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Trail running nutrition: what to eat before, during and after your run


October 3, 2022


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trail running nutrition pamela boucher

If you are getting serious about trail running, you are probably looking for ways to significantly improve your performance. But did you know that the key to success is linked to nutrition? Paméla Boucher, kinesiologist and trail running expert, goes through what you should eat before, during and after your run, as well as some good snacking and hydration habits to adopt.

Article written in collaboration with Paméla Boucher, kinesiologist

In this article, you will learn more about the ideal diet for runners, including:

  1. What to eat before your trail run
  2. What to eat during your trail run
  3. What to eat after your trail run
  4. Examples of eating plans for runners
  5. A few trail running nutrition tips

What to eat before your trail run

Trail running requires a sustained and rigorous effort over uneven terrain. That’s why it is necessary to fill up on complex carbs the day before a run, whether you’re planning a demanding training session or taking part in a competitive race.

You can find complex carbs in rice, potatoes, pasta, and quinoa as well. The amount required will vary depending on your height, your weight and your planned route. The more demanding your run is (both in terms of intensity and distance), the more carbs you’ll need.

Ideally, you should eat at least four hours before going to bed, so you don’t overload your stomach during the night.

In the morning, before your run, opt for proteins and carbs. Again, the amount required will vary based on your height and weight. For example, you could eat an omelet and a piece of fresh fruit with a small portion of potatoes, or a slice of bread.

Make sure you eat at least two hours before running. Some people may need more time to digest properly, so follow your own body’s rhythm.

When it comes to hydration, it’s important to drink water the day before your run, as well as at least two hours before you start running in the morning.

If you are new to trail running and would like some more tips on how to get started, follow Paméla Boucher’s recommendations here.

What to eat during your trail run

According to several studies, our bodies burn around 600 calories for each hour of average-speed running. Of course, this data should be taken with a grain of salt as it will vary based on your level of fitness, your physical characteristics (height, weight, age, gender, etc.) as well as the intensity of your route.

As trail running requires a lot of effort, it is important to keep eating throughout your outing in order to maintain your energy levels, especially when on a long run (one hour or more). This could help you avoid cramps as well. To do so, make sure you include minerals in your diet the day before, as well as on the morning of your run.

To achieve this, Paméla Boucher makes her own snacks, which she tries to keep as healthy and nutrient-rich as possible. For example, she recommends making energy balls and homemade granola bars with dark chocolate, bananas, nuts and cereals. In addition to being delicious, these will help you get your strength back quickly should your energy levels drop.

Otherwise, there are some great brands offering delicious natural snacks (cereal bars or fruit bars, waffles, snack bites) specially made for runners, such as GU, KIND, Krono, Naak or Xact.

To avoid feeling sluggish, it’s very important to remember to hydrate. Keep in mind that you should drink on average two liters of water per day, and add at least one liter every time you run for over 30 minutes.

What to eat after your trail run

Many runners neglect their post-run diet. In fact, it’s probably one of the most important ways to recover, rehydrate and repair the microtears in your muscles after your run. In short, getting your post-run nutrition right is key in order to avoid sore muscles and injuries.

Some people may not feel like eating or drinking after a hard effort. However, for optimal recovery, it is best not to wait more than 30 minutes after a run before you eat.

It is important to opt for snacks or a meal rich in proteins and complex carbs. Smoothies can also be a great idea as they combine fruits and vegetables with milk or yogurt (and you could add a touch of maple syrup too, for example), all of which are good sources of proteins and complex carbs.

Examples of eating plans for runners

Dinner the day before: Vegetable pasta with chicken.
Pre-run breakfast: Vegetable omelet with a slice of bread and a banana.
Post-run lunch: Meat sandwich (or other source of plant-based protein), cheese and crudités.

And if you’re wondering about the benefits of trail running, read our article on the topic.

A few trail running nutrition tips

  • Eating protein bars during a run can be a good idea. However, it is important to choose the right brand. Ideally, go for something natural, containing as few ingredients (seven on average) and as many minerals as possible (such as those found in bananas, chocolate and dried fruits, for example).
  • It’s also good to keep energy gummies and gels in your pockets. They are a quick source of energy should you get fatigued. Sweet drinks can be a good alternative, as long as they are well balanced.
  • Try to prepare your own snacks so your nutritional needs are met. This way, you can avoid GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms), which are often found in commercial bars sold in supermarkets.

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