Nutrition Tips for Beginner Runners

So you just started running, how does your nutrition factor in?

As a runner there is so much information available that it is often difficult to figure out what things are most important that impact our training, recovery and how we feel in our daily lives. In this article we aim to outline how to think about fueling as a runner, and to make it as clear as possible! 


We can think of our daily requirements in terms of building blocks of carbohydrates,  protein, and fats. A general breakdown of daily intake is around 55-65% carbohydrates, 20-25% fats, and 15-20% proteins for most endurance athletes. 


Carbohydrates are the preferred source of energy for working muscles. Current guidelines suggest that we consume between 3-10 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight every day. That is a huge range! The reason for this varied range depends on whether you’re exercising at a light, moderate, or hard intensity. 

This sounds clear and simple, but in reality, who counts carbs relative to body weight? There is an easier method to make sure you are consuming enough carbohydrates to fuel your workouts. It is called the Plate Method. Pick the plate below that matches your training for each day. 

  • Easy training day 
    • ½ plate colorful vegetables
    • ¼ plate carbohydrates
    • ¼ plate protein
  • Moderate training day 
    • ⅓ plate colorful vegetables
    • ⅓ plate carbohydrates
    • ⅓ plate protein
  • Hard training day or carb load prep
    • ¼ plate colorful vegetables
    • ½ plate carbohydrates
    • ¼ plate protein

Our muscles store energy from carbohydrates in the form of glycogen which is usually sufficient for an exercise duration of 90-120 minutes.  Once glycogen is depleted athletes will feel fatigue and experience a drop in performance. Carbohydrates need to be replaced generally after this time at the rate of 30-60 grams/hour for continued performance.  

Carbohydrates can be broken down into complex carbohydrates or simple carbohydrates. 

For runners a baseline daily intake of complex carbohydrates and use of simple carbs for fuel just prior or during a workout generally works best.

Fiber is very important as it helps to keep us full for longer, keeps our digestive tract healthy, helps lower the “bad” cholesterol to name a few of its benefits. If you are a morning runner, you will want to consume fiber later in the day. On the flip side, if you are an evening runner, consume your fiber much earlier in the day so it doesn’t interrupt your running. 

What’s the role of Protein in a Runner’s diet? 

As a runner the most optimal intake contains plenty but not excessive protein to build and repair muscle tissue, produce hormones, boost your immune system and help replace red blood cells. 

Protein has two different types – complete and incomplete. It is important for building strong bodies, helping develop muscle, and repairing bodily tissues. Complete proteins have the 9 essential amino acids that our body does not produce. Examples of complete protein are: fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products (milk, yogurt, or cheese), beef or pork, soy. 

Incomplete proteins are proteins that don’t include all 9 essential amino acids. Examples of incomplete proteins are:  nuts, seeds, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes such as lentils, peas, and beans. 

If you’re a vegetarian or a vegan, experts recommend you eat a variety of different proteins in the form of nuts, seeds, lentils, and whole grains on a daily basis so that you’re forming complete proteins in your diet through a combination. There are also a few sources of complete proteins that you can get from plants. Among them are quinoa, buckwheat, and hempseed, but you may not get the same amount of protein that you would get from animal sources for the same serving size. It is recommended that vegans consume 10% more protein than the general  recommendation, because plant proteins are not as readily digested. 

As runners we need slightly more protein than the general population to repair the small amounts of muscle damage that occur with training and to support the building of new muscle tissue. 


Fat is needed for a variety of reasons, such as helping the body absorb fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K), hormone regulation, and building tissue membranes. Fats digest slowly so it increases satiety.

About 20-35 percent of your total calories should come from healthy fats such as olive oil, peanut and nut butters, nuts, avocados, flaxseed, salmon, tuna and oily fish. 

Now we know the big picture building blocks of what to fuel your body with – Carbs, Proteins, and Fats. Now let’s dig into the details of when to consume these fuels in order to optimize your training. 


Before your Run

Plan to eat your meal 3-4 hours prior to running. Your meal should include quality carbohydrates (such as whole grain toast or overnight oats), and lean protein (such as eggs, peanut butter, or cottage cheese). It is important to keep consistent hydration throughout the day so you are properly hydrated for your run. 

Thirty minutes to 1 hour prior to your run, refuel with a quick snack that pairs protein and carbohydrate. Try applesauce and a mozzarella cheese stick, sliced cucumber with hummus, or crackers with peanut butter. Remember to drink 8-12 oz of fluid (water, sports drink) 1-2 hours before your run. 

