Updated: Jul 9, 2018
Here is my recent blog on nutrition for runners - I get to the nitty gritty about food and running, what to eat before a run, after a run, when to eat it, what foods to avoid if you have bowel issues and even what foods to eat that make you faster.
1. Should you eat before you run, or should you run 'fasted'?
It depends on your training goal – do you want to enhance performance, maximise adaptations, lose weight? The goal of training is to prepare the runner to perform at their best during major competitions. Whatever the event, nutrition plays a substantial role in the achievement of various factors that will see a runner take the starting line in the best possible form. Everyday eating patterns must supply runners with the fuel and nutrients needed to optimize their performance during training sessions and to recover quickly afterward. The runner must also eat to stay in good health and in good shape. Special strategies of food and fluid intake before, during, and after a workout may help to reduce fatigue and enhance performance. These will be important in the competition setting but must be practiced and fine-tuned during training so that successful strategies can be identified.
Short-distance events (800-1500m) – the main limitation to performance is the disturbance in acid-base balance, which results from high rates of anaerobic glycolysis, rather than substrate depletion. An adequate supply of muscle glycogen in needed for such races, and runners should avoid training and dietary strategies that would cause them to commence a race with depleted muscle glycogen stores. There is some evidence that supercompensation of muscle glycogen levels may enhance the capacity for high-intensity workloads, although it is not clear where this results from.
Middle-distance events (5000m) to long-distance events (marathons) – it is usually suggested that substrate needs can be met by normalizing muscle carbohydrate stores before the race. In the absence of muscle damage, such fuelling up can be achieved with 24hr of a relative exercise taper and a carbohydrate intake of 7 to 12 g/kg BM.
In races of longer duration fuelled by moderate to high rates of carbohydrate oxidation, the muscles carbohydrate requirement is greater than its normal storage capacity. The depletion of muscle glycogen stores is associated with a feeling of fatigue and the necessity to reduce race pace.
As a runner myself, the decision to eat or not before my runs can be difficult. For me, and I am sure you as well, it is often dictated by our schedules, the availability of food in the fridge and cupboards, our level of hunger and anxiety about the training or race. Having had the opportunity to treat many varying abilities of athletes throughout the years and having noticed the eating practices of runners differs just as much as the running style. Some of my colleagues, who also run, always eat before a run, no matter how short or easy, whereas, others don’t seem to eat a thingBasically, pre-exercise nutrition will vary from person to person, workout to workout and season to season. Here is a quick checklist to consider:
Type of run – is it a hard workout, a long training run or just an easy recovery run?
Timing of the run – is it early in the morning, mid-day or late in the evening after a full day of work?
What can your stomach tolerate – do you usually eat before a run or are you trying to train your stomach to tolerate a pre-run meal?
Fasted state training - simply means exercising after having not eaten for several hours, typically early in the morning when your last meal was dinner. Blood sugar and liver glycogen levels are compromised, so you are likelier to burn body fat as fuel. This sounds great doesn’t it? It’s a great tool for endurance athletes, especially those wanting to train their bodies to regulate fuel stores more efficiently. Its benefits for everyone else aren’t clear – even for those wanting to shed a couple of pounds. Although there are studies confirming that fasting in general increases fat oxidation and decreases glycogen turnover, hard scientific evidence supporting its benefits for training is somewhat sparse.
2. What are the best things to eat after a run?
The main goals of post-run fuelling are to replenish glycogen (stored glucose) supplies and facilitate muscle repair and recovery. If you're doing a shorter run (under 90 minutes) at low to moderate intensity, you should be able to achieve those goals with your normal eating habits (assuming you're already following a balanced diet) and there's no need to eat specifically to recover. But after long runs or a very intense workout, you'll want to replenish energy as quickly as possible. Studies have shown that muscles are most receptive to rebuilding glycogen stores within the first 30 minutes after exercise. If you eat soon after your long run or intense workout, you can minimize muscle stiffness and soreness.So, carbohydrates in the form of glucose are the easiest to break down and be used as fuel. High-glycemic index foods like potatoes, pasta, bread, and rice are good choices for refuelling muscles. Pair one of those foods with a protein such as lean chicken or turkey breast (3 oz.), salmon (3 oz.), or a large egg and you've got yourself a solid post-run recovery meal.However, you may not always have the time or energy to prepare a meal after a run. Nutrition bars, such as Power bars, are convenient, healthy options. Look for bars that have the 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein. Other examples of quick nutrient replacement would be a bagel with peanut butter, a protein shake, a banana and yogurt, or a fruit and yogurt smoothie. (Get smoothie recipes from www.caitlintinnnutrition.co.uk)If you feel like you can't stomach solid food immediately after a long run, try drinking some chocolate milk. Chocolate milk provides the right amount of protein and carbohydrates, and also contains B vitamins —- making it a great recovery drink. And cold chocolate milk tastes pretty refreshing after a run. 3. When should I be eating after a run to maximise recovery?
