If you’ve found this post, chances are you’re a newbie runner. Welcome to the pack! Runners are some of the best people, and it’s probably not long before you become obsessed with all things running. I picked up running at the age of 30, so I remember what it was like to train for the first time.
The exciting thing is that there are plenty of new experiences in store for you, like buying new shoes and gear, trying different terrain, signing up for your first race and figuring out this thing called “fueling”, aka nutrition. Although you know about nutrition for everyday life–eat your fruits and vegetables and say no to fried stuff and processed junk–sports nutrition is a whole different animal. It may seem overwhelming, but it can become second nature with some practice and planning. Since you’re new to this, I’ve put together some tips to help get you started.
1. Pre-workout fuel is vital
Your body is like a car and it needs fuel to move. Food gives you energy, and you need energy to run–it’s that simple. Running without any food in your stomach will cause feelings of fatigue. As a rule of thumb, make sure you’ve eaten a meal 2-3 hours before a run or a snack within 1 hour. I describe this in detail and offer examples in The No-Brainer Nutrition Guide For Every Runner.
2. Hydrate, no matter the temperature
People tend to associate hydration with summer and sweating, but if you live in a cold-weather area (like I do), it’s important to think about hydration year-round. Most people don’t drink enough water on a daily basis, which can be detrimental to your running success. Make sure you’re properly hydrated going into a run. To determine your hydration status, take a look at the color of your urine–pale yellow means you’re hydrated and dark yellow means you need to drink more.
3. Don’t overeat
You’re a runner now, so you can eat whatever the heck you want, right? Wrong. There is a proper way to recover with nutrition, and it’s not stuffing brownies into your face (sadly). Make sure the calories you’re taking in reflect the amount you’re burning, and take a look at this post on gaining weight while marathon training for more info.
4. Don’t be scared of carbs
This low-carb trend is going to be the death of me. Carbs are the primary fuel source for running, making them a necessary component of nutrition for running. I could go on for days about the benefits of carbs, but the bottom line is that fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy (yes, these are all sources of carbs) are a healthy part of a runner’s diet.
5. Embrace healthy fats
Runner’s “hanger” (being hungry and angry) is real. Your new sport will make you ravenous, and one of the best ways to satiate this hunger is with fat, yes fat! Healthy unsaturated fats, like those found in avocados, nuts, fatty fish and seeds are a great way to keep you feeling full and satisfied.
6. Know that stomach issues happen
Unfortunately, your stomach is probably going to be like, “WTF are you doing to me?”, and that’s common and somewhat normal. There are ways to combat stomach issues while running, but it does take some time for your digestive tract to get used to this new routine. For now, avoid eating too close (an hour before) your run and don’t eat any really heavy, fibrous or spicy food before you set out.
7. Keep healthy snacks around
I’m a huge proponent of healthy snacks, especially since it helps keep hunger at bay. Keep healthy snacks around, so you never end up too hungry and running with your “gas tank on empty”. Here are some of my favs: Peanut Butter Pretzel Date Balls, Crunchy Chickpeas, Tahini Maple Oat Bites, Pumpkin Breakfast Cookies and Cinnamon Roasted Almonds.
8. Mimic your race day during training
If you signed up for a race (and I think you should because it gives you something to work towards), practice your eating routine before the race. For example, wake up at the same time, have the same breakfast and then go for a run that is the same distance as your race. See how your stomach feels and tweak accordingly. This will help you avoid any unwanted tummy troubles on race day.
9.Consult with friends
Find another friend who runs (a great way to do so is through local running groups) and ask them about their nutrition routine. Keep in mind that different things work for different people, but they might have some tips about fueling that can help you.
10. Seek some expert advice
Hey, that’s what I’m here for! I’m a Registered Dietitian, and I created a really handy guide to nutrition for running, called The No-Brainer Nutrition Guide For Every Runner. It goes into every single one of these topics in depth and offers practical examples. And if you’ve got questions, don’t hesitate to reach out!