The Runners Diet – 101

4 November 2018

Getting started on a running program? Here’s what you need to know about what, when and how much to eat (and drink) to achieve those goals.




Running takes energy and this means that you need to fuel accordingly. But depending on what your goals are – whether that be weight loss, aiming to complete your first 5K, or training to be competitive – will really influence appropriate nutrition.


Don’t over eat:

Running, and training in general can make your really hungry, and often to the point where it easy to overcompensate for energy burnt during the actual workout. Don’t torpedo fitness (and body) goals by overdoing fuel/recovery meals and snacks. And don’t think that being a runner now means you can eat whatever you want. Nutritional quality still matters – in fact perhaps more so – the added stress and demands placed on your body up the need for particular nutrients. Sports foods and drinks might be handy, and appropriate in some situations (such as races), but try and stick to whole, real foods – lots of healthy fats, proteins, fruits, vegetables, nuts – to maximize nutritional density and quality.



Don’t under eat:

Hard running can squash hunger temporarily – if you are already lean and not looking to lose weight or in a heavy training schedule be mindful of this. Good recovery habits will include eating a snack or meal containing both carbohydrate and protein soon after a workout (30-45 mins if training again within 12 hours or so). Significantly under fuelling can also backfire for those looking to lean up – sending stress hormones sky high and slowing down metabolic efficiency with the net effect of increased fat storage.


To eat before or not?

This depends. It’s all about maximising the training. You want to make sure that you can complete your session as planned – if you need to eat something to make this happen then do so. This might hold true for an afternoon run or for a long or intense interval workout. But if you are running first thing in the morning then its OK to head out the door on an empty stomach (do make sure you are hydrated though). Training on empty occasionally can also boost fat burning efficiency – important for endurance athletes.


To eat during?

If your workout is going to be more than 90 minutes or so then you might need to consider some extra energy/fuel throughout. If it’s a hard workout then this is where sports drinks might come in handy. If it’s a more relaxed pace then try foods like bananas, trail mix, dates, home made bars. Keep track of what you ate and when to figure out what works and what doesn’t.



Ignore that myth that you need to drink 8 glasses of water a day. And ignore any formulas or advice that tell you exactly how much you need to drink during activity. Instead tune into your body – listen to thirst signals, note how frequently you are going to the bathroom, and yes even take a peek at the colour of your urine. Aim for light straw coloured – not clear and not bright yellow. This is a pretty good indicator of hydration. You can also take note of body weight pre and post workout to estimate sweat losses. Don’t try and match sweat losses during a workout but do aim to replace losses in the hours afterwards by about 150%. For most training workouts, and even races, water is the preferred choice and its really only during very long, hard workouts that you might need to consider something with some electrolytes and carbohydrates in it.


By Pip Taylor – Professional Triathlete

Author of “The Athlete’s Fix”

Accredited Sports Dietitian

Accredited Practicing Dietitian