Monday, August 17, 2015

My Long Run Nutrition

I've been learning a lot about diet and nutrition while training this year. Between training for the Soldier Field 10 Mile this spring and training for my first half marathon this summer, I've finally found what works best for me on long run/race days. I've been doing my research, talking to my training program's coaches and pacers, talking to friends who run or have backgrounds in nutrition. The tricky thing has finding out what works best for me because every body is different and what works for one person may not work for someone else.

As I mentioned in my last post, I learned the hard way that junk food = unhappy times. I really do notice a difference when I eat healthfully. I have more energy and just generally feel better when I'm eating real food: lean protein, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, etc. I've also figured out that eating smaller portions more often works better for me than trying to eat three large meals per day.

Figuring out what to eat before, during, and after a long run has been even trickier than figuring out what to eat the rest of the time. The night before a long run or race involves a simple, somewhat bland dinner. Nothing too spicy or heavy or greasy. I usually cook a simple meal of chicken with rice (sometimes couscous or pasta), and a small portion of vegetables.

My pre long run/race breakfast of choice at the moment is half a bagel with almond butter and a banana, though sometimes half a banana is all I need. Through trial and error, I've learned that I need to eat about 90 minutes to two hours before starting to run. Eating earlier = feeling hungry during my run. Eating later = upset stomach during my run.

During my long runs, I  usually carry a bottle of water, especially now, when high heat and humidity can't be escaped, no matter how early I run. And although the path I use for long runs has several water fountains during the first couple miles, they become pretty much non existent once I get far enough that I really need water. I also carry my own water during longer races, such as this spring's Soldier Field 10 Mile, because I don't trust aide stations not to run out before I reach them (one of the joys of being so slow).

Gatorade and other sports drinks tend to upset my stomach, so I stick to plain water. Because I don't drink sports drinks, I've been experimenting with salt tabs to help maintain salt/electrolytes during long runs this summer, and I have noticed a difference in how I feel during and after my long runs. I usually take one about 30 minutes before my run and then another capsule every 30 to 45 minutes during a run if it will last 90 minutes or more. This has worked well for me, so far, and the salt tabs don't upset my stomach even slightly, which is a big plus.

This summer, I've found that real food or candy works better for me than "running nutrition" such as chews and gels. I have wasted a lot of time and money figuring this out, spending most of the spring struggling to force down chews and gels, being convinced that something made for and marketed to runners was the best option. But in my case, they just make things worse. They work great for a lot of people, including most of the folks I'm training with, but they upset my stomach too much and too quickly to be of any use to me. I don't know about you, but I don't really want to spend most of my run fighting to keep down a couple of chews.

If I am going to use chews, then the Honey Stinger brand has been the only brand that doesn't upset my stomach. They are also smaller and a bit softer than most other chews, so I find them easier to eat while running. Best of all, they taste great. My favorite flavor is grapefruit. I usually eat one or two chews around the same time I take a salt tab, so every 30 minutes or so during my long runs.

These help me keep from hitting the wall during long runs.
What I find even better than Honey Stinger is regular food. After a little research, I tried some easy to carry snacks during a run and was amazed at the difference. When using actual food or regular candy, I have no nausea, no unhappy stomach rumbling, and no fighting to keep things down. My favorites are either pretzels or small candies (Swedish Fish are my current favorite). Even packets of honey have worked well for me. If possible, I'll carry some of my preferred foods to eat during a run, but I keep a couple of packs of Honey Stinger chews on hand in case I run out of my preferred snacks.

My post long run snack of choice is tried and true chocolate milk. I was skeptical after seeing ads and hearing other runners talk about it, but it really does seem to help. I usually feel as though I can't really eat right after running, so I usually refuel with a drink. Sometimes I'll make a smoothie, but more often than not, I want something right away, and even the few minutes it takes to throw things in a blender feels too long, so I've taken to keeping some chocolate milk in the refrigerator. It helps me recover quickly and will tide me over until I can stretch, shower, and have settled down enough to eat a real meal.

My 11 mile run on Saturday went really well, and I'll be doing everything the same nutrition wise this weekend on my 12 mile run. I'm open to trying new things and may experiment a little this fall and winter, but for the time being, especially with my half marathon coming up so quickly, this is what works for me.


  1. Awesome job on figuring this stuff out!! When I did "only running" salt tabs weren't that popular. I learned about them right before getting into triathlons, where they are a "must" for the 6-16 hour days! I love honey stinger chews and real food... both two things I'm doing this year!

    1. Thanks, Lauren! It hasn't been easy, but I'm slowly figuring things out.