Fuelling Your Body for Running: Before, During and After Training

1st June 2021


It is the season to be running! Whether you are a seasoned runner, a professional athlete or a complete newbie to running, winter is the time to get into it. Yes it is cold and miserable, but for runners this is the best time of year to increase your running distance and boost your cardio fitness, as you are unlikely to keel over form heat exhaustion or dehydration when you push yourself a little harder or further.

This time of year there is always a heap of running events coming up and in October the forever-popular Melbourne Marathon running festival will be upon us again.

Whether you decide to do a 5km race or all the way up to a bucket-ticking marathon, running and training is just one side of the story. To get you to the start line in peak condition your nutrition will play a huge role.

So whether you have a key race locked in, or you are just running for fun, optimising what you put in your mouth will help you get more performance from your legs, let you recover quicker, and promote optimal immune function so you don’t get run down.

To get your nutrition on track over this winter running season I have answered a few of the most common questions I get asked by runners during consultations.

1. Should I eat before training?

Morning training sessions

If you are training first thing in the morning for 1 hour or less, you only need a small snack before training.

Aim to have this snack 25-30 minutes before training to reduce any digestive issues.

Good snacks to have are:

  • A banana on it’s own or with a teaspoon of 100% raw nut butter (just 100% crushed nuts)
  • A slice of sourdough toast spread with raw nut butter and topped with sliced fruit like banana or strawberries
  • A slice of sourdough toast spread with raw honey, with a small handful of raw nuts on the side
  • A raw protein or bliss ball (or two) - home made or good brands like Health Lab, Carmen’s, or Tom and Luke’s
  • A muesli bar - home-made or Carmen’s Super Berry Bars or Barley + muesli bars
  • 1-2 dates

Alternatively, if you are used to it and you don’t feel too fatigued in your training session, it is OK to train on an empty stomach first thing in the morning as long as the session is 1 hour or less. If the session is longer then 1 hour you need to be having a small snack before training.

Afternoon training sessions

Having a small snack about 45-60 minutes before all afternoon sessions will really help improve your performance and energy levels.

Good snacks to have are:

  • A slice of sourdough toast spread with avocado and a sprinkle of goat’s cheese
  • A slice of sourdough toast spread with raw nut butter, topped with sliced banana or strawberries, with cinnamon
  • A piece of fruit and small handful of raw nuts
  • 4-6 brown rice crackers (plain flavour) spread with hummus and or avocado.
  • A small bowl of rice and veggies (last night’s leftovers?)
  • A muesli bar – home made or Carmen’s Super Berry Bars, Brookfarm Muesli Bars, or Emma & Tom’s Life Bar
  • 2 dates or 2-3 dried apricots, with small handful of raw nuts and seeds

2. Should I be refuelling during a run?

Sessions 60 minutes or less

There is no need to refuel during these sessions. If appropriate and available, sipping on water throughout the session is always a good option.

For sessions lasting 60 minutes or longer

You need to be refuelling and hydrating in these sessions:

  • Whether you carry water with you or plan your route out so you pass a few water fountains along the way, sipping on water through out these sessions is a must
  • For your long runs you need to start refuelling at the 60-minute mark, and then again every 30-40 minutes while you are still exercising – try any of the below:
    • Energy gels, blocks or chews
    • 1-2 dates
    • ½ a banana

Regarding gels etc., there are quite a few brands around, some are better than others, and some of the best are hard to get a hold of as an individual consumer. The best readily available brands are:

  • Isowhey sports energy gels
  • Endura Energy Gels
  • Clif Bloks
  • Pure Sports Nutrition Gels

The best option for you is the one that you find easiest to digest, don’t get digestive issues from, and like the taste of.

3. What and when should I eat post a run?

You need to refuel after any training session regardless of its length or intensity within 20-30mins of finishing the session. Your focus should be on carbohydrate and protein for optimal recovery, as well as rehydrating with water (and electrolytes after longer runs).

Quick easy post run recovery food ideas

  • Smoothie – with fresh/frozen fruit, 1 scoop of raw protein powder, 2 tablespoons of whole rolled oats, 2 tablespoons of full fat plain Greek yoghurt, and milk of choice or coconut water
  • 2-3 tablespoons of raw trail mix and a piece of fruit
  • 2 tablespoons of raw protein powder (100% grass fed whey powder is great) with 2-3 tablespoons of organic full-fat milk powder - add water, shake well and drink – really easy when on the go!
  • Small bowl of Greek or natural yoghurt topped with raw trail mix, fresh fruit and a drizzle of raw honey
  • A bowl of good quality natural muesli with milk, 2 tablespoons of raw almonds & pumpkin seeds, & sliced fruit
  • Scrambled free-range eggs or an omelette, with 4-5 different veggies and cheese served on sourdough toast
  • A small baked sweet potato stuffed with cheese, 3-4 veggies/salad ingredients and topped with avocado or full-fat pure sour cream or plain/natural yoghurt
  • A well-balanced main meal that includes protein, carbs and good fats

Hydration post runs

  • After any run, make sure you are sipping on water straight away, and then throughout the rest of the day
  • Electrolyte drinks are generally not necessary unless you have been running for 60mins or more.
  • A lot of electrolyte drinks are very processed and contain a lot of unnecessary artificial ingredients and excessive amounts of sugar with poorly absorbed forms of electrolytes
  • Easy and natural hydration options to go for are:
    • Pure coconut water or pure watermelon juice (Marathon – ultra runners will need more then just this)
    • Isowhey Sports Electrolyte Formula (Best supplement for Elite athletes as it is ASADA approved)
    • Endura Electrolyte Formula
    • Pure Sports Nutrition Electrolyte Formula.