The sooner the better – ideally within 30 minutes after running as your body needs essential nutrients to kick start the growth and repair process after a hard training session.
4. Is protein or carbohydrate more important for recovery?
Both are critical for full recovery after training. Carbohydrates are the body's main fuel source for high intensity work and are stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver. As the body can only store a certain amount of carbohydrate, once reduced through a harder training session these stores need to be replaced before your next workout.
Protein is vital for the growth and repair of muscle tissue and after hard training this remodelling can continue for over 24 hours. Starting with the post-training snack, regular protein intake helps to provide the building blocks (amino acids), for ongoing muscle growth and repair. 20g of protein is the magic number that you need to hit to kick-start the recovery process after training (slightly more for bigger athletes and less for smaller).
5. Are there any types of food that you should avoid before running?
Try limiting or eliminating some of these foods before running:
High-fibre foods – whole-grain foods, vegetables (e.g. broccoli), legumes, fruits and lentil loafs that are high in fibre can cause gastrointestinal distress or diarrhoea. Yes, although they are healthy foods for runner, they may cause digestive issues in runners who consume them the night before or the morning of a long run. So, while you shouldn't eliminate those healthy options from your diet, you're probably better off eating them when you don't have a long run the next day. Trade the multigrain breads and cereals for simpler carbs, such as white-flour pasta and bagels, days before a race.
High-fat foods - foods with a lot of fat, such as fried foods, cheese, burgers, or bacon, digest slowly and will feel like they're sitting in your stomach. In many cases, these will be foods you'll want to limit in your diet for your overall health and nutrition, in addition to the digestive troubles they may cause before a long run.
Caffeine – coffee or other caffeinated drinks can cause stomach issues or diarrhoea on a long run. Some runners, especially regular coffee drinkers, can tolerate it without problems and appreciate the potential benefits of a caffeine boost. It's important to test your body's reactions to caffeine and other potential trouble foods, so that you can figure out the best and worst pre-run food options for you.
Lactose – this is difficult for the stomach to digest. Eliminating dairy 24-hours before running is a simple solution for runners with stomach problems.
Spicy foods – some spicy foods can speed up your metabolism; however, too much of it can lead to heartburn and indigestion.
Refined sugars – Although sugar is important, certain types and how much can alter performance. The main reason is the feeling of fatigue. Research has proven that athletes performed significantly faster 45 minutes after eating a low GI meal (glycemic index) rather than a high-GI meal. An example of a low-GI meal would be something simple with minimal sugar, like an apple with peanut butter. High-GI foods include white bread, high-sugar energy bars and ice cream.
But remember – it is what works for your body – this is just a guideline.
6. If a runner has a race on a Sunday morning, what would you suggest they consume the morning of the race?
If you're training for a big race, such as a half or full marathon, it's important that you figure out what foods work for you before the race day. You don't want to eat new foods the morning of your race, because you never know how it will affect you. Your training runs, especially your long runs, are the time to try different foods and figure out what works best for you. Every runner is different, so what works for someone else may not necessarily work for you, and vice versa. Experiment with different foods the night before and the morning of long runs and pay attention to how you feel during the run. Once you've figured out foods that don't cause you any GI issues, and seem to help you achieve optimal performance, stick with those choices. These are the best types of pre-run foods to help avoid gastrointestinal distress during or after running:
Refined Carbs: Processed white foods, like regular pasta, white rice, and plain bagels are good choices. Although they're not as nutritious as whole grain and unprocessed foods, they're easier on your stomach because the whole grain is already broken down. A plain bagel with some peanut butter (and a glass of water) would be a safe choice before a long run.
Low-Fibre Fruits and Veggies: If you really want to eat fruits or vegetables before runs, zucchini, tomatoes, olives, grapes, and grapefruit are all low in fibre.
