Tips on fueling before, during, and after your runs

We asked the CWR community what questions they had for us again (do you notice a trend?). Today we’re answering one that’s so common that we probably should have addressed it before now. What exactly should I eat at various stages of a run?

Flashback to one of my earlier 5ks. It wasn’t my first one, but I was running it with two friends who never had run a 5k before. We carb loaded the night before. For 3.1 miles. Girls, that was not necessary.

I mean, I sort of knew that while I was doing it. And it was really just an excuse to eat some delicious pasta with my girlfriends. But if you are worried about getting your nutritional needs met as a runner, here are some key concepts. Remember that no one on the CWR team is a nutrition professional, so if you have any serious problems or questions, you should look into finding a nutritionist in your own city.


Before Exercise

Timing: For workouts that are shorter, eating 30 minutes to an hour before you exercise is fine. If you’re going out for a long run or a competition, though, try to eat 2-3 hours before. If that means waking up at a ridiculous hour of the morning, don’t worry about it. Eating well the night before and simply snacking 30-45 minutes before the run should be fine.

Type: Before your run, choose a meal or snack that is low in fat and contains complex carbohydrates and a little protein. Some examples include:

  • Granola bar and a banana

  • English muffin or bagel with peanut butter and a piece of fruit

  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich

  • Smoothie

  • Nutrition bar

It’s a good idea to go with the rule of halves with these foods, as well. Half a bagel, half a banana, half a cup of coffee...okay, never mind. I need the whole cup of coffee...

During Exercise

Timing: You don’t need anything for a run under an hour. Trust me, I know it feels like you do, but your muscles can get everything they need from the carbohydrates and fats that you’ve already eaten. For an hour or longer run, you’ll need additional carbs from gels, bars, or other well tolerated foods.

Types: You should aim to get an extra 30 grams of carbohydrates for every 30-40 minutes of running. Alway be sure to drink 16 ounces of water with that so you don’t get dehydrated.

There’s a bit of drama when it comes to fueling on a run. There are two schools of thought: natural fueling, and gels. People on both ends are very passionate about their side. I can go either way, so I’ll present examples of both types for you to choose from:

  • 1 banana (yes, that’s 1 banana every 30-40 minutes)

  • 10 pretzels

  • 2 Fig Newton’s

  • ½ peanut butter and jelly sandwich

  • ¼ bagel

Some popular energy gels are:

  • Clif Blocks

  • Gu

  • Honey stinger

After Exercise

Timing: Now this might be one of the most important times for food. What you eat after you workout determines whether your muscles recover effectively. So unless you just loooove being sore, make sure to eat a snack or meal with carbs and protein within 30 minutes of your run. And then eat again within two hours.

Type: I won’t give you recommendations for the meal you should eat within two hours (maybe another post), but here are some ideas for the snack you’ll want to eat.

  • Low fat chocolate milk (my FAVORITE post-run snack)

  • Trail mix and a banana

  • Smoothie with fruit, yogurt, and protein

  • Bagel (a whole one this time!)

And another bonus tip for you: don’t get all experimental on your fueling when it’s important that you’re at the top of your game. You want familiar foods that you know you can tolerate. So eating a Gu on race day when you never tried one before could result in you locked in the bathroom for the rest of the day (ask me how I know). It’s fine to figure out what you like, but don’t get crazy.

Fueling for heaven

I’ll leave you with a spiritual reminder. Jesus tells us in John 6: 55-56, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” He makes it pretty clear. Eat Jesus and become Jesus. When you’re thinking about the fuel you need for your body, remember to also be conscious of the fuel you need for your soul. Partake of the Eucharist as often as you can, and allow the Holy Spirit to change your life just as much as the right foods can change your runs.