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How to Eat to Fuel Your Runs

You Asked: How to Fuel My Running?

Hi Fit,
I am training for a half marathon and I'm up to three miles a run. However, I've never been a runner before and suddenly I've been getting incredibly hungry. So far I've gone down a size since I started training! I've been wondering if I should increase my food intake, but I'm not sure by how much and which type of foods (protein, carbs, etc). Any suggestions?
— Running on Empty

Fueling your body well is an essential part of training for any endurance event. When it comes to running, carbs are king. Carbohydrates turn most readily into the glycogen, aka muscle fuel. But just eating pasta won't cut it, a well-balanced diet it key. To learn why just

.

In a recent article, the IDEA Health and Fitness Journal recommended the following breakdown of macronutrients for an endurance runner's diet:

  • Carbs: Since carbs are the ultimate source of fuel they should make up 45-65 percent of your daily caloric intake. Carbs should come from whole grain sources (they're higher in important vitamins and minerals), fruits, veggies, and even dairy offers carbs. High fiber snacks are best avoided as pre-run snacks since they can be difficult to digest while you're in motion.
  • Fats: As long as you're avoiding saturated kind, fats are a healthy source of muscle fuel for the endurance athlete. This macronutrient can be oxidized for muscle fuel during a long workout longer than 90 minutes. Your diet should consist of 25-35 percent of fat derived mostly from plant-based sources. Think walnuts and avocados instead of bacon.
  • Protein: Long associated as the food of muscle heads, protein is important when you're logging miles too. Adequate protein helps reduce the breakdown of muscle and helps rebuild the fibers. Since protein doesn't play a huge role as a fuel when running, the daily recommendation is only 10-35 percent. This may sound low, but it is rare that Westerners suffer from lack of protein in their diets. Protein does seem to keep hunger at bay, so you can use lean proteins to help keep you feeling full.

As you build your mileage you will want to increase the amount of carbs you add to your daily diet. And don't discount adequate hydration. Keeping your water tank full, even the day before a run, will help your run, and rehydrating after will help you recover too. Remember, sometimes the body confuses the signs of dehydration for hunger.

If you're running to lose weight, be careful not to over do it when refueling. Running can increase the appetite, but you want to stick to the old equation that calories in should not exceed the calories you have burned. When training for an event and watching your waistline, every calorie that you eat is important and you want to make sure you're making healthy choices. Lean proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbs are your best bet.

If you can, make an appointment with a dietician that specializes in sports nutrition. He or she will be able to tailor a plan to suit your individual needs.

Into running? Join the RunningSugar community group. We'd love to hear your advice on nutrition.

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RunningOnCoffee RunningOnCoffee 5 years
When running early in the morning - for shorter runs (under 4 miles) I don't eat anything before hand. On longer runs I'll eat something like peanut butter or almond butter on a piece of wheat toast + a banana. If I run after work, I try to have a healthy snack mid-late afternoon. I don't like running with a really full stomach. Kashi bars are good for getting some carbs/protein in your body immediately after a long run (within an hour of getting back) if it will tie you over until you get a meal together. I've read that you should have something with a 1:3 or 1:4 protein to carbs ratio within that recovery period. Here's a good article from runner's world on how much protein you should be eating. Endurance athletes need .45-.72g per pound of your body weight. I consider .72 to be more like olympic athlete, so for someone like me who is a not super fast runner, logging about 20 +/- a few miles per week, I figure as long as I'm getting .5g per pound I'm in good shape (plus the math is easy). http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-242-300--12554-1-1-2,00.html
Roarman Roarman 5 years
I think everyones body is different. I can't have very much in my stomach when I am going to run. For longer runs, I pack a baggy with nuts and raisins and eat that and that worked well for me. The Clif bars always made my stomach sick. Before a long run, I would eat a banana and have a piece of wheat toast.
inlove23 inlove23 5 years
For running make sure you know what works for your body. I ate a kashi bar before a 3 mile run and it was NOT pretty! Ugh. I personally LOVE carbs which is a good thing since I just increased to four miles. I only drink water, and clif bars are great. You should read Run Like a Mother even if you're not a mother. It gave me a ton of great info -- like what to eat/drink and carry, injuries, etc. It's basically the bible of running in my opinion. lol.
sassymolassy sassymolassy 5 years
A few great things to eat before harder runs are: -oatmeal w/ any mix ins you like (raisins, peanut or almond butter, bananas, blueberries, etc) -toast w/ pb and banana If it's a shorter run, a banana and a few nuts or some yogurt are good options. Fueling afterward...be sure to fuel up w/ some carbs and protein w/ in 30 min of a hard workout. This helps your body's ability to recover well for the next run. Be sure to give yourself time to digest. Each person is diff. Some people need to eat 2 hrs before a run and some can eat just 45 min before. Good luck and stay hydrated! For long runs I'd recommend a mix of water/gatorade to carry with you and some gus/shot bloks/luna bars.
guavajelly guavajelly 5 years
I'm sure you can get all the carbs/energy/glycogen you need eating tons of fruits and vegetables which have way more vitamins and minerals then grains and for many people are easier to digest. Dried fruit paired with nuts is calorie and nutrient dense, plenty for running. http://fullbodytransformation.wordpress.com/
PureGrace PureGrace 5 years
Thanks for the advice FitSugar and Lekatvt. This is just what I needed to hear before my 4 mile race this weekend! Next stop, half marathon in January!
lekatvt lekatvt 5 years
When I was training for my marathon I would eat a Jimmy Dean Delite Breakfast bowl before my long milage runs. It was the perfect combination of eggs, cheese, potato and sausage that would keep me full and give me energy I needed.
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