Dairy Substitutes: Soy, rice, and almond milks are generally safe because they don't contain the sugar lactose, which can be tough to digest. You can also try acidophilus milk and yogurts with live cultures, which contain bacteria that help with digestion.
7. What are the best sources of carbs, protein, and fat for a 1/2 marathon or marathon runner?
Bananas – Easy to eat and digest and are loading with fast-acting carbohydrates (1 large banana = 31g of carbohydrates). Perfect for pre or post-exercise snacks.
Berries – Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries are the most nutritious sources of carbohydrates. They are rich in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that promote health and performance. They are not the most concentrated source of carbohydrates but 1 cup contains 12g of carbohydrates.
Brown rice – the richest sources of carbohydrates. One cup of brown rice contains 45g of carbohydrate. They are healthier than refined grains (white rice) because they contain more fibre, vitamins and minerals. They are absorbed more slowly so they provide long lasting energy whilst promoting fat storage.
Energy bars – real energy bars (the ones designed specifically for pre, during and post exercise)are great for fuelling and refuelling around workouts as they provide abundant, fast energy. Before and after workout choose bars high in carbohydrates, moderate in protein and low in fat and fibre. Powerbar Performance are a good example (44g carb, 9g protein, 3.5g fat and 1g fibre).
Low far yogurt – A rich source of carbohydrate (6oz pot of blueberry yoghurt provides 26g of carbohydrate). Better choice for before and after exercise because it has a high-GI, ensuring the carbohydrates work quickly. But try to find a brand with no added sugar.
Oatmeal – An ideal pre-exercise meal that is easy to digest and provides lots of carbohydrates (1/2 cup provides 54g of carbohydrate).
Sports drinks – provides enough carbohydrates to fuel your muscles during exercise, along with water and electrolytes for hydration. As they are high in sugar they should only be used immediately before, during and immediately after workouts/races.
Tomato sauce – A rich source of carbohydrate (21g per cup), vitamins and minerals and antioxidants.
Whole-grain bread – A better source of carbohydrate that contains more fibre, vitamins and minerals compared to refined white bread.
Whole-wheat pasta – One cup provides 37g of carbohydrate. Yields longer lasting energy and promotes les fat storage than regular pasta.
Tuna – A good source of protein and vitamin B12. One can provides 41g of protein.
Almonds – 1oz provides 6g of protein. An excellent source of vitamin E, fibre and unsaturated fats.
Chicken breast – One breast provides 28g of protein with only 2.5g of fat.
Chocolate flavoured milk – An ideal post workout recovery meal. As well as providing dairy protein for muscle repair, it offers carbohydrate to restock muscle glycogen and water for rehydration.
Eggs – A single egg contains 6-7g of protein.
Beef – Make sure you choose the leaner cuts of beef to avoid high amounts of fat.
Low fat yoghurt – Contains whey and casein. Satisfies the appetite longer than most foods.
Turkey – Although a good source of protein it is also good for vitamin B6, niacin, and selenium. Roughly a 30z serving provides 24g of protein.
Soy protein – The best plant source of protein which is easy to include in your diet. Examples: tofu, edamame beans, soy-milk and soy based yogurts, soy burgers, and soy protein powdered drinks.
Whey protein isolate – the closest thing to a perfect protein source. It has the highest biological value of any protein and is rich in the hunger killing protein. It accelerates post-workout recovery, enhances muscle performance and even promotes weight loss by reducing the appetite.
Salmon – Per 60z serving it provides 44g of protein. It is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids which is proven to boost brain and heart health and fight inflammation.
Eggs (with the yolk!)
Seeds: chia seeds (great vegetarian source of omega-3s), flax seeds, pumpkin seeds
Fish: salmon, tuna, trout
Nuts/nut butters: almonds, cashews, walnuts
Full fat dairy
8. Do I need to eat more on the days that I’m doing a longer run?
Essentially yes - as your mileage increases, you need to fuel appropriately because your muscles need additional fuel to power you through a longer run. While you could muscle through a short run or workout and be fine, your performance on a long run suffers without fuel. In addition, not fuelling your body properly can put you at greater risk for injury and may even compromise your immune system.
9. Any advice on protein supplements for runners?
The key to recovering quickly and staying healthy as a runner is matching your protein intake to the mileage you are running. Consuming sufficient protein will help in repairing your muscles after your long runs. Because low protein intake is a common issue, mainly in beginner runners, you might want to consider making a diet change to ensure you are consuming enough protein. The first option would be changing your diet completely to match the proteins’ consumption; an easier solution is adding a protein bar in-between meals to increase protein intake, or you could opt for a protein shake.
