If you’re looking for the low-down on fueling, we’ve got you covered. The information in this page is provided by Megan Flanagan of MegInspireFitness, an NCAA runner and certified personal trainer studying Nutrition. Credits go to several top nutrition resources out there, provided at the bottom of this page. You can also view the slideshow here. Let us know if you have any questions!

This article covers the following:fuelyourrun

  • Nutrient overview
  • Pre and post-race meals
  • Hydration
  • Healthy meals and snacks
  • Gluten and Glycemic Index
  • Top Recovery Foods
  • Top Nutrition Resources for Runners

Why is proper nutrition important?

FOOD is FUEL → calories + nutrients are needed!

Pitfalls of Consuming Inadequate Calories:

  • Fatigue
  • Slow recovery from training
  • Poor performance
  • Nagging injuries
  • Stress fractures
  • Increased susceptibility to illnesses
  • Burnout

Carbs = a runner’s best friend!

  • Your prime fuel source! Carbohydrates are broken down into glycogen, which are then burned during exercise. Your body can store about 400 grams of glycogen in your muscles.
  • Your carb needs depend on your own training level and intensity
  • For moderate exercise (one hour/day), you need 2.5-3 grams per pound of ideal body weight for training energy.
  • Ex: 130 lb moderate exerciser needs 325-390 grams / day. Spread out, this means about 80-100 grams at 3 meals, a couple of carb filled snacks, and some carbs during training.
  • Info provided by Laura Hunter, MS, RD: http://www.oiselle.com/blog/how-many-carbs-do-runners-really-need#sthash.iAp1eqOw.dpuf.


  • Essential for muscle growth and repair
  • Generally 1.2-1.5 g/kg of body weight per day depending on training, or 0.55-0.8 g/ lb.
  • Your weight in pounds X 0.55-0.8. Example: someone who is 130 lbs →  72-105 grams of protein
  • The most complete protein contains essential amino acids (only in animal products)
  • However, vegans and vegetarians can eat complementary proteins to reach complete
  • Your body can only metabolize 40 grams at a time
  • Excess protein → dehydration + possible damage to kidneys


  • Integral part of runner’s diet + energy source
  • Aim for healthy fats – unsaturated – such as avocados, nuts/nut butters, omega-3’s, coconut/olive oil
  • Lower saturated fats – naturally in animal sources; added to processed foods
  • Avoid trans fats/hydrogenated oils (commonly in processed baked goods)
  • Generally 20-25% of the diet or 45-65 g/day


What is it?  A source of fuel and energy for the body in carbohydrates, especially fruit.

How much is okay? Less than 10% of calories from added sugar per day.

  • Sugar is beneficial during endurance exercise to maintain blood glucose levels during long runs
  • Aim for less added sugar (ex. high fructose corn syrup, especially from donuts, candy, granola bars)
  • Don’t worry too much about natural sugar (esp. from fruit)

Glycemic Index: A scale of how quickly sugars are broken down into the bloodstream and how quickly they raise blood sugar. Aim for low glycemic as the staple of your diet, but consider high glycemic during long runs or right before running.


  • Gluten-intolerance affects nearly 1 in 133 people in U.S.
  • Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder where gluten triggers immune system to attack the small intestine.
  • Symptoms of gluten-intolerance include headaches, hormonal imbalances, digestion issues and skin conditions
  • No need to go gluten-free unless you have an issue with it

Pre-Run Snack Ideas

1 hour before or sooner:

Small dose of easily digestible carbs such as a banana, a cup of berries, an energy bar, a slice of toast with PB/ jam

2-4 hours before:

Steel cut oats topped with berries and nuts

Peanut butter on bread with banana

Veggies with hummus and crackers

Apple with almond butter and a cheese stick

A smoothie or yogurt topped with fruit and nuts

Pre-Race Meals: 

  • Eat what you always eat – stick to what works for you!
  • Consume simple, easily digestible carbs in the hours/day before, especially if you are prone to GI issues (toast, granola bar, banana or fruit)
  • You cannot make up what you lacked in the night or morning before the race


  • Aim for 4:1 Carbohydrate to Protein Ratio (4 g/carbs for every 1 g/protein)
  • Post-run meal should include: ¼  -⅓ a plate of carbs (rice, pasta, potato, bread, tortilla or cereal), ¼ plate of protein (lean meat, poultry, fish, soy foods, beans, eggs, low-fat dairy), fruits/vegetables for remainder of the plate, plus some fat (oil, avocado, nuts, nut butters).