During your Run

You will lose electrolytes, and utilize glycogen and protein during exercise. Replenishing these as best you can will improve your performance and are vital to continue on! Try “quick-acting carbohydrates” such as sports drinks/gels/beans, fruit snacks, or even bars during exercise. Your hydration is individualized depending on how much you sweat, but generally, you want your urine to be pale yellow in color. 

After  your run 

Within 30 minutes of your run it is important to refuel with protein in order to repair and build your muscle tissue (as well as re-energize you). Your post-run snack can be identical to your pre-workout snack (carb/protein pairing). Remember to re-hydrate! You want to take in 16-24 oz of water or sports drink for every pound lost during your run. 

2 hours after your run, it’s time to eat! Remember to include your lean protein, quality carbohydrate, and low fiber/fat composition. Try whole wheat pasta, chicken breast, and cooked asparagus mixed with pesto sauce for a quick and delicious meal.


Hydration is dependent upon sweat rate (more on that below!)  Average needs are 20-35 ounces of water/sport drink/electrolytes every hour. Sport drinks have 6-8% carbohydrate and can also help replace sodium and potassium. If the run is between 60-90 minutes, hydration can be with water only. For runs over 90 minutes (or if it is hot out), add a sports/electrolyte drink to replace those lost through sweat. 

How to Calculate Sweat Rate

  1. Determine body weight lost during exercise: Body weight before exercise minus body weight after exercise = pounds of water weight lost.
  2. Determine the fluid equivalent, in ounces, of the total weight lost during exercise: Pounds of water weight lost during exercise x 16  = ounces of additional fluid that should have been consumed to maintain fluid balance during the exercise session.
  3. Determine the actual fluid needs during an identical workout: Total fluid needs = ounces of fluid consumed + ounces of additional fluid needed to establish fluid balance.
  4. Determine the number of fluid ounces needed per hour of exercise: Total fluid needs / duration of exercise, in hours = number of fluid ounces needed per hour of exercise. 

Tips for Runners and Endurance Athletes:

Now that we know the basics about runner nutrition, nutrition timing, and hydration, let’s summarize with some quick nutrition tips to help you fuel your running journey. 

  • Eat frequent meals and snacks throughout the day.
  • Do not skip meals
  • Include a quality carbohydrate, lean protein, and healthy fat with all meals and snacks to increase satiety.
  • Include vegetables and fruits with meals and snacks. 
  • Rely on water throughout the day and water/sports drinks during exercise.
  • Consume a post exercise snack as soon as possible (within 30 minutes) after training

Lastly, many people start out running as part of their weight loss or life transformation journeys. Sometimes this is successful, but sometimes weight loss does not occur with running. Sometimes runners actually gain weight. There are multiple causes and explanations for this. To learn more about running and weight loss, check out this article HERE

A good mindset around nutrition is to strive to achieve a good balance to support your running and active lifestyle. This should be a way of living and not a restrictive set of rules. Listen to your body as some days you may need more recovery, some days you may need more fuel but aim to fuel your running and life to stay healthy, have more energy and run faster longer. 

Further Reading

To really dive into this topic,check out Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook, which helped guide much of this article. 

This article was co-written by Coaches Jodi O’Shea, Ashley Brush and Erin Babin. To learn more about them or to work with them, check out their coach profiles below.

arlington running coach

Fasted Running: Yea or Nay

We’ve all heard about Intermittent Fasting as a fad diet trend. Based on the practice of eating only during a certain window of time – or on certain days of the week – and fasting the rest of the time, IF elicits thoughts of deprivation diets and serious bouts of “hanger”. 

The reality, however, is that – unlike some trends such as the blood type diet or the raw food diet – intermittent fasting is a pattern of eating that has been around for centuries. Fasting is a common practice for most major world religions – from Buddhism to Christianity to Taoism, fasting has been utilized as a means by which to demonstrate discipline and sacrifice since well before the raw food diet or keto became common fads. 

For many of us today, however, IF is seen as a tool to promote weight loss. Moreover, if done right, IF can improve health in multiple ways, including decreased inflammation, decreased risk of type 2 diabetes, and reduced occurrence of sleep apnea. There are a lot of resources out there discussing the benefits of IF, but perhaps the biggest selling point for IF is that there are multiple ways to do it. 12 hours fasting/12 hours eating, 14 hours fasting/10 hours eating, 16 hours fasting/8 hours eating, fasting 2 days of the week, and so on and so forth. Anyone investing in IF as a practice can play around with their eating vs. fasting ratios to find the one that works best for them, lending the practice a certain flexibility.

