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Fuel Your Run: Nutrition for Training and Racing

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Preparing to run a race means more than just getting fit. You also need to get your diet up to speed. Here's what to eat -- and drink -- when you're a runner.

The Basics

All runners, report to the starting line.

Whether you're taking part in a major marathon or the local 5-kilometer turkey trot, those words can give any runner the jitters on the morning of the big race. You have logged many miles, on trail and treadmill, to get ready. But have you prepared nutritionally?

"[Good] nutrition should be part of your ongoing training, not something you start to do only in the weeks leading up to the race," says Kathleen Porter, MS, a registered dietitian and longtime runner from New York City. She offers some guidelines for runners to follow.


The number of calories you need to consume daily depends on the duration and intensity of your workouts. Keep in mind that you'll burn roughly 100 calories for every mile you run, depending on your size. If you run four miles, you'll burn about 400 calories more than you would have if you hadn't exercised.

You'll want to eat enough so you don't feel faint or weak toward the end of your workout, but don't use running as an excuse to eat everything in sight. Unless you're a high-mileage runner, your daily calorie needs aren't going to be dramatically higher than a non-runner's. You might want to consult with a sports nutritionist who can help you tailor an eating plan that's right for you.

Porter suggests aiming for the following breakdown for your daily meals:

  • 60-70 percent of calories from carbohydrates (grains, pasta, bread, etc.)
  • 20-30 percent of calories from fat sources (oils, avocados, nuts, etc.)
  • 10-15 percent of calories from protein (fish, meat, chicken, beans, etc.)

To optimize your training, when you eat as almost as important as what you eat, says triathlete Cindy Sherwin, a registered dietitian and personal trainer. Within an hour of finishing your run (and ideally within 30 minutes), you should refuel with a snack.

Sherwin recommends that your post-run snack contain carbs and protein at a ratio of roughly 4-to-1. Her suggestions: a slice of whole-grain toast with peanut butter and jelly, or some fruit with half a cup of yogurt.

"What you're looking to do is replenish your glycogen stores so you can be ready for your next workout," says Sherwin. "The maximal uptake of glucose is in those first 30 minutes after your run."

In addition to getting you fit for race day, training provides you with the opportunity to practice your fluid-replacement strategies. You're going to need to drink regularly during long races (half-marathons and marathons) and, in hot weather, shorter races. Experiment with hydration during your training runs. Do you like drinking on the go, or do you prefer to stop running, take a few gulps, and then get moving again? Can you stomach Gatorade and similar sports drinks, or do you prefer to stick to water? Use your training runs as dress rehearsals for race day.

Next:  Two Weeks Out


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Jamiewins2 wrote:

I just drop a gel in my arm pocket ( and eat 1 since thats about all I can handle, it seams any more doesnt dgiest.

9/27/2012 01:51:46 PM Report Abuse
coburndangela5 wrote:

Im a little confused about what to eat if Im not able to eat the whole grains...we are following a Paleo diet due to autoimmune diseases. Whats the best source of carbs if we cannot have the grains?

3/10/2012 08:43:07 AM Report Abuse
heather.l.mereness wrote:

I really like to eat 4-6 pieces of sushi before I leave home & then a bananna on the way to the race. The sushi sits well on my stomach & is very healthy especially if you get the brown rice sushi.

10/13/2010 08:33:48 AM Report Abuse
anbay3 wrote:

Goo works great!

10/7/2010 10:18:58 AM Report Abuse
schonbie wrote:

I have a banana about an hour before exercise.

10/7/2010 10:12:44 AM Report Abuse

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