Fill up: Pre and Post-Race Nutrition for Runners

 Guest Post By: Melanie Flinn, MS, RD


The power of food is pretty amazing. It can affect your race performance and recovery so what you put in your body matters. Not as if you haven’t deserved the pass to eat whatever you want when you train hard, but you will feel better and recover quicker when you chose the right foods.

On the post-race side, intense physical activity leaves athletes feeling exhausted, both mentally and physically. Therefore, there are 3 main goals for recovery nutrition: replenish, rehydrate and repair.

So let’s dig right in with some things to consider pre and post-race.

Pre-race nutrition

Part of the formula is finding the foods and timing that work best for you. Some people might find they have to eat an hour before a race while others might like to eat 30 minutes before a race. This is trial and error. Test it out and see if you experience any stomach issues or cramps. Then adjust 10 minutes in either direction to find the time closest to the start of race time that you can comfortably eat.

Type of food
What you want is easily digestible foods that are low in fiber and fat, which will cause less discomfort during the race. Ideally you want a mix of simple and complex carbs for energy, with a little protein to help you feel satisfied.



  • Whole wheat toast with peanut butter and jelly- complex carbs with a little protein, easy to digest
  • Small bowl of oatmeal with banana- this does have fiber, but tends to be a good option to eat in advance as it provides more lasting energy
  • Energy bar- look for a clean ingredient list- some grains, some nuts, some dried fruit
  • High protein yogurt with granola- filling and quick for pre-race fuel on-the-go
  • Bagel with reduced fat cream cheese and a hard boiled egg- carbs plus protein with moderate fat
  • Slice of banana or pumpkin bread with a light spread of nut butter or a small handful of nuts- another quick fix option

Don’t forget to carb load pre-race. Athletic performance can be improved if a runner maximizes muscle glycogen stores prior to a marathon. Some carbohydrate loading plans start six days before a race, however it will still help during a long distance run to fuel up the day before the race.

Post race nutrition

When it comes to post race, restoring fluids is of the upmost importance so make sure to drink water and/or a sports drink with electrolytes immediately following exercise. Then focus on your nutrition. Ideally you will want to eat during the first 30-45 minutes after exercise, looking for a combination of carbohydrates and protein.

Protein requirements are increased after intense bouts of exercise. As you perform physical activity, your muscles break down and if protein intake is low, that muscle isn’t replaced. The general recommendation is that protein consumption after exercise, when muscle is most sensitive to nutrient intake, will increase lean muscle mass and aid in muscle repair.

The acceptable macronutrient distribution range for protein at 10% to 35% of total calories for adults older than eighteen. How does this equate to grams? For a 2,200 calorie diet, that would be anywhere between 55 and 193 grams of protein a day. As you can see, that is a large acceptable range, however a good rule of thumb is no more than 1 g of protein per pound should be consumed in a day.


Type of food
You might not feel hungry within 30-45 minutes post-race, but make sure to have at least a snack. Chose high quality lean protein such as chicken breast, turkey breast, lean ham or beef, luncheon meats such as turkey breast, ham or roast beef, eggs, cottage cheese, yogurt or vegan protein such as tofu, tempeh, veggie patties or nut butters, paired with some carbohydrates for optimum recovery.


Options for immediate refuel if not able to prepare food:

  • Banana with almond or peanut butter- quick and easy to tolerate
  • High protein energy bar- good for on-the-go, look for ones with healthy whole grains like quinoa, oats and nuts
  • Chocolate milk- a good ratio of carbs to protein
  • Cottage cheese with fruit (tangerines, apple, banana)- also convenient, individual portions can be purchased and kept in a cooler if traveling

Options with more planning needed:

  • Turkey, ham or roast beef sandwich with cheese and/or avocado on whole wheat bread- easy on the stomach, portable and convenient.
  • Chicken tacos- lean chicken with toppings of choice wrapped in a tortilla is a portable and tastes good
  • Egg sandwich on english muffin- a good make-ahead item that can be reheated or eaten room temperature
  • Pita bread pizza- top a pita bread with sauce, cheese and toppings of choice, bake in toaster oven or oven until cheese is melted

Looking for more information about fuel for runner? Check out my suggested Top 10 Foods for Runners.


Melanie-FlinnMelanie is a Registered Dietitian and mom of four, with extensive experience in wellness and weight management. By combining her passion of food, nutrition and exercise, Melanie encourages her clients to have a healthy and happy relationship with food. She holds a BS in Nutrition from the University of Texas and a Masters degree in Nutrition from Boston University. She is the author of the blog Nutritious Eats where you can find healthy family recipes, nutrition and fitness tips and more. When she is not cooking or blogging, you can find her chasing her children around, running, doing yoga, and practicing photography.