ask a runner: nutrition tips

nutrition for runners - lululemon

running tips - ask a runner

you asked

You’ve competed in Ironman competitions, and from a beginner’s perspective that’s an amazing task and your body must take a lot of abuse. How much does nutrition play in your training regiment? What are some secret foods that you eat to stay in top physical shape? - Trevor
Do you have any nutrition tips for runners? I am training for a 5km race and I would love to know what I should be eating at breakfast, lunch and dinner to help me improve my performance! I am also interested in finding out the answer to how you stay motivated and keep running? - Christine

For new runners, what are some nutrition and when to eat tips revolving around your running session and to support a running body? And big question, what is the best thing to eat after a run? - Annie

Can you help me with running nutrition? I’d like to know what to eat before a run and how long prior to running should I eat also what best to eat after a run and how long after the run to eat it. – Lauren

a runner responds

Trevor, Christine, Annie, & Lauren,

I’m clumping your questions into one because they are all similar. First off, I will begin this by saying that nutrition is HUGE, and plays a large role in my athletic accomplishments. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a household where healthy eating was implemented from an early age. I eat a lot of food, but eat frequently throughout the day. My diet consists primarily of meat, nuts, eggs, vegetables, and fruit. It doesn’t get much simpler than that! Of course, there is always a time and a place for treats, but I would say that more than 80% of my diet comes from the aforementioned foods. Trevor – those are my secret foods! Nothing special.

Christine, Annie & Lauren – the key is finding out what works for you. Everyone is so different from the foods they can digest to the amount of time they can eat before running. I know that if I eat a larger meal, then I will have to wait 2 hours before doing a hard run. But that’s just the way my body is. What I can say is that you should be eating something before your run (anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours prior) that has carbohydrates or a carb/protein combo – think fruit, turkey sandwich, or sports drink. After your run, fuel is especially important. Think protein/carb combo – PB&J sammy, protein shake with some fruit, etc. My friend Beth swears by her pre-run peanut butter toast and post-run fruit and protein powder smoothie. Only you can determine what works and what doesn’t for your body. Don’t overeat – if you’ve been running 5km, then your pre-run and post-run fueling needs will be much lower than the fueling demands of a 20km run, so adjust accordingly.

For more information and complete lists of healthy foods for runners, check out Nancy Clarke’s "Food Guide for Marathoners". In short, keep it healthy, keep it simple, and if it works, keep doing it!


you asked

I am training for my first half marathon that is coming up in 20 days! I usually wake up at 7:30 to be out the door by 8 for my morning runs, and I usually do not eat anything before I run. I have heard that this is fine before shorter runs (4 or 5 miles), but maybe not longer ones (6, 7, 8 miles). Do you eat before your short and long runs? And what do you eat? And how long do you wait after eating to start running? Also, is there something specific I should eat before my half marathon? And what about the night before for dinner?? Sorry for the question overload!! If you can help me out, I would really appreciate it! - Taylor

a runner responds

Taylor – always eat in the morning, no matter what. Even if you aren’t running, your body has come from a fasting state, and needs fuel pronto, ESPECIALLY if you are going for a run! I usually eat eggs and fruit in the morning, and depending on the intensity or duration of the run, I usually wait 2 hours before I head out. The key is practice eating now and seeing how your body reacts. If my half marathon was at 7am, then I would get up and eat at 5am. I would eat my regular breakfast. DO NOT try anything new on race day. So get on a good breakfast program now, and stick to it before your race. As for your night before, hydrate well, and eat a normal, balanced healthy meal that you would normally eat. Have a great race, and good luck!


Ainslie is the first run expert featured in our Ask a Runner series. Check out her website to get to know her better.

Upcoming run posts from Ainslie:

- Marathon training – May 26
- What kind of running shoes to wear – May 27
- How to stay motivated – May 28

read more related posts:


Sweet! Thanks for the tips!!!

Comment by Annie — May 24, 2010 @ 2:17 pm

Great advice :) Thanks, Ainslie!

Comment by Mike — May 25, 2010 @ 9:34 am

Amazing advice – I just finished my second 10k and am taking up the daunting task of running my first half marathon in four months.

Glad you posted about both short and long run nutrition. I probably over-ate for my short runs so I’m hoping it’ll be just enough for my long runs.

