. You want about 20 to 35 ounces of water per hour. If you’re not sure how much you need, you can do something called a sweat test which is basically where you test yourself before and after you run to see how much weight you lose during your run. Every pound that you lose, you need about 24 ounces of fluid to replace that and you don’t want to lose more than 2% of body weight. Some people sweat more than others, some people won’t need as much water as others. It’s all personal! Electrolytes are also important because when you sweat you’re losing a lot of sodium and potassium. This can cause muscle cramping, fatigue and stomach cramping. For this, you might want to add gatorade or pickles!
How important is it to eat after your long runs?
It’s Important! It’s important to get something good in to replenish your muscles following your run because if you don’t you might constantly be playing catch up. You might later on be realizing that you’re starving and that you just feel like you can’t catch up! You don’t need anything fancy or a huge meal but you want to be having something multi-carbohydrate with a little bit of protein. You want a 4 to 1 ratio! That means you might want a chocolate milk or a smoothie! You can even do a yogurt which is super quick. This is going to help replace stores you’ve lost in your muscles and help to repair your muscle and then a few hours later you can have your real meal once you’re hungry.
In terms of electrolytes, is it recommended to do pre, during or after?
It’s gonna depend on the person. Some people are “saltier” sweaters. Drinking electrolytes before, during and after isn’t going to hurt. It might not be 100% necessary, but it’s going to be dependent on the person. If you know it’s going to be hot, it’s recommended to drink electrolytes the whole day before your race. Have it in your with you the day of the race too. If you know it’s going to be on the course and you’ve tested it before, then drink it on the course.
What are your thoughts on caffeine? Before as well as during long runs?
In general, if you’re a caffeine drinker and you drink caffeine every day, it’s not going to help you. It’s not going to affect you because you’re already used to it and you’ve already built up a tolerance for it. A lot of professionals will cut out caffeine a few weeks prior to their race and then right before their race have some caffeine to give them a kick start! However, that sounds like a terrible two weeks with no caffeine! Use it if you like it but if you’ve already been drinking a lot of coffee/caffeine it’s not going to help you!
If we want to talk to you more, how could we reach you Kelley?
I’m always available in the Healthy Runner CT Facebook page!
You can also visit our website at www.longrunnutritionrd.com
We have office space in Hamden, CT at MultiSports Academy and we do virtual counseling as well!
If you’re in the greater Hamden, CT area and are a runner that has been dealing with injuries SPARK Physical Therapy can help. We’d love to chat for a few minutes and see if you are a good fit for what we do. Fill in this CONTACT REQUEST LINK and we’ll set up a free-minute phone consultation with a doctor of physical therapy
Thank you for taking the time to read,
– Duane Scotti, PT, DPT, PhD, OCS
A special thanks goes out to Kelley Breyer for providing the content for this article and Allie Eldridge, SPT for her editing work.
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“I developed IT band syndrome during my first marathon training cycle last year and ended up in physical therapy for about 3 months. I was told not to run if I had any pain at all. I lost so much time “recovering” that I ended up deferring my registration to the next year. I spent the next summer training for the same marathon when about 6 weeks out, that familiar IT band pain returned. I could barely finish a mile. I didn’t want to go back to my physical therapist because I knew what he was going to tell me. Stop running. I was so frustrated and started to feel like marathons weren’t for me. I stumbled upon the healthy runner podcast and learned that I don’t have to stop running in order to recover from injury! I was skeptical about an online physical therapy session. But I reached out to Dr. Scotti and he was able to give me the tools to mitigate my pain within the first session! I was able to complete my training cycle and made it to the finish line of my first marathon with his help! I highly recommend!”
“I’d been dealing with Proximal Hamstring Tendinopathy (PHT) for about 4 years and had been doing PT, but still had lingering pains. I just figured I’d have to suck it up and deal with it because that was as good as I was going to get. But then, I came across a podcast of Duane being interviewed by Jason Fitzgerald on PHT and how he overcame the injury, and my curiosity was piqued. I met with him virtually and he has been a GODSEND! I’m able to sit as I type this! I can bend over and get in and out of cars without pain! And, I’m RUNNING again!!! It is amazing to be able to do things that I haven’t been able to do without pain since 2016!!! Thank you so much Duane for being an incredible PT!!”
“I suffered from IT band syndrome for four years before seeing Dr. Scotti in April 2020. Before then, I couldn’t run more than about 10 minutes without stabbing pain near my left knee. I’d seen various orthopedists, physical therapists, and chiropractors looking for some relief. My career needed me to run a mile and a half within a certain amount of time, and it was impossible to do so with the knee pain. I saw Dr. Scotti and he immediately got to work! That first visit, he helped me understand the anatomy and underlying cause of my knee pain (aka IT Band syndrome). Once I understood what was happening, the course of treatment made so much sense. Not only did he have online videos of all the recommended exercises to treat the problem, his “healthy runner” Facebook group, Podcast, and YouTube videos held a wealth of information and supplemented my plan. I soon understood that running wasn’t just a casual hobby – it’s a sport and one that deserves dedication and focus. Without his dedication to the sport and his community, I wouldn’t have realized this! Over the next few months, I had many ups and downs – victories and failures – and even some tears! Two steps forward and one step back. Dr. Scotti always checked in between appointments and tweaked my plan if needed. By August, I was regularly running 3-4 miles with barely any pain! If I did get pain, it was because my dedication and focus were lacking – and I quickly picked it back up and overcame. I’m so thankful I took another chance at having my knee looked at and trusted someone else. I run regularly now and am really enjoying it. I can’t thank Dr. Scotti enough and would highly recommend him to anyone having trouble.”