Best foods to eat for long distance running

During longer runs, you will be using up more energy which means you will need to feed your body more food to cover for this. So while the kinds of foods you are eating won’t change, the amount you are eating may need to be increased.

Another thing to consider is the extra fluid (e.g water) you will need throughout the day and after a training run to cover for the increased sweat loss you will experience because you are running for longer periods of time.

The other major difference between an exercise regime that involves runs lasting less than 60 minutes and one with runs lasting for more than 60-90minutes is the need to have an extra source of carbohydrate during the run.

After about 90 minutes of continuous exercise, the amount of carbohydrates (fuel) we have stored in our body runs out. To keep running at your best, you need to have something like a sports drink or gel regularly throughout the run. In general, we need 30-60g carbs for every hour of exercise. This is equal to roughly one litre per hour but is best broken down into smaller volumes like drinking 250mL every 15 -20 minutes.  Sports drinks that provide a source of sodium are also useful in replacing sweat losses and helping you to stay hydrated.

A good sports drink will contain 4-8 percent carbohydrates and 20-30mml/L of sodium. Use the nutrition information panel to find a sports’ drink that meets these criteria.

To get the most out of your training runs and of course race day, the timing and type of food you eat is really important. As a general guide, you should aim to eat a main meal three to four before a run and then a lighter snack one to two hours beforehand. As always though, it’s best to trial any nutrition strategies you intend to do on race day during training runs. This way, you will know what works best for you!

Below are some examples of suitable foods to eat before and after exercise:

Aim to eat food that is high in carbohydrates for energy but low in fat with moderate fibre levels to reduce the risk of gastrointestinal upset.

Three to four hours before run:
  • Baked beans on toast
  • Breakfast cereal and milk
  • Crumpets with jam or honey and flavoured milk
  • Baked potato or kumara with salad and cottage cheese
  • Bread roll with cheese and lean meat filling and a banana
  • Pasta or rice made with a tomato-based sauce, lean meat and vegetables
One to two hours before exercise:
  • Fruit smoothie
  • Cereal bars
  • Fruit flavoured yoghurt
  • Fruit
One hour before exercise:
  • Sports drink
  • Sports gel
  • Lollies
Straight after run
Food that provides a good source of carbohydrate along with some protein will help to improve your recovery so you can get back out on the road again. Some good recovery snacks are listed below:
  • 700-800mL sports drink plus yoghurt
  • Low-fat flavoured milk
  • Creamed rice
  • Cereal and milk
  • Fruit salad and yoghurt
  • Toast/crumpets with peanut butter + milk
Early morning starts
Sometimes, it’s just not practical to get up three to four hours before an early morning run or race to eat something decent. In this case, make sure you have a high-carbohydrate dinner the night before and then try eating some fruit or a cereal bar along with some fluid in the hour or so before exercise. Make up for this by drinking sports drink or having carbohydrate gels throughout the race, starting early and continuing to have them every 15 minutes throughout the race.