Eat to Run: A Practical Guide to Pre and Post Running Nutrition for Optimal Performance

One of my favorite parts of training people in person is that I get the amazing opportunity to learn about the struggles my athletes are having first hand. If I write about the topics that people want to learn more about, I can reach a wider audience. This week two of my in-person running coach clients in Fort Worth asked me to give them more information about pre and post workout nutrition for runners. If two people are asking me in-person there are probably a lot more people wondering. What do you want to learn more about? I really want to know.

Do you have questions? How can I help?

A practical guide for pre and post running nutrition for optimal performance includes snack and meal ideas, as well as meal timing guideline.

 Eat to Run: A practical guide for pre and post running nutrition for optimal performance. Save to your favorite Pinterest board for later.

Eat to Run: A practical guide for pre and post running nutrition for optimal performance. Save to your favorite Pinterest board for later.

What to Eat Before/During and After Running

Nutritional needs are individual. My best advice is to experiment with nutrition to learn what works best for your body. Approach it as research. Experience is your teacher. Try it, gather data, and adjust as necessary. No one knows your body as you do. I can offer suggestions and practical tips for running nutrition, but since everybody is different, only you can decide what works best for you. Learn (by doing) what makes your body look, feel and perform its best.

The amount of protein, carbs and fat your body needs varies by personal preference, food tolerances and intensity of exercise. While pre and post workout nutrition should be considered, the meals you eat day-in and day-out are more critical. Your performance will be better with consistent whole-food nutrition.

PROTEIN FOR RUNNING RECOVERY

Aim for a serving of protein at each meal and snack. Start with .5-.6 grams of protein per lb of bodyweight per day. Protein will help you feel satiated and less hungry between meals. Protein is essential to build and repair muscle after exercise, and to maintain muscle tissue while you lose weight.

PROTEIN IDEAS

MEAT

Lean/extra-lean cuts of beef

Lamb

Lean pork (pork tenderloin)

Wild game (venison, elk)

POULTRY

Chicken

Turkey

Duck

Eggs & egg whites

FISH

Tuna

Salmon

Tilapia

Cod

Haddock

Trout

Sardines or mackerel

SEAFOOD & SHELLFISH

Shrimp

Mussels, clams, scallops

Crab, lobster, octopus

DAIRY

Low-fat Milk

Cottage cheese

Plain yogurt

Greek yogurt

Protein powder supplement (whey protein)

PLANT-BASED

Lentils

Beans

Peas (chickpeas, pigeon peas, etc.)

Hummus

Tofu

Tempeh

Vegetarian protein powder supplements (hemp or soy protein)

CARBOHYDRATES FOR PERFORMANCE

Carbs have a bad reputation, but the truth is for most athletes, healthy whole-foods carbs are necessary to fuel performance. Don't be afraid to add whole food, minimally-processed carbs to your meals, especially around your workouts. There is no need to carb-load with oversized portions of pasta, instead include nutrient-dense carbohydrates with each meal to fuel your running. Limit refined carbs from soda, chips, crackers, candy, and pastries.

The key is to consume sufficient carbs to meet your individual fuel needs. Carb needs vary for every athlete. You get to decide what works best for you.

CARBOHYDRATES IDEAS

WHOLE GRAINS

Old-fashioned Oats

Quinoa

Sprouted grains or bread

100% whole grain pasta

STARCHY CARBS

Asparagus

Broccoli

Beets

Carrots

Corn

Corn tortillas (not chips)

Cauliflower

Pumpkin

Purple, red, or gold potatoes

Rice

Sweet potatoes/yams

Winter squash (Butternut, Acorn, etc.)

LEGUMES

Lentils & beans

FRUITS

Apples

Apricots

Banana

Berries

Cantaloupe

Cherries

Grapefruit

Grapes

Mangoes

Melons

Oranges

Peaches,

nectarines

Pineapple

Plums

Strawberries

Watermelon

HEALTHY FATS

Carbs may be the villain these days, but it used to be that fat was the bad guy. Fat makes you fat. Makes sense, right? Except it is not true. Consuming dietary fat does not increase body fat directly. Fat has more calories per gram than carbohydrates and protein, and usually tasty, so fats are easy to overconsume. Overconsumption of any food can lead to weight gain. Fat helps your body absorb nutrients and keeps your hormones balanced. Aim for proper portions of healthy fats like avocados, unflavored nuts, and extra virgin olive oil. A thumb size of fats is a good measure of a proper portion.

HEALTHY FATS IDEAS

Real Butter

Fresh avocado or fresh guacamole

Raw, unflavored, unsalted nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, etc.)

Raw, unflavored, unsalted seeds (pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, etc.)

