Quick Nutrition Tips for Long Distance Runners

Our friends down at Prairie Sky Running are gearing up for the second annual Beaver Flat 50 Ultra Trail Marathon in September. They are offering 50 km, 20 km, 10 km, and 5 km distance runs, so there is something for everyone! If you’re interested in taking part, head on over to their webpage at pskyrunning.com for all the registration information.

Long distance running can be gruelling on your body, but once you achieve your goal of the finish line, the feeling of success is well worth it. In order to be able to perform at your best, you need to optimize your fuelling strategy to meet your goals. Nutrition plays a vital role in being able to adequately prepare your body. Below are some quick tips to get you started.

Tip #1: Hydration

Fluid is important! During training, as well as in competition, keeping yourself hydrated can make or break your race. A state of dehydration increases the strain on your body and can impair your performance, so an individualized hydration strategy is key. Try to stay on top of your hydration by routinely drinking fluids, even before you get thirsty, to maintain fluid levels. If you sweat excessively, you will also need more fluid to replace those losses. Keep in mind the conditions in which you are running, as hot or humid weather will require more fluid intake as well. Water is always a good choice, but a sports drink can come in handy to maintain electrolyte and carbohydrate levels during a race.

Hydrate pre-competition by having:

  • 2.5 – 3 L fluid/day for females
  • 3.5 – 4 L fluid/day for males

During the race, aim to have:

  • 600-1000 mL of fluid per hour.

These are general recommendations! An individualized hydration plan that suits your needs and goals will give you the best shot at optimal performance.

Tip #2: Food is Fuel

Your individualized training diet is going to include your pre-race meals, as well as, during race maintenance of blood sugars. A proper training diet should:

  • be high in carbohydrates for energy in your muscles – we’re talking 5-7 g of carb/kg body weight for long distance runners
  • include moderate amounts of protein to repair muscle tissue (1.2-1.8 g/kg/day)
  • include moderate amounts of fat to keep your joints lubricated and body functioning properly.

Ensuring that you are consuming a variety of food products, including fruits and vegetables, will help to ensure an adequate supply of vitamins and minerals as well as the important macronutrients.

The pre-race time frame (during the taper week before the race, as well as race day) can be used to carb load your muscles which can help to delay fatigue during the race. More importantly, you want to choose foods that your body is familiar with and are easy to digest so that you can be in your best racing condition. Reducing your physical training load three days before the race and increasing your carbohydrate intake to 7-10 g/kg/day can help carb load your muscles. A meal 3-4 hours before the event gives your body time to digest the food you eat and keep you hydrated. Aim for easy to digest carbohydrates, foods low in fiber and fat, and lean proteins. Don’t overdo it, but also give yourself some fuel to make it to the finish line!

Lastly, maintaining blood sugars during the race helps to prevent fatigue and prolong duration and intensity, as well as maintain hydration and electrolyte balance. Sports drinks and sports gels can help with this, or small convenient snacks – whichever works for you. A good amount to aim for is 30-60 g carb per hour. And don’t forget to hydrate!

Tip #3: Recovery

The three principles of recovery are: refuel, repair, and rehydrate! This is the first thing I work on with most of my athletes. Recovery nutrition is essential for building/repairing muscle and replacing carbohydrate stores in your body. Having a carb/pro snack within 30 minutes of finishing a training session or race is the perfect time frame for recovery. Muscles are the most receptive to rebuilding glycogen during that time frame and will refuel at a faster rate if carbohydrate is ingested with protein. There is a reason chocolate milk is promoted at this time – because it works! A cup will provide about 54 g of carbohydrate and 16 g of protein, while also giving you much needed fluids. A follow up meal that is well balanced in nutrients within 2-4 hours is also recommended to round out the recovery process.

Tip #4: Don’t try anything new on race day!

This to me seems like a no brainer! During your practices leading up to your event, try out your hydration and fuelling strategies to see what works best for you. That way, your body won’t be surprised and will be much better adapted during the competition. Race day is when you want your body to perform at its best, so decide on a routine that works for you before-hand and stick to it!