Foods for fueling your running training

Foods for fueling your running training

Pasta is many runners’ preferred food and is ideal starchy carbohydrate for fuelling your runs and races, as it will give you unprocessed, slow-release energy, especially the wholegrain variety.

This type of energy is especially suitable for when you plan to run in endurance events such as marathons. Pasta on its own won’t make for a balanced running diet, though.

The most common error that runners tend to make is focus too much on fuel and consequently neglect rebuilding and repair, which required adequate protein intakes. As you run, each of your footsteps can damage blood cells and cause microscopic damage to your muscles. However, adhering to a nutrition plan which includes good-quality protein – for example that found in fish, lean meat, dairy foods and eggs – is most likely to ensure that your muscles stay in great condition. In other words, protein is an essential part of your diet.

Fats are also very important and are regularly overlooked as a necessity by runners who focus on low-fat foods primarily. The good fats such as Omega 3 and mono-unsaturated fats provide essential fat-soluble vitamins and are also an energy source. Omega 3 fats especially are vital to keep inflammation under control. These good fats are found in oily fish, fish oils, nuts, seeds, olives, olive oil and avocados.

Additionally, your hydration needs as a runner are greater than those of a relatively inactive person and you are more likely to require food while you’re ‘on the go’ – so both snacks and fluids are essential as well.

If you put all of the above elements – Carbohydrates, Protein, Fats, snacks and fluids together, you’ll have the top foods for runners!

We have already talked about pasta, but in terms of your running diet it is still a great place to start. Pasta parties before races are popular for a good reason: if you are planning to compete in an event such as a marathon, pasta may make all the difference between ‘hitting the wall’ and going straight through it! Easily digestible and very varied in form, pasta can provide slow-release energy, which is precisely what a marathon runner requires. Even if your preferred event isn’t a marathon, pasta is still a very good staple to eat, and put together with protein such as tuna or lean mince, vegetables and some coconut oil it’s an ideal runner’s meal for refuelling.

An original snack food, bananas are readily available, require no preparation, and are a healthier alternative to high-sugar sweets and fast foods. Bananas are ideal for refuelling rapidly and come in their own biodegradable wrappers! For slow-release energy, choose a greener banana, but if you want more of a speedy energy ‘hit’ then eat a browner, riper fruit, because the difference in colour means the banana will have more fruit sugar, which will make it better as a post-training snack. Bananas can cause digestive upset in some people if eaten before or during a run so always experiment to see what suits you.

The number one food for breakfast, porridge essentially contains unprocessed oats and virtually nothing else. The very best type to choose pinhead oats which are unprocessed. They do require a soaking however and take a little longer to cook but the result is vastly superior in terms of nutrition. If you make porridge with low fat, soya or unsweetened almond milk and half water it will give you the ideal mix of fibre, protein and slow-release energy. Whether you are consuming it before a race, before a training run, or even better, everyday as your first meal, you won’t do better than having the original breakfast food to help you get going every morning. Be wary of porridge look-alikes, however, such as instant varieties or oaty-type cereals, as although they’re a much healthier choice than many cereals that are laden with sugar, they are still a less suitable option to go for in comparison to pure, simple porridge.

Other breakfast cereals
Second best to porridge but still very good foods for runners are other cereals such as wholegrain wheat biscuits and sugar-free muesli. Provided you look at the ingredients list first and check for added fat and sugar, there are many cereals that can be eaten as great foods prior to an event. Avoid sugar-coated cereals and most of the types that are marketed primarily towards children, however, as in terms of nutrition they are very poor and won’t prepare you well in the morning before a training run or race. Homemade muesli is ideal and very simple to make by just combining a variety of flaked grains such as wheat, barley, rye and oats and adding your own favourite chopped dried fruits and nuts.

Despite not technically being a ‘food’, water is an essential part of everyone’s diet, and runners especially. As a runner, you will lose a lot of fluid via sweating and on your breath, so even in colder weather you’ll still have to make sure you hydrate well. You must try to continually top up your fluid levels while you are running, and consuming water is the simplest way of doing this. Drinking at least two litres a day needs to be your basic aim, or more than this in hotter weather and on days when you train.

The ‘Golden Window’
The first 15 minutes after you finish your exercise is the ‘golden window’ in which to refuel, as this is when your body will be the most receptive to restocking your fuel stores and will be able to do so at a quicker rate than usual. If you have a glucose drink or banana just after you finish running, you can optimise your refuelling in the golden window, and also start your re-hydration at the same time. Remember concentrated glucose drinks can cause tummy upsets when taken on board during a run or a race as the stomach cannot digest or absorb the sugars fully. It can often be better to go for a more dilute concentration when using a ports drink during a race. I highly recommend coconut water (sold in Dunnes), I recommend the flavoured one. It is full of electrolytes needed for recovery and recommended by most trainers.

Recovery drinks/meals ideally should be taken within the first ½ hour post training. Replace by 1.2-1.5 times weight lost. Replace slowly over the first hour after training. The recovery snack should contain about 10-20g protein, carbohydrate (about and a little salt. Also include omega 3’s and antioxidants. Smoothies and milk shakes are ideal as recovery drinks.

DIY Recovery Drinks
125g Low-fat natural yogurt
1 Banana
60g Mixed Berries (Strawberries/Blueberries)
150m Innocent Orange Juice
9g Ground flaxseeds
(55g Cho, 10.7g protein, 2.2g omega 3, 0.7g omega 6)

Milk Shake
400ml Low Fat/full fat Milk
1 Banana
1 tsp Honey
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
9g Ground Flaxseed
Juice of ½ lemon
1 tsp Cinnamon
(54g Cho, 17.5g protein, 2.2g omega 3, 0.7g omega 6)

Many runners typically don’t consumer enough protein in their diets, particularly females, and protein drinks can fill this gap. They are also a very useful recovery food and a source of good quality protein and calcium for vegetarian athletes.


  • Lean meat: By steering clear of processed cuts of meat and focusing on lean, good quality meat you will provide your body with the needed building blocks for repair.
  • Oily fish: These include Salmon, Trout, Tinned Tuna, Sardines, Mackerel, Herring and Kippers. The latter 4 can be tinned and in brine. These fish contain Omega 3 fats which are invaluable for all runners. Aim to include some protein with every meal, and concentrate on meat, fish and vegetable proteins.
  • Fruit and vegetables: Should be eating fat least five portions of fruit, vegetables and fresh salad greens everyday. Produce in season are the best. Select colourful varieties, because these contain more nutrients, e.g. Broccoli , spinach, dark green cabbage, peppers, carrots etc. Aim to eat as wide a variety of fresh produce everyday and focus on fruit (especially berries) and vegetables that are in season as they contain higher levels of anti-oxidant nutrients.
  • Fibre: Monitor how much fibre you eat, as otherwise you may find yourself going to the toilet when you want to be out running!

There are a lot of similarities between a normal healthy diet and a nutrition plan for a runner. If you wish to get the most out of your training, though, try to concentrate on a healthy diet generally, but monitor how much protein you eat and increase how much water you drink. These extra elements mean you will be better prepared, be able to recover more quickly, and avoid becoming over-fatigued, ill or injured.