Running Fuel for Beginners

Or whatever you do to get your sweat on

There are a million opinions about what to eat before a run, what to eat after and everything in between.  These are your basics.  What you need to get the most out of your new running lifestyle (or exercise of choice for that matter).  Once you get so experienced that you want to argue about pre and post exercise nutrition, I will be overjoyed that you’ve done it enough to have tried out so many new things.

Until then, here’s a starting point.

What to Eat Before a Run

 

Duration: Less than 1 hour until workout

What to eat: Fast digesting carbohydrates, fruit, dates, sports drink (non-radio active always preferred) Carbs are not bad, they have a place and you will see them mentioned here a lot. The idea is to have them digest fast and raise your blood sugar but not bloat you so that running is uncomfortable.

Food to Avoid: Fat, fiber or anything too heavy. This is avoid digestive issues but also because both fat and fiber slow digestion.  You don’t want to eat the right thing and then negate the benefit of it with added fat or fiber.

Why: Carbohydrates are easy access fuel for your body and when you’re working on running for 30 minutes you will need them to help give you energy.  Don’t think that starving yourself before a run will make you burn fat. Your body needs to learn to burn fat for fuel and that takes time. To be really efficient at it takes years of training.  It’s not going to happen on Day 1 of C25K.  Eat your fruit, try to enjoy the run and know that you’ve giving your body what it needs to achieve your goals.  If you notice that you lack energy (not lung capacity, that’s a different issue) then you likely didn’t eat well enough following your last workout.  See What to Eat After a Run below.

What to Eat During Your Run

 

Duration: “Easy” runs lasting 60 minutes or less.  I say easy with finger quotes because they won’t be easy at all. In exercise terms you are not doing speed intervals, high intensity intervals or tempo runs so they will be considered “easier”.  With those other sorts of intense workouts even if under an hour, a sports drink can still be warranted.

What to Drink: Water is where it’s at.

What to Avoid: I would suggest avoiding anything other than water unless you are a profuse sweater or it’s beyond hot.  But then again, should you really be out there if that’s the case? Probably not.

Why: You’re sweating, you’re giving off heat, you’re losing fluids, you’re spitting, you’re drooling, it’s hard work. How do you drink while running if you’re in the great outdoors? It’s often left unconsidered and therefore you end up under-hydrated.  Treadmills with handy cup holders are a no brainer but where does one stash a beverage while circling the neighborhood?  There are a few options that work well.  My favorite is a handheld water bottle, I use one made by FuelBelt from the Running Room.  You will feel weird holding something for the first few times but it goes away and you WANT to get used to having hydration around.  As you get better at running, going farther and longer this an important habit to have. I know some people that run a route past their home and stop for a quick drink every so often.  I won’t recommend this in the beginning, it’s way to easy to not go back out and finish.  Set yourself up for success and figure out an option that doesn’t involve a couch break.

What to Eat After Your Run

 

Duration: You have two fueling windows after a workout.  The first is for the 30 minutes immediately after your workout.  The second is about an hour after the first, or 1.5 hours after your workout. This takes planning if you’re working out away from home and have to commute home. You really need to take advantage of that 30 minute window.

What to Eat: During window 1, fast digesting carbs are your friend and if you can make them liquid, all the better.  Liquids digest faster than solids and you want sugar to be shooting down the muscle superhighway at this point.  You also want some protein here too. There is an ideal ratio of carbs to protein and since I’m a rule follower, I like guidelines! The ratio is 4 grams of carbs to every 1 gram of protein.  If you’re having 40 grams of carbs for your after workout meal you should have 10 grams of protein with it.  You can make a smoothie with strawberries, blueberries or bananas and a protein powder (whey, hemp, rice etc.) Mix it to the 4 to 1 ratio I described. I mix this up ahead of time so that it is ready immediately following my workout. For window 2, you’re having a nice healthy, well rounded meal, with complex carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats (hemp, flax, olive, etc.)  The carbohydrates are replenishing fuel stores (and this is what your brain uses to functio too), protein is needed to repair those muscles you just used and those fats help repair soft tissue and are a vital part of absorbing certain vitamins so your body can use them.