Example Post-Run Breakfast:

Greek yogurt topped with fruit, granola, and nuts

Oatmeal with a scoop of protein powder topped with berries and/or nut butter

2 slices of bread with eggs, spinach, and cheese + one piece of fruit

Best Recovery Foods:

  • Chocolate or skim milk – optimal 4:1 carb : protein ratio ; replenishes muscle glycogen stores after a workout
  • Cherries – the most antioxidant-rich fruit on earth! Many studies link cherries to reduced muscle soreness
  • Salmon – Contains Omega-3 fats, which boost heart health by creating more elastic blood vessels and improve nervous system functioning
  • Kale and spinach – strong anti-inflammatory properties & numerous vitamins
  • Bananas – extremely high in potassium and carbohydrates
  • Old fashioned oats – long-lasting, low glycemic food

→ 1st fuel window: 100-300 calories within 30 minutes post-run ; 2nd fuel window: 150+ calories within 1-3 hours.


  • Your weight / 2 = recommended ounces
  • 1-2 cups of water in the hour before you run
  • 8-24 oz. post-run
  • At least 3 liters / day; more for hot weather
  • Sports Drinks for 1+ hours or hot temps!
  • Thirst is the first sign of dehydration
  • Also consume hydrating foods such as watermelon + cucumber


  • Minerals in your body important for hydration regulation
  • You lose electrolytes in sweat
  • Sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium
  • Potassium: Bananas, avocados, potatoes, coconut water
  • Sodium: bell peppers, beets, salt
  • Magnesium/Calcium: beans, nuts, greens

Example Foods to Eat

Complex Carbs:

Quinoa, Lentils, Sweet potatoes, Veggies, Fruits

Healthy Fats:

Avocados, Nuts, Nut Butter, Coconut/olive oil

Lean Protein:

Fish/salmon, Eggs, Lean beef/steak, Beans, Tofu


Cheese, Greek yogurt/kefir, cottage cheese, milk

Example Breakfasts:

  1. Blended fruit + veggie smoothie
  2. Oatmeal topped with fruit/nuts/nut butter
  3. Cooked eggs or veggie and cheese omelette on whole grain toast or tortilla
  4. Yogurt topped with flaxseed/chia seed/granola and berries
  5. Whole grain cereal over milk with berries or a banana
  6. Protein/Fiber/Carb balanced bar (Oatmega Bars, Zydeco, + Quest Bars
    are 3 of my favorites!) and fruit or yogurt with it

Example Lunches:

  1. Turkey or chicken wrap with salad greens, cheese, and your choice of extras
  2. Salad bowl with some mixed veggies, a protein and a carb (rice, beans, quinoa, corn or potato)
  3. Pasta or quinoa dish with protein + veggies
  4. Soup and a veggie-filled, protein-rich salad or sandwich

Don’t forget to add some yogurt, a piece of fruit, and/or a treat that you enjoy! 🙂

Dinner: ¼ Lean Protein, ¼-½ Carb, and ¼-½ Veggies/Healthy Fat

  1. Salmon, sweet potato & asparagus
  2. Tilapia or Catfish, squash or corn & green beans
  3. Lean steak, purple potatoes & brussels sprouts
  4. Grilled chicken, quinoa or rice & broccoli
  5. Black beans or tofu, bell peppers, spinach, avocado & cheese on a whole grain tortilla

Making Healthy Food Taste Better:

  • Add a healthy fat – cheese, avocado, cottage cheese, nuts or nut butter
  • Top with some herbs and spices – cinnamon, garlic, nutmeg, basil, cumin, oregano, cayenne pepper, etc.
  • Add some relish or dip – hummus, mustard, guacamole
  • Add a little something sweet – dark chocolate chips, cacao nibs, berries/fruit or yogurt

What to Eat on Off-Days: 

“On days when you are doing less, you will likely want to eat just as much (or almost as much) because:

1) Your muscles are using any extra unburned calories to refuel your depleted glycogen stores from the previous days’ tiring workouts, and

2) You may be more active during your “light exercise” days

Your best bet is to listen to your body; it is your best calorie counter. If you are thinking about food and fighting the urge to eat, your body is saying it needs more fuel.”

-Nancy Clark, RD and author of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook-5th Edition


  • Don’t forget to treat yourself – you earned it! 🙂
  • Allow yourself to enjoy dessert regularly- restrictions only lead to overindulgence later

Top Nutrition for Runners Resources:

Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook-5th Edition
-She also has a nutrition blog.

-Matt Fitzgerald, runner and author of Racing Weight and Racing Weight Cookbook: Lean, Light Recipes for Athletes (The Racing Weight Series)


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