Now, on to the REAL question: should runners try IF or not? A bit of bait and switch with the title of this blog, as I’m not here to tell you whether or not you should try it. Yes, I’m a running coach, and yes, I’m a certified nutrition coach, and yes, I’m a 70+ miles/week runner myself and I practice IF. But huge disclaimer here: I am NOT a medical doctor, so if you are considering IF, see your GP first. Because everyone is different, everyone’s body will respond to IF differently, and there are certain medical conditions that make IF either feasible or specifically not recommended.

All of this said, I have been doing IF for many years now and have learned some valuable lessons about what does and does not work. I didn’t start IF with conscious intention. Instead, as someone who’s never been big on breakfast, I found that I simply wasn’t hungry until later and later in the day. It started on roughly a 14/10 pattern – fasting for 14 hours and eating over the course of 10 hours. Gradually, my fasting period increased as I found that I was comfortably not hungry until later and still later. And for the past 2 years or so, I’ve roughly followed a 18/6 pattern – fasting for 18 hours and limiting my eating window to 6 hours. I do consume coffee with milk during the “fasting” time, so by its strictest definition, I’m not technically fasting. But my body is conditioned at this point to not really feel hunger until 1 or 2pm. 

I’ve been asked by friends and clients HOW I do it. I am a morning runner, logging 10-12 miles every morning by 8:00am, and then not eating for 5-6 hours after my last mile. I recognize that this is counterintuitive, hence my refusal to give a strong recommendation either way where IF is concerned.  And yet it works for me. I have noticed that I’m less hungry overall and rarely feel the need to overeat – unless there’s wedding cake in front of me, in which case all bets are off. I don’t practice IF for the purpose of weight loss, as the 70+ miles I run every week takes care of that, but I can definitely see how IF can help shed unwanted pounds. 

What I will say is this: if you decide to try IF, ease into it. In other words, don’t jump straight into a 18/6 pattern – you’ll be a hangry monster in no time, in addition to annoying a lot of people unlucky enough to be around you. But if you start with a more feasible pattern – say 12/12, for example – and like how you feel, shift your pattern in increments. Small changes are far more likely to create success. Otherwise, a few important guidelines I’ve learned over my years of practicing IF:

  • Water does NOT count – make sure you are drinking enough water even during your fasting period. Your body can survive for quite some time without food. Water is life.
  • If you feel faint at any time or notice your energy levels drop precipitously while fasting, ease back on your restrictions. As I said, IF isn’t for everyone, so listen to your body.
  • Make that first meal count. By the time you end your period of fasting, your body is primed and ready for fuel. Plan ahead so you don’t reach for the first muffin or cheeseburger you see. Remember: the health benefits of fasting are negated if the food you do eat is nutritionally void
  • Be prepared to cheat. Unless you are told by your doctor that you must fast, your fasting window is a number set only by you, so if there comes a day when you are ravenous at 10am but don’t usually eat until 2pm, pick up a fork. Similar to missing one workout, changing your eating schedule for one day isn’t going to derail your entire plan.
  • Don’t be THAT person. You know, the one who makes everyone around you accommodate your schedule. Your boss plans a working lunch for noon but you don’t usually eat until 2pm? Grin and bear it. You can either opt to simply attend the lunch without eating, or you can push your window up a few hours. But do not demand that others move their schedules around to accommodate your IF restrictions. That’s a fast train to ostracization. 
  • Spread the love. I personally am not a fan of big meals. Like my kids, I’m a grazer, so within my 6-ish hour eating window, I typically have 3-4 smaller meals. This is personal preference, but the energy and lightness I experience while fasting gets shut down hard if I break the fast with a heavy, calorie-dense meal. 

I don’t think IF works for everyone. Some people have health issues for which fasting is not recommended, and others simply cannot deal with being hungry – or hangry. To be honest, if I were my coach, I would never have recommended IF based on conventional fueling wisdom. IF isn’t intuitively a workable formula for me, yet it works. So long story short, there’s no right answer, but if you are intrigued by IF, start conservatively with your fasting period and see how it goes.

And oh yes, don’t forget the coffee. 

arlington running coachKate Marden is a coach with Team RunRun. To learn more about her or to work with her, check out her coaching page.

Q&A with a Nutrition Expert – Heidi Strickler – 2020 Update!

Runners are always looking for an edge. Heidi Strickler, Seattle-based Registered Dietitian, Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics and Metabolic Efficiency Training Specialist, was gracious enough to answer some commonly asked questions for us a couple of years ago, and she’s back with updated answers! If you have more questions or are interested in working more in depth with a Registered Dietitian, her contact info and bio are included below!

team runrun nutrition heidi strickler

What is something you hear often by nutritionists or from athletes regarding nutrition that you disagree with and why?