Protein shakes are also easy to take, completely customizable with your favourite flavours, and contain less sugar than protein bars. So, what is the best protein supplement to add to your shakes? There are so many protein powder supplements on the market today and each type of protein serves a different function in the body. Choosing the right one can be difficult and confusing, here are the four basic types of protein and when you should use them.
Whey protein - A complete protein that is a great source of branch-chain amino acids, which aid fuelling your muscles and stimulating protein synthesis. This increases the speed of recovery by helping your muscles adapt to stress. (e.g. optimum nutrition).
Soy protein – it’s made of soybeans that have been de-hulled and defatted. It is a great source of amino acids and one of the best options for vegetarian or vegan athletes. Although there are some sides effects that come with it, so I would recommend using the plant-based protein supplements first (e.g. myprotein).
Rice protein - Rice protein is very easy to digest and a good solution for runners with sever food allergies or who are lactose intolerant (e.g. nutribiotic).
Plant-based proteins - They are the best choice if you are vegetarian, vegan and you don’t suffer from food allergies. The advantage of mixing three to four of these proteins together is that you get a complete protein that is easy to digest (e.g. vega).
10. Are there foods out there that will make me a faster runner?
The right diet is essential if you want to run at your best and certain superfoods (if you believe in superfoods) can boost your performance. Here are my top five best foods to eat to maximise your running potential:
Salmon - packed with Omega-3, which has many benefits for runners, including improving muscle function and lung health - both vital if you're hoping to hit top speed. These healthy fats also help to decrease inflammation in the body, which is caused by intense exercise or injury. Salmon is an excellent source of protein for muscle repair and contains vitamins A, B and D.
Beetroot - It might not seem like an obvious pre-running snack but recent studies suggest that beetroot can improve running performance. Research has shown chemical nitrates in beetroot actually improve endurance. In addition, this super vegetable contains antioxidants, which help with recovery from exercise. It can be added to salads, baked as crisps, or juiced. Beet It also make convenient beetroot shots!
Bananas - They provide a carbohydrate boost, and are easy on the stomach so they do not generally cause GI issues. They also contain potassium, which is lost through sweating during exercise but is vital to prevent muscle cramps. Bananas makes an ultra-convenient snack or can be added to smoothies.
Berries - Blueberries, raspberries and strawberries are all running superfoods. They are packed full of complex carbohydrates which stay active in your system longer, giving you a prolonged energy kick on your run, and they are rich in antioxidants, which can also improve post run recovery. They are also low in calories to help you to achieve your ideal running weight. They are easy to eat on their own or can be blended into a smoothie.
Turkey - Turkey mince is full of iron and an effective way to ward off anaemia - a runner's worst nightmare! It is a great source of protein while being low in fat and calories. It can be used in place of regular mince in burgers, meatballs and Bolognese.
11. Are there any supplements out there that will make me a faster runner?
Bicarbonate or citrate loading – there is reasonable evidence to support the benefits to middle-distance running events (800 and 1500m) of bicarbonate or citrate loading to reduce blood pH and enhance extracellular buffering capacity. Typical doses are 300mg/kg BM bicarbonate or 500mg/kg BM citrate, taken 1-2 hours pre-event. The risk of gastrointestinal upsets should be assessed but may be reduced by the intake of large amounts of fluid with the citrate or bicarbonate dose. Caffeine – appears to enhance the performance of prolonged high-intensity exercise or endurance events and may be of benefit to middle-and-long distance running events. Small to moderate doses (1-3mg/kg BM) appear to be as effective as larger doses (5-6mg/kg BM) in enhancing the performance of prolonged exercise. Of course there will be some, where caffeine will cause gastrointestinal issues.
12. Stomach and bowel issues are a big problem with distance runners. Do you have any advice on the nutrition side of things that could help with this?
There is a great amount of research that has proven athletes who suffer from gastrointestinal reflux during exercise should identify their response to potentially offending foods, such as fatty and spicy foods, alcohol, caffeine and chocolate, especially when consumed on the day or hours preceding exercise.
