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Long distance cardio : how to fuel your race ...

Nutritional Prep for Long Distance

With distance races starting back up again in Autumn and after an exercise-fuelled lockdown for many, now is the perfect time to enter one of those races you’ve been considering for some time. Long distance events require a few months preparation and a strong plan should always include a nutrition component which is going to help support your training. Requirements will differ for every individual so if you are doing your first long distance race consider seeking nutritional advice to help you build an individualised plan. Here are some high-level suggestions to help guide your nutritional training plan.


This lead up time offers the perfect opportunity to ensure all your nutrients are at their optimum levels by the time you race. All this requires is eating a very well-balanced diet.

While training we want good quality, lean protein in our diet for muscle support and repair, lots of vegetables for carbohydrate, fibre and micronutrients which are going to help us to recover after our training sessions, healthy fats (omega-3, olive oil) which are anti-inflammatory and help ease any inflammation that may be caused during training and finally, within the vegetable intake should be a portion of leafy green vegetables every day to get magnesium levels up. Magnesium is vital for our overall health but particularly for an athlete as it supports muscle function by helping muscles to relax following contraction. Magnesium and good hydration will help to avoid any cramping.

Top tips

  • 5 portions of vegetables in your diet every day – a variety is important to ensure a multitude of nutrients

  • 1 of the five portions should be a leafy green vegetable (e.g. spinach, kale, greens, chard)

  • Good quality protein

  • 3 x oily fish portion every week for omega-3 (sardines, anchovies, mackerel, salmon, herring)

  • Stay well hydrated (and especially during and after exercise)

Another consideration here is to try some shorter distance runs (3-5k) following a fast. For longer distance runners this can help train your body to tap into energy stores more efficiently.


Here we want to ensure we have full energy stores, strong oxygen supply and flexible muscle function. We want intake of good quality carbohydrate (low glycaemic index carbohydrates which provide a more sustained release of energy) to ensure our glycogen stores are topped up, ensure good circulation with foods such as beetroot and garlic both of which help to increase blood flow and continue with green leafy vegetables for magnesium support for muscles.

Top tips

  • Carbohydrates – sweet potato, oats, pulses, whole grains, fruit

  • 1 large beetroot every day – contains dietary nitrates which convert to nitric oxide in the body and encourage blood vessels to dilate, increasing blood flow

  • 1 portion garlic every day – assists in the body’s production of nitric oxide

  • 1 portion per day of green leafy vegetables – magnesium for muscle function

  • Extra virgin olive oil – anti-inflammatory effect

  • Keep well hydrated


There are two important things when it comes to the morning before the race – first of all getting those slow and fast releasing carbohydrates to set you up for the race, and second of all is eating foods which are easily digestible. Foods such as beans, nuts and seeds can take a little more time to digest (as they contain protein) and if not properly digested by the time you run, may cause discomfort.

Top tips

  • Porridge – porridge oats are easy to digest and provide slow releasing energy. If it is too hot for porridge try making banana oat pancakes for a strong pre-race breakfast

  • Banana – banana is a great topping for your porridge and provides quick energy

  • Oatcakes – another slow release carbohydrate

  • Beetroot – encouraging the flow of oxygen in the body, try eating a beetroot 30-45 minutes before you start the race


In long distance race conditions (moderate intensity) our glycogen stores can last around 1.5-2 hours however you want to try an avoid hitting that wall after you’ve used up your stores so it is advisable to try and top up your energy every hour.

Sports drinks and gels may contain hidden sugars and additives so if you would prefer to avoid these for shorter distances (15-20k) try carrying some dried fruit which will give you an energy boost and they are easy to digest – you probably need about 5-6 apricots or 3-4 medjool dates to give you a good carbohydrate boost. On longer distances the gels and sports drinks are advisable to avoid eating too much and they also help to replenish electrolytes.

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