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Food for Distance Runners

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It’s time for the pre-race check. Broken-in running shoes? Check. Race bib? Check. Stopwatch? Check. Breakfast? Oops! Don’t have time for that–or simply not feeling up to a pre-race meal.

Photo by RUN 4 FFWPU from Pexels

Don’t put all your hard training to waste by neglecting to fuel up properly for race day. Plus, getting proper the nutrition to meet your energy requirements should be a key part of your training strategy. Without it, you can’t add the miles you need to get in shape for race day. Still, inadequate nutrition is a common mistake among distance runners training for race day.

Fueling during training

Experienced runners know the weeks leading up to a race are just as important as race-day itself. Although the occasional slice of pizza won’t have a great effect on your performance, continuous poor eating habits certainly will.

The training period is an excellent time to experiment with how food and drink will affect your run. Use this time to get in the habit of consuming well-balanced meals, meal timing, and trying new sport supplements you plan to use on race day. 

As a general guideline, runners require between 6-10g/kg of bodyweight of carbohydrates per day. Carbohydrates provide us with the energy we need to train at our optimal level. Choose from a variety of grains and fruits to meet your needs. 

Protein is essential in helping rebuild torn muscles and tissues. The endurance runner should aim to have 1.2-1.4 g/kg of protein a day. Healthy fats, such as omega-3, are also important. They contain anti-inflammatory properties that aid in post-exercise recovery. 

Race day munches 

About a third of runners experience gastrointestinal (GI) discomfort during races, which is why some are inclined to skip breakfast on the morning of race day. As suggested in its name, breakfast is intended to break the fast that occurred in the night. Although you may have carbohydrate loaded the evening before, your liver has used some of the stored glycogen to maintain blood glucose levels as you snoozed.

On race-day morning, your priority is to choose foods you are familiar with that are high in carbohydrate, minimal in protein and very low in fat. The carbohydrate will help replenish glycogen stores. For long-distance runners who use gels or sweets during the race, a small amount of protein is not a bad idea at breakfast. 

Consider breakfast as the steady dose of energy and the supplements as the spikes of instant energy. Protein at breakfast will slow the release of glucose from the carbohydrates into your blood stream. Some runners have found avoiding dairy and high fibre foods on race-day helps in avoiding pit stops. One great breakfast idea: A whole-wheat bagel with jam and peanut butter.


Hydration is as important as food for runners. Depending on the climate and conditions you will be running in, hydration recommendations vary so know your environment and adjust accordingly. Long-distance runners may find sport drinks help to meet fluid requirements while adding energy to fuel your run.

Now, get out there and run!

You might also enjoy this article on the three main running styles.

Author: Edit Bennet, RD is a registered dietician in Ontario and occasionally provides guidance articles for Optimyz Magazine.


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