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Nutrition Tips for Running

Reviewed by: Leslie Edmunds RDN and Katie Davis, RDN

I’m not an athlete but I love an occasional run, about once a week. There are different kinds of runners, of course, and with that comes the need for individualized nutrition advice. It is important to understand that nutrition should be personalized. Depending on your performance goals and body composition goals, nutrition can vary.

Now, all disclaimers aside, let’s explore some handy running nutrition facts!

The diet we choose determines the substrate that will be used for our run.

Get Into the Carb and Let’s Go

Carbs are a runner’s best friend. Inadequate carb intake causes low liver glycogen stores and can compromise performance and endurance. Moderate to high volume runners need 60-70% of total calories from carbohydrates. For those that crunch the numbers, the exact carb count needed depends on energy expenditure, gender, and many other factors but generally 5-7 g/kg/day for women and 7-10 g/kg/day for men will suffice, respectively.2

It’s all about the make and model of the carb. Nutrient dense, low fiber, low fat, low lactose carbs are recommended within 3.5 to 4 hours prior to running. Why low fiber, low fat, low lactose? Because the slower the food moves from the stomach to small intestine the higher risk of GI upset, nausea, and vomiting during the run.2

Enter the Sports drink. Sports drinks (not the caffeinated kind) typically provide about 14 g/serving of fructose, medium-chain triglycerides, and amino acids mixed in 8 oz of water. These functional formulas are easily digested and are a high-carb fluid that are able to leave the stomach faster than their high fiber or high lactose carb counterpart.2 But since these beverages often contain dyes and other synthetic additives, we have a great recipe for making your own sports drink with just a few ingredients!3 Consume your carbs prior, during, and within 30 minutes after a run to promote recovery.

Protein Intake: Which Whey Should I Go?

Consuming more protein than necessary compromises carbohydrate status and can cause dehydration. Protein recommendations can vary, depending on your intensity level and body composition goals. Working with a dietitian to make sure you are consuming adequate protein is important.


Fluids and electrolytes are essential for hydration and body temperature control during and after endurance running electrolyte loss. The guidelines recommend the following before, during and after running:

  1. Do not restrict fluids

  2. Do not rely on thirst

  3. Drink early and at regular intervals

  4. Avoid alcohol

  5. Caffeine: While the consumption of caffeine for performance is a bit controversial, a small amount won’t hurt. Just don’t overdo it because excess caffeine can increase risk of dehydration.

  6. Drink about 13 oz to 20 oz of water or sports drink 2 to 3 hours before the run and make sure to drink what you lost after the run!2

The Skinny on Fat

Fat is the most dense of energy sources and provides vital functions in body. It is no less important for runners than for anyone else. It is noted that fat is the biggest burning fuel during light to moderate intensity exercise but stored fat use decreases when intensity becomes high. In other words, a high fat diet isn’t indicated but rather will compromise high intensity runs even in the setting of adequate carb loading.1, 2


Of course, much more can be said about each macronutrient and further information is known about specific micronutrients. Namely, the vitamin B controversies, the importance of iron in athlete runners, and antioxidants with their role of muscle damage recovery. However, taking in all this information can only be digested one generous bite at a time!



  1. Zinner, C., Sperlich, B., Marathon Running: Physiology, Psychology, Nutrition and Training Aspects: 2016.

  2. Mahan, L.K., Escott-Stump, S., Raymond, J.L., Krause’s Food and the Nutrition Care Process 13th Ed., 2012. p 507-517.

  3. Klopfer, B., Make Gatorade at Home With No Artificial Ingredients. 1/12/2016.

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