Many of the common diets – keto, low-carb/high-fat (LCHF), intermittent fasting (IMF) – are not appropriate for athletes, especially female athletes. Is there a way to incorporate components of those diets in a way to boost performance and optimize overall health? Most definitely! That’s what we call “periodized nutrition” which involved shifting the type and amount of your macronutrients based on your training demands. Athletes really need to understand that the research in those diets comes from obese middle-aged men with chronic disease. Studies that do use athletes have found no performance benefits of the above-mentioned diets.

GI issues are one of the main reasons runners DNF ultra marathons. How do you go about solving this common problem for ultra runners?

I spend a lot of time on this topic with my athletes, especially my female athletes. One of the reasons for this gender difference is that women absorb less fructose molecules than men; fructose is one of the primary sugars used in many sports nutrition products. So we need to look at the ingredients of the fuel the athlete plans to use. Beyond that, we look at things like the source of carbohydrates: e.g. gels are oftentimes malabsorbed because the load on the gut is so high, so too many gels can just sit in the gut a wreak havoc, drawing water into the intestines and causing diarrhea.  Compare this to blocks/chews which athletes can regulate more easily, and the load is less. When it comes to real food, we ask similar questions, and we need to also look at the fat and protein content, the type of fiber (if any), or any artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols that can cause GI distress. Finally, especially for my ultra-endurance athletes, we need to address flavor fatigue – e.g. because most drinks, gels, gummies, chewy candy, etc., are fruity flavored, athletes can get flavor burnout which can actually lead to nausea and prevent them from getting adequate fuel. Real food can play a critical role with this.

On another note, an area that athletes oftentimes neglect regarding GI function is hydration. Consuming a drink that is too high or too low in its osmolarity (the concentration of the drink e.g. sugar, electrolytes) can end up causing diarrhea and/or dehydration.

Regardless of your race distance, event type (cycling versus running), your gender, and your digestion, it is crucial to trial nutrition strategies in training that mimics the race duration, intensity, and climate.

What is one or two big changes a runner could make with their day to day eating that could have the biggest positive impact on performance? (of course we’re all different, but think about the general runner population and one or two changes or tweaks we could all benefit from making)?

For women: no fasted training

For all athletes: even if your daily nutrition is not ideal, prioritize your nutrition around training – go in fueled for training and according to the goals of the training session, fuel & hydrate during training as necessary, and get in proper recovery nutrition within 30-40 minutes afterwards.

What are your “go-to” fueling sources during competitions? (or recommendations). How do these fueling sources vary depending on the events you’re competing in or coaching?

My own go-to fueling strategies: I’ve been a dedicated UCAN user since 2018. UCAN’s products are really unique in that they use hydrolyzed corn starch as their carbohydrate source. This Superstarch© molecule releases into the system like a drippy faucet, rather than most sports nutrition products using simple sugars which are more like a fire hose. The result? Zero GI distress, and really stable and long-lasting energy. I don’t feel those big highs and lows that are typical for a simple sugar-based fuel, and I can take in fewer grams of carbohydrates per hour, which also reduces the risk for GI upset late in a race, run, or ride. UCAN has electrolytes (UCAN Hydrate©), carbohydrate powder (Superstarch© Energy), bars which also use their patented Superstarch©, and protein powders in both whey- and plant-based options. One of my favorite things about UCAN is that they offer Cinnamon and Cocoa-flavored carbohydrate powder, which really helps with the flavor fatigue I talked about above. I use a combination of UCAN bars, UCAN Hydrate, and their Cinnamon or Cocoa Energy for my trail runs or bike rides.

I have run several ultras using solely UCAN. But beyond UCAN, I like the Skratch chews, which I save for the last 1/3 or ¼ of my race/training when I might be craving some simple sugars, and there is less likelihood I will develop GI issues. They use as their primary sugar, and they are a bit tart, rather than overbearingly sweet. They have a lemon-lime with matcha (thus caffeine) that I love.

I also always like to have salty stuff on me for events >3 hours. I will usually have Base Salt on me as a backup, just in case my stomach turns south. Otherwise I like olives, pickles, Larabars, or flour tortillas with almond butter & salt or melted cheese. For bike rides (road or MTB) I am HUGE fan of PayDay bars – since they don’t have chocolate, they won’t melt in the heat or from the body heat coming off my back, and they are the perfect blend of sweet & salty, with carbs, protein, and fat.

