I am in the midst of half marathon training. I am running the Little Rock half marathon on March 5 and the Rock n Roll Nashville half on April 29.
On Saturday, I had my long run, which at this point was supposed to be 6 miles but I ran with the East Nasty group and we ran for roughly 55 minutes, which ended up being about 5.4 miles. Not super far by any means, but still requires some thought as to pre-workout fueling.
Depending on the intensity and duration of a workout, it is important to have some pre-workout fuel. It is not always necessary, if the workout is going to be less than an hour or is a low-intensity workout. If you are working out in the morning (such as my long run), it is important to have at least a pre-workout snack in order to provide your brain and body with the fuel to get going and get through the workout.
My typical meal before a morning long run is: 2 slices of peanut butter toast, a glass (roughly 8 oz.) of 1% milk, and a banana. This is the perfect pre-run meal for me. It is the perfect amount of carbs, has a moderate amount of protein, and a small amount of fat.
General Rule of Thumb for Carbs Pre-Workout:
You can see, that the further apart your meal or snack is from your workout, the more you can eat. This is because your body will have more time to digest. If your workout is 1 hour from now, you should eat less than if your workout is 4 hours from now.
My pre-workout meal described above contains almost exactly 1g of carbohydrate per kg of my body weight and I ate this roughly 1 hour before the run.
Carbs, Protein, Fat
You will also notice that my pre-workout meal was not solely carbs. It is important to include some protein and fat to help slow down digestion, so that your body has a steady release of energy. Once, before a half marathon, I was in a hotel and I did not plan as well as I should. Instead of my usual pre-run meal, I had oatmeal, a banana, and a pint of skim milk. Doesn’t sound that much different than my usual, right? But it was lacking in protein and fat since I was missing the protein and fat from the peanut butter and the fat from the 1% milk. I noticed a big difference once the race began. I was already hungry by mile 2!
Everyone is different in terms of what, how much, and how close to the workout they can tolerate their meal or snack. That is why it’s so important to practice with your pre-workout fuel during training and DO NOT TRY SOMETHING NEW ON RACE DAY.
The most shocking thing I learned during grad school was that post-exercise recovery nutrition does not need to be immediate or within the “recovery window” of 30-60 minutes, IF your next workout is >8 hours away. This means that unless you are training twice a day, eating your regular diet will take care of your recovery nutrition needs. However, your muscles are more primed for nutrition within that 30-60 minutes post-workout and the sooner you provide your body with the nutrition it needs, the faster your recovery process will begin.
After my run on Saturday, I came home and stretched, iced, and showered. I was not hungry right away and since Sunday is my recovery day, I did not have to worry about getting my post-workout snack right away. After a little while, I began to get hungry so I made myself a smoothie. Smoothies are a great recovery snack because you can tailor them to fit your needs plus they are delicious and it can often be easier to drink a post-workout snack than to chew a solid snack or meal.
The main components of your post-workout nutrition should be fluids, carbs, and protein. Similar to pre-workout fuel, it is not about ONE component, but a combination.
My smoothies usually contain: frozen berries, frozen banana, Greek yogurt, protein powder, and fluid (milk, water, or almond milk). This provides carbs, protein, and fluids = perfection!
Another delicious fave is this Cinnamon Pear Smoothie:
Disclaimer: I am a registered dietitian, but this is general nutrition information. If you need individualized information, please schedule an appointment through my private practice Nutrition for Endurance or with a sports RD in your area.
Other posts you may enjoy:
How Much Should I Be Eating?
Why Eating & Nutrition are so Complex
Why Consuming Protein is Important
Practical Ways to Eat 5 Servings of Fruits & Veggies
Running Race Day Nutrition
What is your favorite pre-workout snack or meal?