Nutrition Guide for Runners

Fuel: Nutrition Guide for Runners

We spoke with nutritionist and running coach Tara Whiton of Fleet Feet Sports to get answers to some common questions athletes have as they get into their training routines. This is Tara’s Nutrition Guide for Runners — check out these important tips to make sure you are on track to meet your goals.

What are some common mistakes runners make with nutrition?
Rewarding yourself with “treats” or very large meals simply because you’ve completed a run is a common mistake. It’s okay to treat yourself once in a while, but remember what your goals are to keep things in check.  Beginning runners tend to overestimate their calorie expenditure. In reality we only burn about 100 calories/mile no matter how fast we run.

Eating lots of carbs is another common error. While eating carbs is definitely important for running, runners still need to eat a balanced diet just like everyone else. Lean protein for muscle building and repair, healthy fats (like monounsaturated and omega-3’s), fruits & vegetables for vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. A balanced diet is important for fueling performance and recovering for the next exercise session.

When and how much should I eat before a 30-minute run?
If you are running in the morning after waking you don’t necessarily even need to eat. Later in the day, the general rule of thumb is to eat just a small snack (200 calories) about 1.5-2 hours before the run.

What are the best pre-run foods?
Carbohydrates that are easier to digest along with a little fat and/or protein (to help stabilize blood sugars and keep you feeling satiated). Some examples: banana w/nut butter, 5-6 crackers with nut butter, 5-6 crackers and a couple small pieces of cheese. For those on the go and need of a “convenience snack,” have 1 serving of Clif Shot Bloks, a gel, or a small glass of Gatorade, 30 minutes before run.

How much should you eat before a 60-minute run?
As with a 30-minute run, eat a small snack of around 200-300 calories, keeping in mind that caloric needs are dependent on body size and how fit you are.

Nutrition Guide for Runners

Photo: Kevin Morris

What do you need to bring on a long run?
Liquids are the most important thing. Bring water plus electrolytes (like Nuun tablets) to replace electrolytes lost in sweat (primarily sodium and some potassium). Electrolytes also help to move carbohydrates from the small intestine into to the blood stream where they are needed. bring liquids in a handheld water bottle, hydration belt, or hydration pack. Nutrition options should be focused on carbohydrates. Convenient carbohydrates to bring with you are gels and chews.

What nutritional supplements do you recommend?
At Fleet Feet of Maine, we carry GU, Hammer, Clif, Huma, Nuun, Bonk Breaker, Picky Bars and Honey Stinger. Within those brands are several different nutrition forms: gels, chews, electrolyte drinks, recovery.

What about hydration and electrolyte replacement?
Rehydrating with water plus electrolytes is vital to prevent hyponatremia. Hyponatremia can occur by drinking too much water without replacing electrolytes. Drinking only water, you dilute your blood sodium levels, and this can be deadly! This is only a concern in very hot conditions and longer/more intense races.

Drinking electrolytes can also help move carbohydrates ingested out of your small intestine and into the blood steam (so will help prevent that sloshing feeling) AND can help prevent that nauseous feeling that many people experience after a long run. If feeling that way, drink a glass of electrolytes post-run.

What are the best food and drink choices after a moderate run?
Post run it’s important to eat something within the first 30 minutes after exercise (preferably some carbohydrates and liquid). If you can’t stomach it, try to suck down some Gatorade (carbs, liquid + electrolytes). Within the hour, try to consume a small meal consisting of carbohydrates, protein, and some fat…a well-rounded meal. Some examples might be a piece of toast with peanut butter and banana and 2 eggs, a fruit smoothie with some protein powder, yogurt with fruit and granola…etc.

What about having a beer or two after a race or running?
I think having a beer or two is just fine. Beer is only dehydrating if you drink a lot of it, but everything in moderation of course! You are consuming liquid + carbs + B vitamins. Also, if not just for mental enjoyment!

Why are training groups successful in furthering runner’s abilities and goals?
I think training groups are successful from the motivational and accountability stand point. We have friendly coaches and great people who attend our groups. They are very high energy and I think that runner’s typically thrive in this type of supportive environment! People make friends and find running buddies through our groups and we see them return year after year! In a few words: High energy, fun, supportive, motivational!

Tara Whiton has her Master’s (MS) in Exercise Physiology & Nutrition, is an ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist, and a running coach. Tara is the Director of Social Media & Communications, and Run Coach at Fleet Feet Maine Running. She is fond of trail races, particularly the 50K as well as short, steep uphill running races. On the road her preferred distance is the half-marathon.

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