Sports nutrition products I recommend: low-fructose items without artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols:

  • UCAN
  • Skratch chews and Super Fuel
  • Nuun Sport & Endurance
  • Tailwind Endurance Fuel
  • Larabars or other whole-food based bars
  • Spring Energy
  • Base Salt, as needed

Real food I recommend: remember that real food is oftentimes just as good as packaged sports nutrition, and usually less expensive. Research studies have shown that bananas, PBJ, and chocolate milk are just as effective as sports bars and sports drinks.

  • PBJ or PBH cut into quarters
  • Trail mix (leave out chocolate if it’s warm outside) using any of the following: nuts, seeds, dried fruit, cereal, pretzels, chocolate
  • Gummy candy or fruit snacks that don’t use high fructose corn syrup
  • Candy bar such as PayDay
  • Quesadillas, pierogies, salted potatoes, salted rice balls, mashed salted sweet potatoes
  • Nut butter packets that include sugar, honey, or maple syrup
  • Olives, dolmas/dolmates/stuffed grape leaves
  • Homemade energy balls: mixing oats or cooked rice, liquid sweetener, nut butter, dried fruit (optional ingredients such as protein powder, coffee beans, spices)

We’ve seen lots of runners have low iron/anemia issues. What are some strategies for avoiding this?

There are a few components here:

  • Get lab work regularly, and make sure you have a full iron panel (ferritin, transferrin saturation, TIBC, RBC, Hct, Hgb)
  • Know if you are at risk for being low: female, heavy menstruation, endurance athlete, runner, vegan or vegetarian
  • Consume iron-rich foods, such as fortified breakfast cereals, canned beans, tofu, baked potatoes, pumpkin seeds, unsulphured blackstrap molasses, red meat, organ meat, clams, mussels, oysters, and salmon or sardines canned in oil with foods rich in vitamin C, such as strawberries, citrus, kiwi, pineapple, mango, broccoli, bell peppers, hot peppers, and tomatoes
  • Avoid calcium-rich foods when you consume high-iron foods. Calcium-rich foods include dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, ice cream) & dairy-substitutes (e.g. non-dairy milk), whey protein, almonds, edamame, calcium-set tofu, chia seeds, canned fish with bones, white beans, collard greens & kale, amaranth, calcium-fortified OJ
  • Consume iron-rich foods at least 2 hours before or after exercise, rather than within 2 hours of training. This is because exercise increases the levels of hepcidin in the body; hepcidin is a hormone that reduces liver absorption by the body.

Along the lines of iron, do you recommend supplements? Any supplements that you think the general runner population should be considering? (again, I know we’re all different, but what are some generalities regarding supplements?)

This definitely depends on the individual – gender, age, ethnicity, geography, time of year, lab work/medical history, dietary habits, sport. I always advocate for “Food first, supplement second.” However, vitamin D is one I recommend to nearly all of my athletes, at least in the winter months (October-April); 400-2,000IU will do. If an athlete trains indoors or wears sunscreen during the summer months, I will recommend that they take it year-round. Depending on dietary intake and menstrual function, I oftentimes have female athletes include a Calcium-Magnesium-D supplement. Outside of that, it really does depend, and many athletes should periodize their supplements as well.

Help us make heads or tails in terms of “carbo loading”. What does it mean? Is it a myth? Is there anything in particular we should be considering in the days leading up to a big endurance event?

Carbohydrate loading definitely has a time and a place. First, carbohydrate loading should be considered ONLY if the event in question is >90 minutes. This comes down to the amount of stored carbohydrate (glycogen) in the body and how long those stores last during exercise. Second, once you have determined that carbohydrate loading is appropriate, you need to plan for the total amount of carbohydrates that should be loaded (8-12g/kg/d), the type of carbohydrates that should be loaded (low-fiber, low-residue), and the timing of carbohydrate loading (3 days prior to the event). Finally, to really benefit from a carbohydrate loading protocol, you should also be tapering your exercise in tandem with your increased intake of carbohydrate. And always be intentional about adequate hydration!

If you could give us endurance runners one piece of advice relating to food and diet, what is the mindset, mantra, advice that you would impart on us?

Put just as much consideration into your nutrition plan as you do your training plan. Your training does not look the same every single day, so neither should your nutrition. If you adopt a “fuel for the work required” mantra, you can experience both a boost in performance, but also improved daily energy and overall chronic health. If you have questions, hire a Registered Sports Dietitian who specializes in athletes like you!

For Heidi’s bio and contact info, visit: