What to Eat the Night Before a Long Run

What to Eat the Night Before a Long Run

When discussing possible recipes for our recipe challenge this week, Meredith and I wanted to find a recipe that could work as a pre long run dinner. However, we quickly realized the challenge of this endeavor.

Neither of us eat similar foods before a long run or race. While I try to eat less meat overall, my pre long run dinner is never vegetarian.

For health reasons and athletic performance, I do eat meat most nights at dinner – especially the night before a long run. I purposefully plan our meals each week so dinners with legumes (like falafel or lentil curries) or pizzas are saved for nights before a rest day or easy run.

What to Eat the Night Before a Long Run

My typical pre long run dinner consists of either fish or chicken, a salted baked russet potato with Greek yogurt, and roasted vegetables (but not cruciferous – something easy to digest like zucchini, bell peppers, or eggplant). If I have a very long run or a race the next day, I may add a partial serving of brown rice or winter squash.

For a vegetarian perspective on what to eat the night before a long run, be sure to check out Meredith’s post today!

A pre long run dinner is part of your fueling plan for your long run. If you run in the morning, your pre long run dinner is your last full meal before your run. You should be eating a snack before your long runs, but often this snack will just top of the meal you had the night before.

If you’re being intentional about your nutrition and running, your pre long run dinner should aim to meet certain goals. This meal is meant to prepare your body for a long run. Neither heavy meals nor low carbohydrates dinners will optimally prepare your body to run 10, 16, or 22 miles the next day.

What to Eat the Night Before a Long Run

The Goals of a Pre Long Run Dinner:

  • Provide your body with carbohydrates and calories to fuel your next day’s run
  • Be a part of a high quality diet geared towards health and athletic performance
  • Be easy to digest and gentle on the stomach to avoid GI distress
  • Practice what you will eat before the race

While you don’t want to overeat, you also want to make sure you fuel your body with your pre long run dinner. This is not the time to skimp on food or cut carbs – your body needs those for energy!

Guidelines for What to Eat the Night Before a Long Run:

  • Avoid foods that are common culprits of GI distress (see below)
  • Include carbohydrates, protein, and a bit of fat – as you would for any well-balanced meal
  • Opt for complex carbohydrates: potatoes, squash, whole grains
  • Food safety: cook your meats, wash your vegetables, choose cooked over raw vegetables
  • Practice eating the meal you will eat the night before the race.
  • Choose lean sources of protein
  • Don’t overeat 

Notice a common theme here? One of the goals of a pre long run dinner is to avoid foods that can cause GI distress on your long run. Overeating can cause your stomach to feel heavy the next morning, while food poisoning can set you up for an all-around crappy run (pun intended).

To avoid GI distress, you should avoid certain foods the night before a long run. While these foods vary from individual to individual, there are common culprits. Know what foods irritate you and avoid them the night before a long run – save them for dinner after you’ve done your long run.

Foods to Avoid the Night Before a Long Run:

  • Sugary refined carbs – you’re eating this meal once a week, so don’t fill it with non-nutritious foods
  • Beans and other legumes
  • Dairy
  • Cruciferous vegetables
  • Fatty cuts of beef or other meats – animal fats can irritate sensitive stomachs

Sample Pre-Long Run Dinners:

  • Brown rice risotto (leave out the cheese if sensitive or use a low lactose cheese such as goat cheese)
  • Roasted chicken and potato
  • Fish and brown rice
  • Stuffed baked potatoes (like these salmon stuffed ones)
  • Whole grain or quinoa pastas with pesto and chicken

The most important rule: find what works for you! Experiment and find what meal leaves you feeling energized and your stomach feeling calm on your run.

What do you eat the night before your long run?
How far are you running for your long run this week?

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14 Responses

  1. We used to always eat pasta before a long run, but last year I started switching it up a bit. Chicken and a baked potato works well, but I have also done spaghetti squash so it feels like I am eating pasta. I have been pretty lucky that the foods Ive eaten haven’t cause stomach issues during my long runs- even a little bit of salad. But its better to play it safe and avoid some of those risky foods, especially the night before a race!

    1. Spaghetti squash sounds good before a long run, especially with some chicken on top. It is better to play it safe – the night before a race is when I worry more about food poisoning than any other time!

  2. I used to really regulate what I ate the night before a long run, but now, I’m not as picky. That said, I do opt for easier to digest carbs than super dense and complex carbs. But really? If my stomach is going to lose it, I can’t do anything about it.

  3. I’m taking a week off the long run! I did the marathon two weeks ago and then 17 miles last weekend, so this weekend will only be 10. I typically eat whatever, whenever except before race day, I will be mindful of making sure I take in a lot of simple carbohydrates, and I will make sure to eat my big meal earlier on in the day (around lunchtime) and then have a smaller dinner with some salty snacks and lots of water. Works well for me!

  4. Beans are actually one of my go-to prerun dinner components. Animal protein (except low-fat dairy) is most likely to make itself known during a run…it almost feels like I haven’t given it time to fully digest? But I’ve never had a problem with legumes.

    1. It’s so interesting how everyone is different! It seems like either animal fat or legumes are big triggers – probably in part due to how different people digest different foods.

  5. Before a race I usually saute kale with tamari and lemon juice, bake a burger (I loved the salt and pepper ones from Whole Foods), and have a sweet potato on the side with some avocado or salsa. I find it super nourishing and energizing!

    This weekend tapering! Woohoo. So I only have 23-24 km on the plan.

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