Nutrition for Runners: How to fuel before, during and after race day

It’s November, which means we’re excited for the NYC Marathon this weekend. If you’re running, or training for another race, nutrition is the best way to fuel your run. Here’s some tips from our dietitians on nutrition before, during and post-race to help you finish in your best time and promote muscle recovery.


How important are carbs while training?

Carbohydrates are a macronutrient that gets broken down into glucose (sugar) by our body. Foods that contain carbs include whole grains (pasta, brown rice, quinoa, oats), starchy vegetables (beans, legumes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, butternut squash, yuca, parsnips) and fruit. These foods are considered complex carb sources as they are natural foods and contain fiber, which helps us feel more full. Simple carbs are baked goods, sweets, juices, sodas and candies. In general, a little bit of simple carbs is still part of a healthy diet but the majority of your carb intake should come from those fiber-packed complex carbs.


Should I carb load before the race?

It’s generally recommended 2-3 days before your race to increase your carb intake. This tends to conjure up images of large pasta dinners (yum) but I’d suggest making sure to have a moderate amount of complex carbs at EVERY meal, as opposed to one carb-heavy entree. The carb you eat will be converted and stored as glycogen, which serves as our body’s energy reserves. On race day, your body will use up the available glucose in the bloodstream and then start to break down glycogen and fat stores for reserve energy.


What do I eat the day of the race?

It’s recommended to have complex carbs 30-60 minutes before a run. This allows your body to have enough glucose (sugar) in your bloodstream which will keep your energy levels up during the run. For shorter runs, aim to have ~15-30g carbohydrate calories before your run. For longer or intense runs, aim for 30-60g carbohydrate calories. Don’t forget to Include some protein (an egg, 1-2 Tbsp peanut butter) before longer workouts which will help keep your blood sugar levels stable. If you have a hard time eating BEFORE exercise, try doing a food with small portion size (ie ½ banana + 1 tbsp peanut butter) or a smoothie. Liquids empty out of the stomach quicker than food so are generally better tolerated for some runners.


Great pre-exercise foods include (15g carb portions):

1/2 cup Kashi Go-Lean Cereal

1/2 medium banana

1 cup berries

1/2 cup cooked oatmeal

1 slices whole grain bread

1/2 whole grain English Muffins


Should I eat during my race?

Absolutely! Don’t hit a wall during your race. Having 30-60g carb every hour during your run will help you maintain your blood sugar levels. It won’t make your faster but it will help you sustain your rate and finish the race. There are gels, chews and honey sticks designed just for runners that are easy single doses of carbs you can use during the race. It’s essential that you test out your plan during your training and not on race day!


What about water?

Hydration is essential both before and during a race. You can become quickly dehydrated during a race (even if it’s a cool fall day) which can be medically dangerous. Aim for 1 bottle of water for every hour of your run to replace lost fluids.


Should I eat post race?

Most definitely! Try to get your next meal in 30-60 minutes post race. Don’t forget to include your complex carbs to replace lost glycogen stores.


Good luck to all the runners this weekend, we’ll be cheering you on!

By: Stefanie Mendez, MS RD CDN

Nick VanMeter