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An overview of nutrition for Runners

Good nutrition is critical to how you feel and perform during training and the race. So part of your training programme should include choosing the right foods that will give you enough energy to fuel your body and help it repair and grow. Ensuring you are eating a healthy and balanced diet is a good start to your training plan.

Carbohydrates – A runner’s friend

Carbohydrates are the most important source of energy for your body when you training for a marathon. They should provide 50-60% of your daily calories. When starting out, aim for 50% or half your plate to be carbohydrates, which includes both starchy foods (such as breads, rice, pasta, cereals) and fruit and vegetables. As your training sessions increase in duration and frequency (to over 60 min a session) you may find you need to increase your intake of starchy foods.

Typical runner can store 1800 kcal worth of carbohydrate calories, mostly as muscle glycogen. But this will only last for about 2 hours at moderate intensity pace or half the race, so it is important that carbohydrates foods are replenished on a daily basis. Muscle glycogen deficits can grow from one workout to the next – if you are running on half empty all the time you will fatigue early and be forced to curtail your training.

Including carbohydrates in each meal will help keep your muscle glycogen topped up. The best types to choose are those that release their energy slowly. Low Glycaemic Index (GI) foods are more complex in structure and take longer to be digested and should be the basis of all meals . Good examples include: whole grains, pasta, basmati rice, oats, beans, sweet potatoes and fruits and vegetables.

Choosing carbohydrates that are made with simple sugars and refined flours ( high GI foods) such as white bread and cereals, biscuits, cakes, fruit juice ,sports drinks and gels will give you short term energy. They are useful as an energy booster during and after long runs (greater than 90 min). Their quicker release energy can help spare muscle glycogen and keep you going for longer as well as help with the recovery of muscle glycogen stores after a long run. ( see recovery nutrition)


Protein is not used as an energy source, but is needed to help repair and grow muscle that is damaged during exercise. Although your protein requirements are slightly higher when training for a marathon, most people already eat more than require, so there shouldn’t be any need to increase protein portion sizes or rely on special high protein supplements. The best way to ensure you are getting enough protein for muscle repair and growth is by choosing meals with good amounts of carbohydrates, which will be sued for energy and a good mix of low fat protein choices at each meal – lean meat and poultry, fish, low fat diary, eggs, beans, and lentils.

Putting it into practice.

Aim to:

  • Eat regularly, every 3 to 4 hours

  • Eat balanced meals – low GI carbohydrates, protein, fruit/vegetable, healthy fat

  • Plan ahead – tailor your shopping list

Carbohydrate Rich Foods

  • Bagels, Bread, Tortillas, Pita

  • Wholegrain Cereal, oats

  • Fruit : fresh, dried, tinned

  • English muffins

  • Cereal bars (20-30g carbs)

  • Rice

  • Pasta

  • Couscous

  • Sweet potato

  • Crackers

  • Popcorn


  • Lean meat

  • Fish, fresh, frozen tinned

  • Poultry

  • Cheese – block and individual

  • Eggs

  • Diary – low fat

  • Beans – including tinned

  • Peanut.nut butter

  • Hummus

  • Soya products – tofu, soya milk

Example meal plan: Remember this is a guide with no mention of portion sizes so you can adapt it to suit yourself (e.g. men usually require larger portions than women)


porridge or wholegrain cereal with low fat milk

1-2 slices wholegrain toast with peanut butter or cream cheese

Fruit juice/fruit

Mid morning:

2 oat cakes with cottage cheese/hummus and fruit


Sandwich – wholegrain bread, pitta, wrap – with lean ham, chicken, tuna and salad

Yoghurt and handful nuts


cereal bar and fruit

Evening meal:

Lean steak, poultry, fish

Basmati rice, pasta sweet potato

Lots of vegetables

Yoghurt and fruit

Evening snack:

bowl of wholegrain cereal and low fat milk

Balancing lifestyle, meal times and running

The Early Riser – If you a person who can’t eat before an early morning run, then the emphasis is on ensuring you have a good carbohydrate containing meal and snack the evening before. The breakfast after is very important – porridge, cereals, toast with fruit juice/fruit .

The Lunch Time runner – You have to eat after the run, but you're on the clock. Be prepared – use previous nights leftovers that you can microwave and eat at your desk or have a desk sandwich, fruit and yoghurt or fruit smoothie . See kit bag foods

After the office - If you can't sit down to your evening meal within an hour of your run, graze on fruit, crackers, bread, and a individual cheese to tide you over until a healthy dinner – This means mean you will be less likely to snack on something like choc/ sausage roll/croissant/ pastry to take the edge off any hunger. See kit bag foods

The Night runner - Finding good recovery-window foods after late-night running will involve some experimentation. Try eating half of your dinner before and the other half after or have half to one cup of cereal and milk after. This is a time where a recovery drink may be the easiest solution. The key is to end up not starving at dinnertime or after the run. This can easily lead to overeating.

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