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Long-distance running, particularly marathons and half-marathons, is becoming more popular than ever, which means you may find yourself faced with more and more clients coming to you for help to improve their running performance, including how to nutritionally support their efforts. When it comes to long-distance running, nutrition is a big consideration for health and success, whether your client’s program is simply moving from a more casual weekly routine to extended times and distances or training for a first marathon. A meal plan that is designed to help clients fuel up on the best foods in the right macronutrient combinations can help ensure optimal performance and health, while also helping them achieve their performance-related goals. 

General Nutrition to Support Long-distance Running

In general, as distance and running time increase, so do calorie and carbohydrate needs. A higher-carbohydrate diet helps maintain essential glycogen stores within the muscles, the primary energy source used during exercise. For those regularly completing extended runs or strenuous exercise, as well as those training for a long-distance event such as a marathon, a diet comprised of 55 to 65 percent carbohydrates is recommended to maintain optimal glycogen stores. Carbohydrates can be found in a wide variety of foods such as whole grains and fruits. 

Carbohydrates aren’t the only consideration for high-mileage clients. These individuals should also be following a meal plan rich in fruits and vegetables, which contain antioxidants, vitamins and minerals to combat increased free radicals and the risk of mineral deficiencies. As with any ongoing and demanding fitness program, adequate hydration is essential each and every day as well as throughout a long-distance run. 

Pre-workout Nutrition for Long-distance Running

Prior to a run, an extra boost of carbohydrates is a must for sustained energy. As with other more strenuous workouts, a pre-workout meal higher in carbohydrates that also includes protein and some fat should be eaten a few hours prior to a long distance run.

Good options for a pre-workout meal include: 

  • Hardboiled eggs and wheat toast
  • Peanut butter and banana with whole-grain crackers
  • Whole-grain bagel with tomato and low-fat cheese
  • Grilled chicken and wheat pasta 

Keep in mind that higher-fiber foods such as fruit and grains may not be the best choices in the hour or two before a long run, as they may cause some gastrointestinal discomfort. Those that can’t tolerate food before a long-distance run or race should opt for an easily digestible source of carbs such as a banana, energy gel or sports drink. 

Post-workout Nutrition for Long-distance Running

Once the long-distance run is finished, proper nutrition is critical to begin rebuilding energy stores for the next run. Immediately following a long-distance run, clients should grab a sports drink, orange juice or similar drink to start rehydrating and replenishing, and then focus on a post-workout meal. Like pre-workout meals, a post-long distance run meal should consist of a moderate to high amount of carbohydrates paired with protein (the recommended ratio is approximately 3:1). This mix of carbohydrates and protein has been shown to be ideal for replenishing glycogen stores in preparation for the next training session. Some research suggests that focusing on complex carbohydrates in the 48 hours after a particularly strenuous run or race, like a marathon, may be most beneficial for building those glycogen stores. In addition, runners should be sure to gradually hydrate throughout the day. 

No matter what your client’s training program or goals, nutrition is a must to help support success. Guiding your clients with an effective meal plan for long-distance running, rich in carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals, can make all the difference, not only in helping them reach their goals but also in their satisfaction with the program itself. 

References 

Beis, L.Y. et al. (2011). Food and macronutrient intake of elite Ethiopian distance runners. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 8, 1, 7. 

Costill, D.L. et al. (1981). The role of dietary carbohydrates in muscle

glycogen resynthesis after strenuous running. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 34, 1831-1836. 

Dada, J.H. (2010). Marathon fueling: Runners need proper nutrition and hydration for the 26.2-mile stretch. Today’s Dietitian, 12,3, 36. 

Grandjean, A.C. (1989). Macronutrient intake of U.S. athletes compared with the

general population and recommendations made for athletes. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 49, 1070-1076. 

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