Nutrition for Runners: What Should I Eat?

Nutrition for runners is a huge topic among participants of the sport. Questions of what to eat and when are common among runners and forums. Dietary needs are very individual when it comes to nutrition. General knowledge of what you need and when you should take it helps to guide you in the right direction. Experimenting on training days to see what works for you personally is going to be your golden ticket for nutritional success on your runs.

Food is fuel. If you try to run with an empty stomach, you will not make it very far. Similar to the ways that a vehicle cannot run without gasoline, you need to fuel your tank and eat. Most runners have the greatest success eating 30-45 minutes before their run and limit that small meal to about 200 calories. That gives you just enough food to not have a heavy stomach before you start and enough time for your body to absorb the nutrients from that food and digest a little in the stomach. Some people will eat up to an hour before their run in hopes that it will be digested enough to be able to use the bathroom before the start of a run. You want something simple to eat that is not too heavy. A half of bagel with peanut butter is a popular favorite. Many people will eat breakfast biscuits due to their light and easily portable packaging. Half of a banana and a handful of almonds work well too. If you enjoy coffee, have your coffee. Sports drinks are good, too, as they provide calories and keep you hydrated. You will want to avoid dairy based products until after your run. Dairy products can cause phlegm when running. If this is a problem for you, you will want to avoid having a dairy based breakfast shake or yogurt. Some people are able to consume them, but you need to experiment to see what works best for you. Never try anything new on race day.

During your run, you will need to make sure you keep up your energy levels by continuing to fuel your tank. 200-250 calories per hour is what most runners stick with when running longer distances. This can be an energy bar, an energy gel or chews with some sports drink, or a tortilla. Whatever you like to eat, you will need to remember to take in those calories before you bonk. Some runners go by mileage instead of time. Some runners will refuel every 5-6 miles. A rugged trail run will have you moving at a slower pace than a fast and flat road race.

The most important thing is to remember to keep eating. If you wait until you are hungry, you have waited too long and it can be hard to make up those lost calories without getting sick if you still have a lot of miles left to go at your event.

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