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What to Eat the Night Before a Long Run? 8 Foods for Runners
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What to Eat the Night Before a Long Run? 8 Foods for Runners

Isabel-Mayfield-health-reporter
Written by Isabel Mayfield | Medically reviewed by Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD check
Published on September 26, 2022
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8 min

We’ve put together a list of the best high-carb foods to eat the night before a long run. Keep reading to learn more about the impact that carb loading can have on running performance.

what to eat night before long run

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What you eat the night before a long run can surprisingly affect your running performance. 

Many people don’t know this, but carbohydrates are actually what the body uses as fuel while we are doing intense exercise, and without enough of them, high levels of performance are next to impossible to achieve.

If you often feel fatigued while running, a change of diet could help. Keep reading to find out what foods to eat as well as when you should eat them to achieve the best running results.

What to Eat the Night Before a Long Run?

The perfect meal to eat the night before a long run would be grilled salmon, potatoes, and a side salad. 

Although what you eat the night before a run won’t make or break you, you won’t be helping yourself to finish an early morning run by eating a steak for dinner and potato chips before bed.

Instead, focus on giving yourself foods high in carbs, protein, and healthy fats while still being relatively light.

What to eat before a 5k?

Before running a 5k, it’s best to eat a light snack that will keep you from feeling hungry while you run, as well as give you the energy to make it through your long workout.

You should avoid eating foods that are high in fat and fiber, as these can slow down digestion. Instead, focus on eating something high in carbs with a medium amount of protein.

Foods like Greek yogurt and berries or a smoothie make for the perfect pre-run snack.

What to eat before 10k?

When getting ready for a 10k run, you have to be more intentional about fuelling your body with light and nutritious food. This is a long distance that can take a definite toll on the body. 

If you want to run at a peak performance level, you will have to be mindful of preparing your body properly beforehand.

Your pre-run snack will look a little different depending on when you run. 

If your long run is happening first thing in the morning, you should aim to eat a light snack like oatmeal with berries or whole-wheat toast with honey or jam, ideally at least 2 hours before you run.

For runs taking place later in the day, you will want to make sure you are eating a combination of high-carb foods and lean proteins earlier in the day, and once again, stop eating around 2 hours before you plan to run. 

You should also make sure you are properly hydrated, with the option to include an electrolyte tab to help promote better muscle function.

What to eat before half/full marathons?

A half-marathon is 13.1 miles or 21 kilometers, and a full marathon is a whopping 26.2 miles or 42.195 kilometers. 

Completing a half or full marathon can take between 1 and 4 hours. Running for this amount of time is sure to use a lot of energy, so carb loading beforehand to fill up your glycogen stores will be a must.

This is when you can eat pasta without feeling guilty and load up on other complex carbs like beans, whole grains, and even vegetables like winter squash.

There is a reason that the classic personal trainer meal is chicken broccoli and brown rice. It is a meal that hits all the food groups you need for energy and recovery while still being light and nutritious. 

Otherwise, the classic pre-run pasta dish would do great; make sure that your pasta is whole-wheat and that the sauce you choose is light, and avoid topping it with cheese.

Whatever you decide to eat, make sure you eat any heavier meal options two days before you run, and the night before your run, focus on eating lighter high-carb meals to get you ready for race day.

It’s also a good idea to bring a light snack to give you energy while you run your half-marathon.

8 Best Foods to Eat Before a Long Run

If you want to improve your overall running performance and wonder what to eat the night before a long run, we’ve got you covered.

Whether you’re a new or experienced runner, partaking in a proper carb load a night or two before going for long runs can help you run faster and feel better while doing so.

Before a long morning run

Fasted cardio has some hype due to the supposed benefits it has to burning fat. 

This benefit is believed to be the side-effect of your body burning through any carbs you consumed that day while you were asleep, leaving you with little glycogen stores for your body to use for fuel.

But eating a light breakfast, especially before running long distances, is healthier for the body and will set you up for better running performance. 

Sweet potato – 1 cup = 27g carbs

Sweet potato is a complex carbohydrate and is chock-full of minerals that are essential for optimally functioning muscles.

Things like potassium, magnesium, and manganese are all lost through sweat, so finding ways to replenish your levels of these minerals before running helps improve your performance.

To prepare breakfast with sweet potatoes, you could try adding them into a simple hash with onions, mushrooms, and an egg. 

Oats – 1 cup = 55g carbs

Although oats are high in fiber, they are also a high-carb meal, which can be topped with nuts or berries to increase levels of carbs and protein. 

As long as you only have a small bowl of oats and make sure to finish it an hour or two before your run, you should have no digestion issues and have a full tank.