Question though – do any of you consume those carbohydrate packs for half marathons or is that typically saved for full marathons? I know I was starved by the time I finished my 10k. I can imagine what I’d be like after the half.

Many thanks!

Comment by Aleksandra S — May 25, 2010 @ 10:47 am

Yay Ainslie, again, on the head. I’m so glad you talk about your diet, and that it is what it is! Real food is the best! =)

Comment by Amber — May 26, 2010 @ 11:26 am

So happy to see great advice on running And the huge role that Nutrition plays in any sort of training! As a Registered Dietitian, I field questions about this all the time and can never say enough on the topic!

Comment by Heather — May 26, 2010 @ 1:38 pm

I work in Nutrition and what you eat is so important for your performance. When I get up and have to be out the door for a run within 30 minutes, I just have a bit of juice and a half pack of gels…both absorb super-quick! If I have a bit more time, I’ll have a piece of fruit…just make sure you give it 30-45 minutes to digest.

And post-run, make sure you feed your muscles. When I forget (or just don’t get around to it), I really notice a difference on the next days run. I try to always have a glass of juice with a scoop of whey protein isolate as soon as I come in the door.

Comment by Keri — June 11, 2010 @ 1:40 pm

From one triathlete/runner to another, I just wanted to say that I think this was a great post with good answers! Eating is so crucial to performance and, more importantly, the ability to get better and faster! I just found your blog and am enjoying catching up on it!

Comment by Chuck — September 7, 2010 @ 8:40 am

Eating healthy is huge especially if you’re an athlete. I played professional soccer for a number of years and all the running burns so many calories that you constantly need to replenish them with healthy food. Fruits, Veggies, Nuts, Dark Greens are a must!

I love the picture! I use fresh fruits and berries in my whey shakes every day to get fresh energy and vitamins.

I recently wrote an article over here about whey protein powder shakes you should check out too. Replenishing your bodies fuel is crucial.

Comment by Matt the Whey Protein Guy — September 10, 2010 @ 12:04 pm

Yes, you must eat in the morning! Extremely important to kick start your metabolism with something nutrition. I like oatmeal with a little peanut butter if I’m in a hurry or a vegetable omelelette if I have some time.

Comment by Healthy Vending Machines — September 24, 2010 @ 8:11 am

Eat like a poor person.

Comment by Gareth Field — October 2, 2010 @ 9:31 pm

It’s also important what foods you eat after the run. Glycogen stores need to be replenished. The higher glycemic fruits like bananas can restore glycogen and potassium.

Comment by Allen at High Potassium Foods — November 7, 2010 @ 12:09 am

I don’t run but I do mountain biking and I agree, healthy diets rule. Even with common everyday activities a healthy diet is key. Water is important too, right?

Comment by Vending Machine Startup — April 3, 2011 @ 6:27 am

Amazing Q and A nutrition tips. Our health is the most important thing that we have, we should take care of this every single day. Eating in the morning, the breakfast is very important to our body to regenerate energy for the whole day. By the way that sliced watermelon looks very delicious.

Comment by enzymes for digestion — June 16, 2011 @ 9:06 pm

Great info! I am a runner and do a few half marathons each year, along with an intense bootcamp. But, on half marathon race days I find that eating my oatmeal (real, not instant) and my half cup of coffee about 2 hours before race time works for me. By the end I am getting hungry and love to take advantage of the race food after. I also have tried gels along the race (never until after 12km) but I like the sport beans (like jelly beans but better) for a little extra kick! Gels make me gag a bit and I don’t carry water since the water stations are good enough. I train without water so my body is used to getting a little from water stations only, although I do make sure to consume a lot of H2O the day before race day. But thats me!

Comment by chuckie — July 15, 2011 @ 10:49 pm

Great advice! My runs are almost always fueled by a bread with peanut butter and a little bit of honey. I’m going to try eating more eggs and fruit though.

Comment by Hal — July 28, 2011 @ 7:04 pm

Great Q and A, in every question the runner gives a nice answer. I like the blog like this. Well i feel a little bit of hunger on that juicy water melon. So delicious!!

Comment by how to get rid of acne on your back — August 2, 2011 @ 6:39 pm

The best recovery fuel after a run has got to be Chocolate Milk. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s got everything you need that you may have lost. Glycogen/Carbs/Protein and all in one 8 oz. simple convenient container! Try it sometime.

Comment by Lawrence B — November 4, 2011 @ 8:45 pm

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