What to eat the night before a long run
Many runners struggle to find the optimal meal the night before a long run, and there is no wonder why. Not only do you need to fuel yourself properly for the grueling miles to come, but you also have to consider getting in the essential vitamins and nutrients you need to stay healthy through your entire training cycle while maintaining your weight and overall diet.
So, in this article, I am going to outline one of my favorite pre long run meals (including dessert) and demonstrate how this will enable you to train hard and stay healthy.
A great pre long run meal
Salad – Shed leafy greens into a salad of lettuce, cucumbers, and bell peppers.
Main Dish – Whole wheat or gluten-free pasta mixed with traditional pasta sauce and one squash. Place the squash under the pasta sauce and bake in the oven.
Dessert – Apples and cinnamon. Remove the core of the apples. Fill the hole with cinnamon, nutmeg and nuts. Bake at 325 degrees F for 45 minutes.
Why this meal works so well before a long run
I don’t want to just give you a recipe and hope you believe that this meal will help your performance. Here is the reasoning behind including each of these elements in your pre long run meal.
Adding leafy greens to your salad
If you did not grow up in the south, you may not even know what leafy greens are. Leafy greens are considered kale, turnip greens, spinach, mustard greens, green collards, and swiss chard. However, as runners, leafy greens contain some of the most important nutritional elements we need.
Most importantly, leafy greens contain Vitamin K. Vitamin K is a fat soluble vitamin (meaning the body stores what we don’t use) and the typical dietary recommendation is 90-120 micrograms; however, for a runner that recommendation goes up to 700-900 mcg. Why? A lack of vitamin K may result in excessive bruising, inability to stop bleeding, stress fractures and broken bones. One study found in a group of elite female athletes, vitamin K supplementation increased their bone formation markers 15-20%. Another study appears to suggest that vitamin K can help reduce the rate of fractures. With stress fractures being in the top 5 injuries of runners, being intentional about eating foods high in vitamin K, like leafy greens, is an important preventative measure.
Leafy greens are easier to sneak in your diet than most people realize. In our example, we throw them on a typical salad, but you can also try throwing a handful into your morning smoothie, it may change the color, but most people can’t even taste the difference.
Pasta with Squash
Getting all the vitamins and minerals we need is important, but as runner consuming vitamin B6, like that found in squash, is crucial. B6 helps break down amino acids and muscle glycogen for energy, which is critical on your long run days. So, not only are you fueling with the carbohydrates from the pasta, but you’re adding a much needed dose of B6 to give your muscles the energy they need to run hard and long.
Moreover, a vitamin B6 deficiency has the potential to cause anemia in runners. Runner’s are particularly susceptible to anemia because iron is lost through sweat, the pounding of your feet, and through menstruation if you’re a female. Because runners have such a high demand on iron, getting enough B6 is an easy step towards preventing unnecessary health issues that may slow down your training. You can read this article for more information on iron deficiency.
In addition to the healthy goodness the flesh of a squash provides, the seeds are also nutritional powerhouses, containing oleic acid, the same monounsaturated acid in olive oil.
Adding squash to your pasta meal will increase the nutritional value and cut the calories, helping to keep the dreaded winter pounds off. Want to explore winter squash more, use this guide to help you determine the taste of your meal.
Butternut squash: Shaped like a large pear, this squash has cream-colored skin, deep orange-colored flesh and a sweet flavor.
Acorn squash: With harvest green skin speckled with orange patches and pale yellow-orange flesh, this squash has a unique flavor that is a combination of sweet, nutty and peppery.
Hubbard squash: A larger-sized squash that can be dark green, grey-blue or orange-red in color. The Hubbard’s flavor is less sweet than many other varieties.
Turban squash: Green in color and either speckled or striped, this winter squash has an orange-yellow flesh whose taste is reminiscent of hazelnuts.
Kabocha squash: A type of Japanese squash that is becoming more and more popular in the U.S., kabocha squash is very sweet in flavor. It has deep green skin and orange flesh.
One of the easiest ways to maintain a diet is to incorporate healthy deserts, which help you satisfy your sweet tooth without sacrificing a ton of calories. Instead of eating a sleeve of Oreos and ingesting 350 junk calories, you can pleasure your pallet and get a nutritional boost with this apple cinnamon recipe.
Nutritionally, Cinnamon is an excellent source of antioxidants. Cinnamon ranks among the highest in spices for nutritional value, based on concentration. It is also a great source of manganese, fiber, calcium and helps control blood sugar. A study published in the December 2003 issue of Diabetes Care, found that as little as 1 gram of cinnamon a day reduced blood sugar, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol.
Great, how does cinnamon help you run faster?
Storing enough glycogen to carry you through your long runs is key to finishing strong and recovering quickly. When glycogen runs out, our bodies turn to fat, which is not an efficient fuel source because the body does not break it down quickly. As I stated above, research has shown that cinnamon helps lower blood sugar, which increases insulin. Higher insulin results in more glycogen storage in the muscles and liver. “Carb” loading with your pasta meal can help increase glycogen stores in the muscles and liver, but cinnamon may be the key to maximizing how efficiently you use your available glycogen.
Putting it all together
As you can see, the suggested pre long run meal not only provides you with the carbohydrates you will need to sustain your glycogen levels for your long run, but you can maximize your performance by adding key vitamins and minerals to your diet and ensure you’re making the most of your long run.
If this meal works for you in training, don’t forget to include it as part of your optimal pre race nutrition plan. You’ll go into any big race comfortable that your stomach can handle the meal and that it will fuel you for optimal performance.
If you have questions, comments, or want to share your own favorite pre long run meal, please let us know in the comments section.
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Khan A, Safdar M, Ali Khan MM, Khattak KN, Anderson RA. Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2003 Dec;26(12):3215-8. 2003.
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