Oats are best prepared when they are not coming out of a package. Instead, mix whole oats and water together and put them to boil on the stove or in the microwave.

Once they are cooked, you can add berries, bananas, cinnamon, and honey. 

Bananas – 1 = 27g carbs

Bananas are another light, easy-to-digest carb that is full of calcium and magnesium, both of which also support muscle function.

They are also a great snack for you to bring running and eat when you notice yourself feeling tired.

Smoothies

Smoothies might be the best pre-run snack because they are light, making them easy to digest. They can also hydrate and are full of all the foods that you find that give you the most energy while you run.

A great smoothie blend is bananas, berries, spinach, hemp seeds, a spoonful of oats, and your choice of either water or milk. 

The night before

Eating right the night before a big run is one of the best ways for you to set your body up with what it needs to perform optimally.

This is a great time for you to treat yourself to a big bowl of pasta, but make sure to avoid anything with a heavy or cheesy sauce as this could slow down digestion. Also, ensure that you are treating yourself to big meals at around 5–6 PM and not right before you go to bed.

Whole-wheat pasta – 1 cup = 37.2g carbs

Although whole-grain pasta is still made with flour, the difference between it and regular pasta is that the grain is not as highly processed. This means that it’s full of more complex carbs, as well as protein, fiber, magnesium, and even iron. 

A great pasta choice before a run is pasta with a simple sauce made out of lean turkey meat and tomato sauce with some basil added for taste.

Quinoa or brown rice – 1 cup = 39–45g carbs

Quinoa and brown rice are both whole grains that are relatively unprocessed, and for that reason, they are more complex carbohydrates. 

Complex carbohydrates are better for lasting energy since they take longer to be broken down by the body, making them a great addition to any distance runner’s diet.

Quinoa is a great addition to a roasted veggie spinach salad. Start by roasting veggies like potatoes, mushrooms, and carrots. When done, add them and the quinoa to a bed of spinach leaves and top this all off with simple balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing.

Beans – 1 cup = 121g carbs

Beans are light and easy to digest while being packed with both protein and carbs. They are also rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, making them great for digestion and energy the night before long runs.

Beans are best eaten in salads, and there are a ton of delicious options. This is one of our favorite 3 bean salad recipes.

Grilled chicken or fish – 100 grams = 22–31g protein

Getting protein the night before a big run can help you not only enhance muscle growth and recovery after your workout but even increase the synthesis of protein while you run. 

An added bonus of choosing fish instead of chicken is that fish oil is said to improve lung performance by improving blood flow, enhancing oxygen delivery to your muscles.

If you choose to eat chicken, cooking it in olive oil can help you get the benefits of improved blood flow. 

Make sure to hydrate properly

Although water isn’t technically a food, it’s almost important that you include proper hydration in your pre-workout plan.

Focus on getting hydrated the night before your run. Although it’s alright to drink around 500ml of water the morning of your long run, anything more should be avoided.

Drinking excessive water right before your run can cause you to dilute levels of important electrolytes that are needed for muscle function – like calcium and magnesium.

And not getting enough water can lead to cramping or cause you to overheat. 

A Word From Our Coach

Carbs often get a bad reputation because eating too many simple carbs – like white bread, cookies, and refined pasta – can lead to weight gain.

But the reason for this increase in body weight is not because of carbs themselves – it’s because they are often high in calories and provide little to no nutritious value.

Also, any excess glycogen we eat is stored in the body as fat.

But eating enough complex carbohydrates won’t lead to excessive weight gain and is essential if you want to have enough energy to finish long runs. Getting enough carbs is especially important if you are training for a half-marathon.

Not giving your body the right fuel can cause it to start breaking down muscles, causing your muscles to atrophy. It will also cause your blood sugar to drop, making you feel sluggish and fatigued, both when you are working out as well as after.

Taking care of your body goes beyond working out, and if you want to get in the habit of running longer distances, you also have to get in the habit of prepping nourishing meals.

Bottom Line

Whether you are trying to push a new personal best or get race day ready, the eating tips in this article will help you reach your optimal performance.

Focus on eating easy-to-digest carbs, limiting the amount of fat and fiber you eat the night before a race, and staying hydrated. 

Eating foods like sweet potatoes, smoothies, and whole grains like quinoa and brown rice can help keep your glycogen levels high, giving you all the energy you need to go the distance.

Isabel-Mayfield-health-reporter
Written by
Isabel Mayfield is a certified yoga instructor with over 10 years of experience in the fitness industry. She is passionate about self-improvement and loves to help people improve their sense of self-worth through education and support in meeting their fitness goals.
Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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