Running Nutrition, Fueling Strategy and More Tips

Managing hydration and nutrition while running is as important, yet almost as challenging as running itself.  Scan the shelves at running stores and you’ll be overwhelmed by the number of different running foods available. It’s hard to know where to start when choosing and testing these products in training, not to mention considering a strategy. Honing in on nutrition may seem difficult, but it’s critical for a successful race day.

Allan and I recently discussed common guidelines for hydration and nutrition on the 40+Fitness Podcast. I summarized our hydration discussion in a prior blog and the nutrition information, plus more guidance is summarized here. As I state repeatedly, hydration and nutrition are highly individualized. We don’t always fall so neatly into a precise calculation or even loose guidelines. Use these podcast discussions and blog posts as starting points and practice hydration and nutrition in training to determine what works best for you.

Listen to the two 40+Fitness Podcast Episodes during which Allan Misner, NASM CPT and host of the 40+Fitness Podcast, and I discussed hydration and nutrition. You can find the library of podcasts here:

Search for to episode 487 – Nutrition for Running – Part 1, released on May 17, 2021, and episode 488 – Nutrition for Running – Part 2, released on May 24, 2021.

What & How Much to Eat Before, During, After Running

Let’s get one of the most common running myths out of the way – Carb-loading. We’ve all heard stories about runners scarfing down a huge plate of pasta the night before a race. First, one meal isn’t going to guarantee a properly fueled race. Second, cramming a massive amount of food in your stomach in one meal will initiate a digestive process which may result in more port-o-potty visits than desired.

Instead of carb-loading the night before a race, consider all the meals in the days leading up to race day. Over the course of the taper, you are adding fuel to your muscle tanks and not spending it on training. There’s nothing wrong with pasta, but there are also healthy carbs in vegetables, rice and other nutrient-dense foods. Choose foods that agree with your stomach and won’t leave you feeling bloated or uncomfortable. Limit spicy foods or foods that could present a risk for common foodborne illnesses. Ask me about a guy that ate an egg-salad sandwich he bought at a gas station.

As a Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) Level 1 Run Coach, here’s what RRCA suggests:

Before running: Eat 30-60 minutes before a short workout and two to three hours before a longer workout, but don’t sacrifice sleep. RRCA suggests choosing a snack that is low in fat, with complex carbohydrates and protein, such as half a bagel with peanut butter or half a banana with granola.

During running: Most people utilize both fat and glycogen for fuel. We have glucose in our blood and muscles from daily eating and have fat stores to draw from too. For over 90 minutes of running, there is a need for additional carbs from gels or tolerated foods to keep the energy burning for the duration of the race.

There is no magic number on the number of carbs or calories that a runner should consume each hour. RRCA suggests that runners aim for 30 grams of carbs which could be one banana, two Fig Newton’s or half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Most gels have 22-29 grams of carbs and are around 100 calories. You can either eat a gel all at once or sip it every few miles. One estimate on calorie replacement is to aim for approximately 25-35% of calories expended each hour. For example, if you burn 600 calories per hour you may try to replace about 150-210 calories.

Running-specific foods, such as gels, gummy chews, and some drinks, have the mix of carbs, protein, electrolytes, caffeine and sugars that runners need in a more easily digestible form. Some runners are able to digest foods like sandwiches, burgers, potatoes and soups.

Carefully consider the nutritional content in the foods that you test in training. Look at calories, carbs, and electrolytes and other nutrition on the label. The point is to get the macros you need, while not over doing it. Too much sugar will present digestive problems and too much caffeine can increase your heart rate making easy efforts feel harder.

After running: RRCA suggests eating a snack with carbs and protein within 30 minutes of completing the training run or race, then eating again within two hours. Low fat chocolate milk is a common post-run choice since it offers a 4 carb to 1 protein ratio, another common rule of thumb. Other suggestions include trail mix and banana or a smoothie made from yogurt, fruit and protein. The post run snack is intended to promote muscle healing, not make up for all the calories burned while running.

Key Tips for Running Nutrition

  1. Test a variety of running nutrition and real foods in training.
  2. Choose products that offer different textures and tastes – sweet, salty, crunchy and soft foods. You may prefer different options at different points of the race.
  3. Eat early and often. Getting behind on nutrition, like hydration, is difficult to correct later in the race.
  4. Choose a strategy that you will remember to execute. A slow-drip of incoming nutrition may be easier to manage than bigger bites at certain points of the race. On the other hand, you may prefer eating at the top of every hour or every 5 or 6 miles.
  5. Drink water with gels or other running food items. Drink electrolytes when not eating.
  6. Keep a journal highlighting the foods that work well and those to avoid. Practice everything in training, multiple times, and write notes on how you felt, bathroom breaks and rate of perceived exertion.

This is a lot of information to consider and test in training. If you have any additional questions, please reach out to me on my website,, or through my social channels. Happy running!