Nutrition 101 For Runners: What to Eat Before, During & After

Whether you’re new to running or seeking a PR, nutrition plays an important role in reaching your fitness goals. Properly fueling your body for exercise helps you get more out of your workouts, allowing you to feel, perform and recover better.

Here are some tips for what to eat before, during and after your runs to optimize your training and get the most out of all the miles you are logging.

Carbohydrates have gotten a bad rep recently, but they’re actually your body’s preferred fuel source for exercise. If it’s been more than a few hours since your last meal, or you run first thing in the morning, eating a carb-rich snack will give you energy, improve endurance, and prevent your body from breaking down lean muscle tissue. The less time you have before your run, the more you want to eat quick-digesting carbs.

Pre-run fueling is very individual. If you are used to running on an empty stomach, start simple and start small with a few bites of a ripe banana or a graham cracker. If you can’t stomach solid food, go liquid with a few sips of juice or a sports drink. For those of you gearing up for a race, experiment with your pre-run nutrition during training and then stick to it on race day.

   Carb-Friendly Snack Suggestions:

  • Fresh or dried fruit
  • Grain-based granola bar
  • Oatmeal or dry cereal
  • English muffin, toast or bagels
  • Pretzels or crackers

As you ramp up your training, it is also vital to ramp up your nutrition. On runs lasting longer than one hour, it’s essential to fuel not just before but also during your run. Aim for 30 to 60 grams of carbs per hour to maintain blood sugar levels, provide energy to working muscles and prevent “hitting the wall”.

Like with pre-run fueling, individual tolerance to eating on the run varies greatly. Experiment with the timing and type of fuel (liquid vs. solid, everyday foods vs. specialized sports products) to figure out what works best for you. It might take some trial and error, but your body will thank you on race day!

   Mid-Run Fuel:

  • Specialty sports products: chews, gels, or beans
  • Whole foods: dried fruit like raisins or apricots, pretzels, crackers or fruit leathers
  • Hydration formulas: Powerade, Gatorade, Skratch, or Nuun
  • Diabetic Runners: Ucan

What you eat after exercise is key for the recovery process, and can help curb hunger later on. Within an hour after your run, make sure to refuel with a meal or snack that provides both protein and carbs. If it’s going to be several hours until your next meal, try one of the snack combos below. When you’re short on time, a glass of low-fat chocolate milk is a quick way to replenish nutrients.

Fueling properly for running helps you make the most of your miles. But of course, good nutrition is about so much more than just what you eat before, during and after exercise. Your food choices throughout your day impact your training, energy levels, body composition and overall health. In my next post, I will be addressing some general healthy eating guidelines to ensure you are well-fueled both for running and in the rest of your life.

   Recovery Snacks:

  • Greek yogurt + berries
  • Cottage cheese + pineapple
  • Whole grain crackers + turkey slices
  • Orange + hard-boiled eggs
  • Fruit & yogurt smoothie – try the recipe below!

healthy Smoothie to eat

   Berry Smoothie Recipe

  • ½ cup low-fat Greek yogurt (plain or vanilla)
  • 1 cup skim milk (or milk alternative of choice)
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen berries
  • 1/2 large banana
  • 1 cup of fresh spinach (or your favorite green)

Directions: Combine ingredients & blend.

Nutrition: Calories 280 | Fat 3g | Carb 44g | Fiber 4g | Protein 22




Alissa Palladino, MS, RDN, LD, ACSM-CPT

Alissa is a Registered Dietitian at Good Measure Meals where she helps people achieve and maintain their health goals. A veggie lover and avid runner with a number of half and full marathons under her belt, she believes the best form of exercise is the one you enjoy and the best nutrition plan is one that fits into your lifestyle.

Published: February 2018

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