What to Avoid: Fat and fiber are to be avoided in window 1 and for the same reason as before the workout.  Next, more than a food to avoid is a mind set to avoid.  Calorie restrictors/dieters can get crazy about large calorie deficits and it may be tempting to not eat after a big workout since you just burned those calories, why eat them again, right? Keep reading to find out why this approach can be detrimental to your future workouts.

Why: Fueling up right after exercise fills up the glucose reserves in the muscles and liver that were used during exercise.  Your body is also a hundred times more able to adsorb nutrients right after a workout (I’ve read up to 800% in one book but this number varies depending on the research.) Feed it what it needs! If you deprive your body of after workout fuel, a couple things will happen:  first, you won’t refill those energy stores and recover quickly. Your next workout will likely be harder and we know what that means: harder workouts make motivation a problem, please don’t set yourself up for failure by thinking you’re “saving” a couple hundred calories. What’s the point in “saving” if you can’t finish your next workout because you’re exhausted? Second, if you don’t have carbs after you workout you will likely be so exhausted throughout the rest of your day that you will (a) want to fall asleep at your desk or (b) want to eat every chocolate bar in sight later that night. That’s your body’s way of saying it needs sugar because you used a lot up today.  Feed the machine, and avoid a midday meltdown at the vending machine.

Take care of your body and it will love you back.  Now head out and enjoy that run!

What are your favorite pre- and post-workout meals?


About Rita Barry

Rita is the editor Fitblogger. She is currently completing her Personal Training Certification. That and she used to be tragically out of shape and overweight and isn't anymore. It's a long and only slightly interesting tale but the idea is to help others find their way to health too, which ever way works for them.
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Comments

  1. Love the water recommendation, I am probably going to need to buy one of those water bottles for running once the weather clears up.

    I am one of those crazy dieters you speak of but I have never skipped breakfast. In fact I have recently increased mine from 270 to 540 calories due to adding an extra 30 min of cardio in the morning while I can not lift due to injury.
    John recently posted..Day 342My Profile

    • I was one of those crazy dieters ;) I’m so about the big breakfast too! But you’re eating that after your workout? That’s exactly what to do!

  2. Fabulous, fabulous post! Thank you for the great info. I didn’t know about the 4:1 ratio :).
    Suzanne recently posted..Weight Training at Home- What You NeedMy Profile

  3. I drink a protein shake & have a banana right after my workout, then eat dinner asap. I’m usually starving the rest of the night though, no matter how much I eat!

  4. This is a great post. I have been having problems with the re-fueling post long runs recently so this was a nice, basic guide. Thanks!
    Heather (Where’s the Beach) recently posted..10 MilesCheckMy Profile

  5. Great post and I actually post about Carbs in my post tomorrow and how carbs are the athlete’s best macronutrient friend.

    I was one of those that would consume mass quantities of food after a long workout/race because I was of the mindset to replenish….or I was brainwashed by advertising to be honest.

    Now I have one HoneyMilk and a 1/2 a whole wheat bagel (or comprable substitute) and I’m perfect until I get to window #2.

    Thanks for the info.
    Jason recently posted..Embrace The Pain…Then Look Back And SmileMy Profile

  6. Love. Thanks for the post! I can never keep track and I’m always looking this stuff up and it’s always geared toward a product of some sort.
    Rhonda recently posted..The Ups and Downs of V-dayMy Profile

  7. What a great post! I can attest to the watch the fat and protein before a run rule. Last Sunday, I ate an apple with peanut butter for a snack in the afternoon. About 2 hours later, I figured it should be digested, and I would be good to go for a run. Boy was a wrong! I had a peanut butter apple baby bouncing around in my stomach for 8 miles, no fun!
    Lauren recently posted..Not Every Run Is A Good Runand Thats OK!My Profile

  8. My husband and I are runners – even in the heat. We love to drink coconut water instead of water all the time. Let’s face it, water gets boring and coconut water has more nutrients in it. Also, when we are finished, we have started to have a date which is perfect!
    Genki Kitty recently posted..Back in the States with a Green Salad RecipeMy Profile

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