Proper Fueling Before a Long Run

As a runner it’s important that you learn to fuel your body properly.

When you start running longer distances, like marathon training calls for, it becomes even more critical that you know what, when, and how to fuel your body.

Eat too little and you may “bonk” half-way through your run. Eat too much and you may be plagued with stomach cramps. Here are some tips for knowing how to fuel.

Here are 3 Guidelines for Fueling Before a Long Run

If you will be running 60 minutes or less: The body has enough fuel stored up in your muscles. Don’t worry about eating before your run. You should be fine just carrying water for hydration (unless you’ll be working really hard and it’s a hot day).

If you will be running for 60-90 minutes: Again, you should have enough fuel available to not have to eat before running. Carry a sports drink to provide hydration and energy.

If you will be running for 90 min+: You should fuel before running. Try eating a small carbohydrate meal of 200-300 calories 3 hours before running. (I personally like the tasty combo of banana and energy bar).

Carry sports drink, gels, or other forms of fuel with you to provide energy on the go. Make sure you start to re-fuel with a combination of carbohydrate and protein within 30 minutes of finishing your run.

My motto on fueling for long runs is . . .

Practice, practice, practice. Some people have “iron” stomachs and some runners are extra sensitive. Long runs are the time to figure out what works best for your system. Don’t do anything new on race day.

What do you like to eat/fuel with before a long run?


24 Responses to Proper Fueling Before a Long Run

  1. Trevor April 15, 2011 at 6:46 pm #

    I like the Power Bars you used to keep stocked in our cupboard. They helpled me enjoy my long run before it even began.

    You should take my hard earned paycheck and buy us some more of those!

  2. Courtney April 15, 2011 at 7:06 pm #

    I have been practicing with shot bloks and tried jelly beans last week (15 miles…took about 3 hrs 20 min. I’m slow, but the combined 30 mph winds and hills made me REALLY SLOW. 😉 ) I have found as long as you carry water to follow them up with they work pretty well. Gels used to cause what angie has called “gastric distress” haha, but no problems so far with these. Some even come with caffeine to give you a boost when you’re tired!

  3. Mary Coffelt April 15, 2011 at 7:25 pm #

    I carry a hydration belt for my long runs. I have found that I like the GU electrolyte drink. Light on the stomach. Gatorade is a bit to heavy for me. I take in energy gels at 50 mins into a long run and every 50 mins throughout the run.

  4. Mike April 15, 2011 at 7:54 pm #

    A peanut butter, banana & honey sandwich with a cup of coffee before a long run does the trick for.

    • Trevor C April 27, 2011 at 1:05 pm #

      I gotta go with Mike on this a PB. Banana and Honey sandwich is my favorite with a strong cup of coffee and an apple juice to help with the athsma.

      Oddly enough a pint of Guiness the night before doesn’t seem to hurt either.

      • Mark May 4, 2011 at 7:31 pm #

        I have athsma myself and I haven’t heard of apple juice helping? Any info on that would be great. Right now I’m training for the Chicago marathon. Breathing is always something that I have struggled with during my runs.

        • Angie May 8, 2011 at 9:24 pm #

          Hey Mark,
          There was a study out of the U.K. a couple years ago that found that drinking apple juice may prevent some of the symptoms of asthma (mainly wheezing). It is thought that this is due to the phytochemical flavonoid contained in apple juice (and some other foods). Worth a try, I guess. Good luck with your training!

          • Sarah June 10, 2011 at 8:05 pm #

            Intersting, I’ll have to try it. I have found coffee works-theobromine or methylxanthine or something.

  5. Erin April 16, 2011 at 12:29 am #

    My ritual is quinoa pancakes (gluten free). Especially good with banana, berries and pumpkin/sunflower seeds mixed in the batter. I make a big batch once a week and pop them in the toaster oven in the mornings. Two of those with some almond butter before my long runs works great. Then Gu every 30 minutes on the run, along with either water or coconut juice.

  6. Rob April 16, 2011 at 6:08 am #

    I’m still experimenting with the ‘best’ pre-long run food. I seem to have good success with a small whole-wheat bagel with peanut butter. For added sweetness, I add a few blackberries, blueberries, or strawberries instead of jelly.

