Running Nutrition –Training versus Racing
If you’re looking to step up your running game and most importantly if you run long distances, in addition to running workouts you’ll want to pay attention to your running nutrition (as well as these tips to achieve running goals). Running nutrition varies person to person but there are some crucial differences you’ll want to learn between eating to train and eating to race.
Joining me here on the blog today is Holly Martin. An avid runner as well as a coach at The Run Experience who focuses specifically on running plans.
Regardless of your running status, be it marathon training, just having enrolled in a running workout plan or a seasoned veteran, running nutrition deserves some thought.
While I can’t stress enough that both training nutrition and racing food choices will be very individualized, there are some crucial differences between the two as well as some practical choices to implement.
In this article we’ve got some running nutrition tips for training and racing divided by various distances.
General Differences Between Training and Racing
Training builds adaptation and strength, whereas racing is strictly performance-based. As a result, your running nutrition should look different for training than it does for racing.
How exactly your running nutrition plan differs will depend largely on your preferences and on the distance you’re running (and if you’re brand new and running doesn’t come naturally at all, check out these tips!)
How do we find out our preferences? Simple trial and error.
For example, if you want to prepare for a marathon and thinking of purchasing a marathon training plan, use your training runs to test out different running nutrition strategies.
Even without a coach, you should track when you feel your best and note how you fueled either before or during that run.
Practice makes perfect here, so try out different strategies so that you know your preferences, and can design a running nutrition plan that works for you specifically.
In general, training allows us a bit more nutritional freedom than racing.
When fueling for training, we can rely more on whole foods than on performance-based supplements.
Another option is to try out fasted running, or running without having eaten before, to see if you prefer that.
Training is a time for trial and error to see what works for you.
Running Nutrition For Short Training Runs- under 60 minutes
For these runs, no particular, additional fuel is required. There is no need to fuel up right before your run or during it.
Assuming you’ve eaten normally that day, your body has stored what it will need to run for under an hour.
However, being mindful of what you eat on the days of your short runs can give you a good idea of what types of fuel might work for your longer runs later on.
Think of your eating habits on short-run days as fuel practice for your longer runs.
Fueling the Medium-Length Run- between 60-90 minutes
Middle distance running nutrition is highly individual. You may need additional fuel outside of your normal diet, or you may not.
If you’re someone who needs additional fuel for a middle-distance run, aim for ingesting between 40 and 100 calories depending on your size.
Simple, fast-acting carbohydrates are going to be your friend here.
- Half of a banana
- Some dried fruit
- A couple of fig newtons
Play around until you find what works for you and allows you to feel your best while running.
Fueling the Long Run– over 90 minutes
These runs can vary greatly and may be a two-hour run, or it may be six-hour run if you are training for any sort of ultra marathon.
As a general rule on these longer runs, you want to ingest between 30 and 90 grams of carbohydrates per hour. Again, the exact amount is highly individual here.
If you are going out for a longer, slower run, complex carbohydrates and fats can work for you
- Nut butters with some fruit
- Packaged protein bars
These things take a bit longer to digest, but will work for a longer, slower effort. You can even work in some whole foods here as opposed to the options just mentioned.
Many runners like salty foods on their long run (pretzels, nuts, or seaweed snacks). The salt on these foods helps replenish the electrolytes you are losing, and the carbohydrates fuel you.
Running Nutrition Tips For Racing
While it is important to practice your race-day running nutrition, it is not something you need to be doing all the time.
When planning your race-day running nutrition plan, look at the distance you will be running. In shorter, higher intensity efforts, your body uses mainly carbohydrates alone.
For long distance running nutrition, your body needs both carbohydrates and fats, as it is using a combination of the two to fuel you.
This distinction can be a good place to start when planning your racing nutrition. But do note that the degree to which you use carbs and/or fats depends on your level of fitness and your basic physiology.
This means that no two runners use the same amount or ratio of carbs or fats while on a run, even if they are running the same course at the same speed.
No matter what distance you are racing, carbs are your friend. A mix of glucose and fructose allows better absorption in your body.
Many runners opt for easily accessible carbs here:
These engineered sports products are perfect for race day because they are easy to eat while running, and they give your body strictly what it needs for running.
For shorter races, go ahead and skip the whole foods. For longer endurance events – marathons, ultra marathons, Ironman triathlons – whole foods are definitely a mid-race option.
However, just make sure you practice ingesting those whole foods on a training run, because your body might be overwhelmed by the complexity of whole foods in the middle of a race.
If you practice and learn ahead of time that your body likes that type of whole-food fuel during a run, then have at it.
Distance Running Nutrition -Hydration
Whether you’re training or racing, a good motto for hydration is “all day, every day.” Your hydration demands tend to stay consistent, and you need to be drinking water all day long no matter what.
You may need to bump up your hydration routine given the intensity of your training, or if you are training in heat, but you should always be consuming water all day every day.
If you are running for longer than 60 minutes, you’ll want to consume electrolytes during and after your run to replenish what you’re losing.
SOS Hydration is a great option for some low sugar electrolytes. In addition, you may want to consume electrolytes before you go to sleep as well.
Those tough training or racing efforts can drain your hydration more than you realize, so be proactive about replenishment.
Other Performance Boosters
Lastly, let’s touch on optional performance boosters, such as caffeine, nitrates such as SuperBeets, or BCAAs.
The key point here is that we don’t want to depend on these substances to magically enhance our performance on race day.
Like with anything, practice beforehand and make sure your body responds well to these substances.
Coffee is a great example of this. If you regularly consume a cup of coffee in the morning, there is no reason not to have a cup on race day.
But if you’ve never had coffee, it is probably not the best idea to try it for the first time on race morning.
These additional enhancements can help, but they should not be depended on to achieve your goals, and it is crucial that your body be familiar with them ahead of time.
When it comes to running nutrition tips know this: Training and racing are different when it comes down to fuel.
Race-day running nutrition invites those engineered, ready-to-go sports products, while training nutrition allows a bit more freedom, and you can incorporate whole foods into your fuel.
Having said that, use a handful of training sessions as trial runs for race-day nutrition, so that there are no surprises during your race.
Use trial and error to get comfortable with your body’s preferences, and plan from there. Running nutrition plans are highly individual, and even within them, different types of runs require different types of fuel.
It can be fun to play around with different methods, so enjoy it! Experiment to make yourself the best runner you can be.