In our heads, we all understand the concept of food as fuel. Why then is it so difficult to figure out the right things to eat to power through our runs and support our recovery? Without getting too complicated here, and to avoid an insanely long post about the sad state of nutrition, the short version is that eating is more complicated now than ever. There are new diets, new intolerances, and new food heroes and enemies every day.
When you really break it down to the basics though (I'm all about simplicity), remember two things:
1. Balanced daily nutrition is essential. You get out what you put in.
2. Running strength and recovery depends heavily on the right mix and timing of three things - carbs, sugar, and protein.
I'll be honest here - I am not allergic to anything, I'm not gluten intolerant, I'm a friend to dairy - but I do have a bit of a sensitive stomach. That is part of why I like to run in the morning - less potential for food choices to mess with my digestive system. So this is what works for me; with my schedule it has to be the right nutrition, but it has to be simple, easy to repeat, and convenient. Every human body is going to be a little different, so play with it to see what works for you!
I typically don't eat before I run, but immediately afterwards, I'll have a bowl of cereal (yellow box Cheerios) with fresh fruit and almond mild, and a cup of coffee (i.e. a mix of carbs, sugar, and protein).
My favorite pre-long run breakfast is steel cut oats with frozen blueberries, cinnamon (helps regulate your blood sugar to avoid spikes), and almonds (continuation of the carbs, sugar, protein theme). I do have coffee with my breakfast for the caffeine boost, but you do have to be a little careful with coffee because it makes you poop (yes, I said it) and you've got to time that right. I try to make sure I have at least an hour between eating and running.
Don't forget your nutrition the day before long or hard runs either! A good breakfast can sure help, but cannot entirely erase a prior day of bad eating. Running is hard, but it is rewarding. Make sure you're giving your whole body every possible advantage. Training days are the right time to tweak your nutrition and really find out what works for you. Then, you'll be ready for race day if and when it arrives. Trust me, that is not generally the day you want to majorly change up your diet!