For athletes that suffer from diarrhoea during exercise should experiment to see if any of the following high-risk foods or nutrients, when consumed in the hours before exercise, increase the risk or severity of this problem: caffeine, high-fibre foods, lactose rich foods (e.g. milk, ice cream), fructose-rich foods (fruits and fruit juices), excessive intake of protein-rich and fatty foods.During exercise, the athlete should remain well hydrated. Often complaints about gastrointestinal upsets following intake of fluids during the event are attributable to moderate to severe dehydration and thus the delay in drinking, rather than to the fluid per se.
Athletes at risk of gastrointestinal problems should experiment with dilute solution of carbohydrate drinks (2-4% concentration of carbohydrate) and gradually increase carbohydrate content as tolerated when there is a priority to refuel during the event. High-fibre foods (e.g. some cereal bars, breads and fruit), concentrated carbohydrate drinks, caffeine may also increase the risk of gastrointestinal problems when consumed during exercise, and the athlete should experiment with such items in training before using in an important event.
The risk of diarrhoea and bowel upsets may be reduced by ensuring that the last solid food is eaten at least 3 hours pre-exercise: Liquid meals may offer an alternative way to provide pre-event nutrition. A low-residue diet on the evening or day before important events may reduce the risk of diarrhoea and bowel upsets. 13. Homemade protein balls, do you have a favourite recipe?
Apricot energy balls are my favourite – they are a perfect snack made with flax seeds, healthy nuts, and desiccated coconut! It is also dairy-free, gluten- free, vegan and with no added sugar!! It is a quick and easy recipe that comes together in 15 minutes providing you with a great source of vitamins and minerals. It is also a very versatile recipe that can be adapted to many different combinations: add oats, chocolate chips, dried cranberries, chia seeds and many more combinations! There is not much instructions/technique to this recipe, other than tossing all the ingredients into a food processor/blender and pulse a few times to combine. Then form the mixture into little balls, coat in the desiccated coconut and place them in the fridge. Here are the ingredients for the perfect apricot balls:
1.5 cup Dried Apricots
1/2 cup Raisins (see notes above)
1/4 cup Almonds
1/4 cup Walnuts
3 tablespoon Desiccated unsweetened Coconut
1 tablespoon Flaxseeds
1 teaspoon Vanilla essence
1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon Powder
If you head over to my website (www.caitlintinnnutrition.co.uk) you will find more recipes for protein balls, such as peanut butter and beetroot energy bites.
Other great nutritious examples are:
Watercress – an established big hitter for recovery and damage limitation – the peppery leaves contain hefty amounts of iron, vitamin C and calcium.
Venison – provides more protein for the calories than almost all other meats, but it is also a great source of iron and zinc.
Whey protein – offers the complete set of amino acids and is absorbed more quickly than other proteins, speeding up muscle repair. Ideally consume within 30 mins of training.
Milk – provides whey and casein proteins and omega-3s. This will net you more probiotics which boost the immune system. Preferably a glass late at night for casein protein – to build muscle as you sleep.
Sardines – have similar amount of protein to tuna, but provides more iron, vitamin D and omega-3s. Why not try it on toast with tomato and garlic post training.
Pineapple – contains anti-inflammatory bromelain which has been proven to reduce swelling, tenderness, and pain. Fresh is better as canned pineapple tends to destroy bromelain.
Pea-protein – a veggie option that has perhaps the most potential which is easily digestible.
Blueberries – an antioxidant powerhouse that boosts cardio and bone health together with anti-inflammatory benefits. They may even be the best source for reducing a runners oxidative stress. 50g a day of frozen or fresh blueberries helps combat oxidative stress.
Avocado – aids lean muscle growth, with around 15g of good fats per fruit. It is high in oleic acid which is great for boosting the heart and fighting inflammation.
Chicken/Turkey – chicken offers more protein per gram, but turkey is leaner. Both pack equal levels of D-Aspartic acid which aids muscle repair.
Salmon – great source of protein (roughly 25g or protein per 100g serving) and omega-3s. 50g portion once a week during heavy training periods is ideal.
Turmeric – contains curcumin which is a bone-boosting flavonoid – add to your curries after training.
Eggs – Chickens, ducks, geese, quail are all equally good. The yolk contains calcium, iron, phosphorus, zinc, thiamine, B6, B12 and folate as well as omega-3’s. You get 6g or protein per large egg – ideal for breakfast, post-training and as a snack.
Beef – one of the best meats for muscle growth and digestion. When you cook it rare it provides high amounts of glutamine which is the fuel for the gut to help other foods be absorbed.