Marathon training brings with it a whole host of new questions. How do we run so far without getting bored? How do we prevent chafing? How do we carry food on long runs? Do we even need fuel on long runs?
Which can quickly spiral us in to training overwhelm.
As a running coach, I encourage you to focus on one piece at a time.
Today we’re going to focus on one component of the long run, your night before meal.
Remember that these meals are part of your marathon preparation. You’re figuring out what’s going to work well on race day.
What to Eat the Night Before a Long Run
In this meal, we’re thinking about what the body needs to feel strong and ready for endurance.
Carbohydrates are a necessary fuel source for your muscles. While your body will be burning both fat and carbs for fuel, if you start running low on glycogen your body and brain are going to revolt.
Consider that your brain relies on carbs and it makes complete sense that much of your fatigue could be mental.
- Focus on easy to digest foods
- Find meals that you enjoy, so it will sound good before the marathon
- Embrace high quality, but low fiber carbohydrates like potatoes, rice, sourdough bread, fruit
- Ensure it’s still a balanced meal with protein and fat to keep you fuel and hit your nutritional needs
- Don’t go in to long runs having under fueled on your rest day
The best runners PAY ATTENTION to how they feel after a meal.
Start keeping a journal where you not only record running data from your long run, but some notes about what you ate and if you bonked, if you felt strong, if you had side stitches or other issues.
Examples of What to Eat the Night Before a Long Run
- Pizza (Yes!): High in carbs, but keep the serving size reasonable
- Salmon: High protein, anti-inflammatory food that’s easy to digest
- Sweet Potato: Carbs, and potatoes are some of the best carbs for runners
- Basic Chicken: Simple, packed with nutrients, protein, carbs, and fat
- Grilled Vegetables: Nutrients without a huge amount of fiber
- Sandwiches: Who doesn’t love a good sandwich?! Enjoy some veggies, some protein and lots of flavor.
- Homemade Stir Fry: Rice, veggies and protein make a super easy meal, just look for zucchini over broccoli on this night
- Fruity Desserts – listen chocolate is a dessert, but adding some berries to your dinner is awesome for carbs and anti-inflammatory properties
- Cereal – Yup, tons of runners grab an extra bowl of cereal to finish of their night. We love it and it’s a great final way to top up the glycogen stores.
It comes down to this—eat a well-balanced meal of nutrients to give your body energy. Here are the details.
That’s right! A lot of runners, myself included, often have a slice or two of pizza the night before a long run. Even though I’m not excellent with dairy this doesn’t seem to bother me.
- It’s high in carbohydrates
- You can eat a small salad with it for nutrients, but not a ton of fiber
- Lycopene in the tomato sauce is super healthy
- Pineapple for you Hawaiian lovers is great for digestion
- Keep the serving REASONABLE and this is an easy to digest meal
Sweet Potato Life
Potatoes have gotten a bad rap, when in fact they are one of the best carbohydrates for runners.
- A serving of salmon provides a high protein anti-inflammatory food that’s easy to digest
- Baked sweet potato provides the carbohydrates to help your body feel primed to run
- A small serving of steamed broccoli or asparagus provide nutrients, again without a huge amount of fiber
Yup, the theme with a lot of these meals is they aren’t complicated.
We want simple foods the body can work with quickly and you’ll notice we aren’t worried about a massive amount of carbohydrates. Instead, we want nutrients, protein, carbs and fat.
- A grilled chicken breast
- A cup of grilled veggies
- A baked potato
Avoiding the whole wheat before the big day. Instead, use french bread or better yet sourdough bread which helps with digestion and is often even ok for those who are gluten free.
- Two slices of delicious bread
- A little bit of avocado for that yummy fat
- Sliced tomato, spinach, cucumber
- Protein of your choice
- Optional cheese if it doesn’t bother your stomach
- Toast it all for a delicious, fast, easy dinner
BOOM SO EASY.
What Not to Eat the Night Before a Long Run
- Avoid high fiber meals
- Avoid high fat meals
- Don’t feel you need to pound the carbs
Your choices the night before can help to prevent runners trots (eh hem bathroom issues), ensure you have enough energy to prevent bonking and keep you from playing the dreaded game of marathon weight gain.
Runners all have slightly different tolerance levels for foods.
That tends to get better for many runners the more years they’ve been running because just like your legs adapt, your body starts to get prepared for the jostling and changes in digestion.
The reason we have stomach issues is because once you start running, all the blood is diverted from your stomach to your muscles.
So if there’s a lot of food still needing to be digested it results in cramps and praying for a nearby toilet..
Do you need to eat pasta before a long run?
Nope, this is a long standing running myth that I would like to put behind us.
If you happen to be someone who LOVES pasta and knows that you digest it well, then go for it, but that often isn’t the case for many runners.
- It’s unlikely you need to carbo load for a week, unless you have been eating less than 100grams of carbs per day for the rest of the week.
- Your body has a good amount of carbohydrates stored in the muscle ready to go.
- This does not mean it’s ok to skip dinner and then go out for a fasted long run. We know this will be a detriment to performance and goals. Do NOT UNDER FUEL YOUR BODY.
- What you eat the night before matters, but equally with what you eat right before your run.
A few other things not to do with your meal:
- You want to avoid large meals that require a lot of digestion, which can make you feel sluggish in the morning. For some that may mean lower in protein. I have not noticed an issue with protein, so I keep it high as I’m working on maintaining muscle mass during marathon training!
- You want to avoid food intolerances, which could contribute to needing urgent bathroom stops.
- A glass of wine no problem…a bottle…well that’s up to you.
If you’re over thinking the night before meal, you’re likely creating a lot of additional stress and you know what happens then?
It slows down your digestion.
It results in nerves before you start running.
You end up in the bathroom, which was a big thing you were trying to avoid to start with! So instead of freaking out about, simply think about what you normally eat for dinner and if it has ever caused an issue with your shorter morning runs during the week.
What to Eat Before Your Run in the Morning?
While the night before is important, what you eat the morning of your run is equally important.
I’ve talked previously about why not to do fasted long runs, which means ya gotta put some fuel in the tank.
✅Get my free guide on what to eat before your run to keep your stomach happy and energy steady.
Additional Long Run Food Tips:
- Fuel for sensitive stomachs
- Fueling long runs with whole foods
- What to eat before a race
- Tips for Coffee as a Pre-Workout Supplement
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