Flax seeds

Coconut (including fresh coconut or coconut milk)

Natural peanut butter

Natural nut or seed butter (almond butter, tahini, etc.)

Extra-virgin olive oil

NUTRITION FOR RUNNING LESS THAN AN HOUR

PRE-WORKOUT NUTRITION TIMING

For runs that last less than an hour, eat normally one to two hours before activity. You can eat a snack no sooner than 30 minutes to one hour before you run.

PRE-WORKOUT SNACK IDEAS

Whole wheat English muffin with 1 tbsp peanut butter

Greek yogurt with homemade granola

Cottage cheese with berries/fruit (try pineapple!)

Nuts

Carrots/hummus


POST-WORKOUT RECOVERY NUTRITION TIMING

Eat normally in your post-workout recovery meal to include both protein and carbohydrates within a few hours of your workout for muscle repair and to replenish glycogen (carbs stored in the muscles).

POST-WORKOUT MEAL IDEAS

Chicken and rice bowl with beans and avocado

Stir fry in olive oil with steak or chicken, with broccoli and brown rice

Whole wheat wrap with grilled chicken and veggies

 What to eat before, during and after your long run. Save to your favorite Pinterest board for later.

What to eat before, during and after your long run. Save to your favorite Pinterest board for later.

NUTRITION FOR RUNNING LONGER THAN 90 MINUTES

For runs longer than 90 minutes you may need intra-workout nutrition. Your blood sugar dictates how well you feel, and after 90 minutes of cardiovascular exercise when blood sugar drops you may experience low energy levels and performance declines.

Coaches note: Practice your long run nutrition before race day. To avoid surprises, always test your long fueling strategy on your training runs before the race. Plan your meals, the timing and the workout as close to race day conditions as possible.

PRE-WORKOUT NUTRITION TIMING FOR LONG RUNS

Eat normally one to two hours before activity using the guidelines above, about 300-400 calories.

INTRA-WORKOUT NUTRITION TIMING FOR LONG RUNS

For runs longer than 90 minutes consume 25-50 grams of carbs (100-200 calories) per hour beginning after after 90 minutes. Ever runner processes carbohydrates at a different rate, so you may need to consume carbohydrates slightly more or less often.

INTRA-LONG RUN FUEL IDEAS

Raisins

Dates

Pretzels

Honey packet

Energy gels with water

Protein bar with carbs broken into small pieces

POST-LONG RUN NUTRITION TIMING

Eat a snack 60-90 minutes after your workout to include both protein and carbohydrates for muscle tissue repair and glycogen replenishment, then eat normally within 3-4 hours.

POST-LONG RUN SNACK IDEAS

Oatmeal with protein powder

Greek Yogurt or Cottage cheese with pineapple

Low fat chocolate milk

Banana with peanut butter

Whey protein shake mixed with fruit

SUPPLEMENTS

I advise that you strive to get your nutrients from whole-foods when possible as outlined above, but supplements can help fill the gap when whole foods aren’t available or convenient.

PRE-WORKOUT

Caffeine alone can be effective as a pre-workout, it can give you a boost of energy for your runs. I’d recommend allowing time after coffee to use the bathroom before your run, because coffee can stimulate a bowel movement.

INTRA-WORKOUT

Sports and energy gels can help you get your needed carbohydrates on long runs. They are easy to carry, consume, and properly portioned. Always test these on training runs before your race because for some runners they may cause gastrointestinal distress, like cramping or bloating.

POST-WORKOUT

If real food is not available or convenient, a whey protein supplement can help with post workout recovery. Animal based protein powders, like whey made from milk protein, contain all essential amino acids necessary for muscle repair. Soy is the only plant-based protein that contains all eight essential amino acids

Consider a vegetable powder supplement if you are struggling to get enough vegetables in your diet. If you’re missing the micronutrients from vegetables in your diet, it can make you feel sluggish and compromise your immune system. Look for brands with minimum fillers and no added sugar.

While these supplements can be convenient, the often are a lot more expensive than consuming real food. Ideally, you should be able to get all your nutrients from a well-rounded diet of whole foods.

How to determine what (if any) supplements you may need.

Nutrition for runners isn’t complicated. If your diet is typically well-balanced and whole-food based you will have the fuel you need to run strong. Since we are all different, you may need to experiment with the amount of carbs, protein and fat that make you look, feel, and perform your best.

Questions? I’d love to help. It’s my life’s purpose to help runners succeed.

DOWNLOAD A FREE PRINTABLE RUNNING NUTRITION EBOOK PDF OF THIS BLOG POST

 Download the Running Nutrition ebook

Download the Running Nutrition ebook

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