Fueling for the Long Run
From college until just a few years ago, I only ran a few times each week, and I never took it too seriously. I didn’t warm-up or stretch. I didn’t wear a fancy GPS watch to record my distance or pay attention to my pace per mile. I probably didn’t even wear the right equipment! I just ran for fun. I also ran for stress-relief from the demands of everyday life. I’d head out for a run and by the time I returned home, I would feel a million times better. Plus, running was a great way to stay in shape, and it was easy to just throw on my sneakers and go.
Nowadays, I take running a little more seriously. I still see it as a way to stay in shape and clear my mind, but I now enjoy competing with myself in road races. I’m not a speed demon by any means, but I try to run a little faster each time I race. Training for races also keeps me on track with a regular exercise routine since having a goal keeps me motivated to stick to my training schedule and challenge myself to improve.
When training for a long race, such as a 15K or half-marathon, I always schedule one long run into my weekly workouts. My long runs usually keep me out on the course for more than an hour, so I need to make sure that I consume quality energy before, during, and after.
I typically do my long runs first thing in the morning, so I eat breakfast about an hour or two before heading out. My go-to meal is a whole-wheat English muffin with a thick layer of peanut butter and banana slices on top. When my breakfast includes a healthy mix of carbohydrates, protein, and a little bit of fat, I perform better on my runs than when it doesn’t include those components.
During my run, I continue to fuel my body with calories. A long training run requires a lot of energy, so I make sure that I have continuous calories coming in so I don’t hit the proverbial “wall.” As a general rule, I aim to consume 150 to 200 calories for every hour of running. For me, this means that I eat or drink calories every six miles or so.
After my long run, I eat and drink within 30 minutes to help repair my muscles and prevent soreness. Refueling with quality foods is key to my recovery, so I make it a point to eat something right after I finish running. My favorite post-run options are an egg and cheese sandwich or a smoothie made with a frozen berries, chopped kale, almond milk, and protein powder. Even if I’m not that hungry, I make myself eat a little something because I know I need to feed my muscles to help them recover as quickly as possible.
Even though I strive for a well-balanced diet, I know I probably miss out on some key nutrients. Of course, it’s best to eat whole foods, but certain supplements help fill nutritional gaps in my diet and help me perform better on my runs. Every morning, I take a multivitamin with 100% of the Daily Value for most vitamins and minerals, including iron since I’ve learned that if my levels get too low, my energy wanes and it negatively affects my running. (High doses of iron can damage organs, so be sure to consult your doctor before supplementing.) Additionally, I try to fill my diet with iron-rich foods, including beef, spinach, broccoli, pumpkin, and beans, and, when possible, I pair them with vitamin C-rich foods to boost their absorption.
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