    During the runs, I’ve been refueling with Gu (w/caffeine) and water from a fuel belt. The issue I’m having is that I run out of water before I’m finished with the run. One solution that seems to be working is strategically planting a water bottle somewhere that I can grab during my homeward bound leg of a there-and-back. We’ll see how it goes for my 13-miler today…

  7. Scott April 16, 2011 at 7:24 am #

    I eat Pop-Tarts 45 min or so before the long run. It works for me, some solid carbs, some sugar. For the LONG long runs I’ll add wholegrain cereal or even white powedered donuts. I don’t do anything special for regular weekday runs.
    When I get into the higher mileage of the long runs, I suck on Jolly Ranchers and use a gel that has a 4::1 ratio with protien in it every 45 minutes. With all of the excitement of a race I have a problem remembering to gel, so I’ll marksalot the 6 or 8 times to take them.

  8. Michael April 18, 2011 at 3:43 pm #

    I make a trail mix of dried chopped dates, craisins, and currents. I get such a boost from this combo. I also carry Powarbars. I have tried GU but get such a stomach ache.

  9. Stephanie April 19, 2011 at 10:33 am #

    Oatmeal! is my favorite before a full marathon or long run. It totally keeps me going.

  10. Trevor April 20, 2011 at 2:31 pm #

    Wow! After reading all these comments I can see that we have a very eclectic group of runners.

    From Pop Tarts and white powdered donuts to quinoa pancakes, chopped dates, and craisins!

  11. Sue Cameron April 22, 2011 at 4:06 am #

    What on earth is a pop- tart! Sounds like desert in a toaster not breakfast. This Aussie girl is stuck on vegemite on toast mmmmmm.
    Also, could someone explain what marathon pace is when l have my first marathon loomng in July?


  12. Erin April 25, 2011 at 8:29 am #

    My fool-proof pre-run meal is always a banana and some gatorade with an antacid. Water gives me heartburn and that is NOT fun to have during a run!
    I tried the “Gu” during a long run and it was more like “GooBeGone!” So I think I’ll stick my nanas.

  13. Michael April 26, 2011 at 11:49 am #

    No more chopped dates, craisins and currents for me. I wondered why I had so much bloating on my 20 mile run. I figured this out after listening to one of your podcasts. Powerbars for me on May 1st; The Flying Pig.

    • Angie April 26, 2011 at 7:51 pm #

      Sounds like a good plan Michael. Fiber is a great thing, just not right before a race or long run 🙂 Good luck with your race this weekend!

  14. Alex April 27, 2011 at 1:23 pm #

    My long runs are between 1.5-2 Hours. I do not like to eat before my runs. My long runs are Saturday morning’s. I just make sure to eat a good meal the night before. On my runs i take (1) 16oz bottle of water (hand Held) and 1 16oz with Sports drink(on waist belt). I have been experimenting with gels.

  15. Julie August 16, 2011 at 7:45 am #

    I eat an whole wheat english muffin with peanut butter and banana and a cup of coffee with 2 oz. of skim milk about 45 minutes before my run, and refuel with a dried fruit bar during my 2 to 2.5 hour runs.

  16. Mallory November 8, 2011 at 4:53 pm #

    I’m running a 12 miiler this weekend, and I’m wondering if I should be gellin’ it up! I’ve never done it before, nor have I ever fueled during a run. I strategically plant Gatorade, but that’s it. I’m nervous about the stomach aches I’ve been hearing about. Any tips on that?

    • Angie November 8, 2011 at 5:08 pm #

      Hey Mallory. For a run of greater than 90 minutes you’ll definitely need some form of carbohydrate calories. Check out our podcast “Don’t Make These Fueling Mistakes” and “Interview with Steve Born” for some more great info.

  17. Kim December 14, 2011 at 9:26 am #

    I can’t eat before I run, I always try and then I get a stitch or my stomache hurts. I need to not listen to other people and listen to my body.

    Love the podcast!

    • Angie December 17, 2011 at 1:53 pm #

      Thanks Kim. You definitely need to find what works for you and stick with it. All the best as you pursue your running goals.

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