Are you marathon training and wondering what to eat before your next long run? They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and I couldn’t agree more–especially when you have a long run planned! If you have ever eaten the wrong foods before a run, you know exactly what I mean (Biscuits and gravy with two eggs and a side of bacon, anyone? Yeah, don’t do it..). I can’t tell you how many times I have had to stop to throw-up, felt “bonked,” or gotten dizzy while out on my long run. These all could have been avoided had I properly fueled beforehand.
For this post, I am going to focus on long run fuel in particular, mainly because it is so important, and pretty easy to mess up. If your run is around the hour-long range or shorter, you may be able to get away with skipping a meal beforehand, but not with a long run. A long run generally considered any run over an hour and half. The distance my vary significantly depending on your pace, but what matters most is the time you spend on your feet.
Ideally, you should eat something light that is easy on the stomach, but also packed with carbs and a little protein. The general rule of thumb is to follow a 3:1 carbs/protein ratio. Keep it light; a 200-300 calorie meal should be sufficient. This is especially true if you plan on fueling during the long run with electrolyte drinks and gels. You really don’t need a huge meal, but it should be nutrient dense!
You should also eat something that is familiar and easy on your stomach. This of course varies from person to person, so experiment with different foods until you find the ones that are right for you. Never–and I stress-NEVER try something new the morning of a race. This is not the time to be ordering the new spicy tuna roll at the sushi restaurant down the street. Stick to plain foods that are easy to digest. Consider all your training long runs a dress rehearsal for the big race. Try out different foods before each run until you discover your perfect fit. That way, there is no question on race day.
To give you some ideas, I have listed my Top 10 pre-long run meals.
- Quinoa Egg Bowls
These Quinoa Egg Bowls are my favorite pre-long run meal. This breakfast has it all–easy to digest complex carbs to sustain energy, vitamins from the tomatoes and greens, and protein from the quinoa, chickpeas, and egg. At the same time, it is light, so it won’t leave you feeling bogged down. To make these egg bowls, get the recipe here.
- Whole Grain Pita, Sliced Vegetables, and Hummus
This isn’t your typical breakfast food, but this meal is so light and satisfying, you should really give it a try. Chickpeas provide a high source of protein, without the heaviness of meat or eggs that can weigh some people down while running. Add in the whole grain pita slices for slow release energy, and the vegetables for quick energy, and you’ve got a perfectly balanced pre-long run meal. The best part–I can literally eat this meal minutes before heading out the door, and won’t get sick on my run (this coming from a chronic puker!). Need a homemade hummus recipe? For the Creamy Chickpea Hummus recipe in the picture, click here.
- Black Bean and Egg Breakfast Burritos and Fruit
If you have a sensitive gastrointestinal tract that can’t digest beans well, I suggest skipping this one. However, if beans agree with you, this meal is worth a try! Beans may get a bad rap sometimes, but I can’t stress enough how beneficial they are in a runner’s diet. I like to classify beans as one of those runner super foods, because they have so many good nutritional benefits to bring to the table. These magic beans offer a perfect blend of protein and high fiber content, that work together to help balance blood sugar, and prevent spikes and dips in energy. This meal is a little on the heavier side, so allow yourself enough time before hitting the trail. To make these burritos, simply wrap scrambled eggs, black beans, and a little cheese in a tortilla, and you are good to go!
- Eggs, Whole Grain Toast, and Fruit
How do you eat your eggs? I like mine soft-cooked, served in egg cups, with whole grain toast on the side to dip. If your stomach can handle eggs before a long run, these are a highly effective form of energy. Why? A significant amount of choline-a compound related to energy levels–are lost during long runs, which causes fatigue. Eggs happen to be high in choline, which make them wonderful fatigue fighters! Throw in some fruit on the side, and this breakfast has all your energy needs covered. To cook a soft boiled egg, boil water, then add your eggs and cook for 3-4 minutes. Place the eggs in soft boiled egg cups and slice off the tops, then use strips of toast to dip.
- Quinoa Chickpea Tabbouleh
Here’s another meal idea for those who aren’t crazy about eggs, but still want the protein. A simple quinoa-chickpea blend, like this tabbouleh, works wonders before a long run. Ok, so it’s not a breakfast food. But you need to think outside the box and just try it. I ate this salad before the Modesto Half Marathon a couple years ago, and it was the best I have ever felt during a race. I ended up placing 2nd, and walked away from the finish line still feeling energized! You just can’t go wrong with quinoa. It is that magic grain that provides complex carbohydrates, but is light on the stomach and provides a steady stream of energy. Get the Tabbouleh recipe shown in the picture here.
- Bagel and Cream Cheese, Hard Boiled Egg, and Fruit.
This is a simple meal, but simple is key when it comes to pre-long run foods. You can get all your energy needs from this meal, and it can be made in a hurry. If you can’t stomach the egg, try just a plain bagel with peanut butter instead for some added protein. This is also a great pre-race meal if you are staying at a hotel the morning of a race, because all these items are usually offered in a hotel breakfast buffet (remember, skip those biscuits and gravy until after the race!).
- Chia Fruit Smoothie and Whole Grain Toast
Smoothies are a great way to cram all the good energizing nutrients you need into liquid form to consume fast. Don’t forget the chia seeds! These are yet another magic food for runners. Just one Tablespoon of chia seeds offers more than your daily recommendation of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), which is the plant base for omega-3 fatty acids and an antioxidant that is essential for energy production in the body. Smoothies are also an ideal meal choice for runners who can’t stomach solid food well. Hold the sugar to avoid an energy crash. Get the recipe for the Power Chia Seed Smoothie shown above here.
- Oatmeal, Flax or Chia Seeds, and Dried Fruit
This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning oatmeal. I admit, it is not my thing (just personal preference), but other runners swear by it, and for good reason. If you are a morning cereal person, please, put down the sugary box of cereal before a long run, and switch to oatmeal instead! Why? Unlike processed, sugary cereals, whole oats don’t result in a sugar crash. The high dietary fiber content in oats help you feel full longer. Oats are also proven to prevent fatigue. Make sure to add some flax or chia seeds for added fiber and omega sources. Skip the sugar, and add some dried fruit instead for some quick-energy.
- Peanut Butter and Jelly Whole Grain Sandwich and Banana
Again, simple, but effective. It’s packed with everything you need to sustain energy. There’s protein in the peanut butter, essential nutrients in the banana, and whole grains in the bread for slow release energy. Don’t skip the banana! When running long distances, runners loose potassium and magnesium through sweating, and bananas offer natural sources of these valuable nutrients. Another perk to this meal is it is conveniently portable. If you are in a hurry to get out to the trail, this is your best bet.
- Bean Salad
Another weird choice by breakfast standards, but trust me on this. Eating a combination of legumes and vegetables will give you wings! Bean salads are light, protein packed, and refreshingly energizing. Throw in a slice of whole grain toast on the side for some added slow release carbs, if you’d like. To get this recipe for the Jicama Black Bean salad shown above, click here. Or, try a Chickpea Salad here.
Some time saving tips:
- Cook grains and beans ahead of time, and store in containers in your fridge.
- Hard boil a batch of eggs, and keep in your fridge for a quick snack to grab on the go.
- Buy a large bag of baby greens. They take minutes to cook up! Or add them to a smoothie.
- Make burritos ahead of time and freeze for a fast meal to pop in the microwave.
- Slice veggies ahead of time and keep in a zip lock bag in the fridge.
- Keep a bag of nuts handy for quick snacking in your car. A handful of almonds will work well in a pinch!
Now, fuel well, and get out there and enjoy the trail! Happy training!