Nutrition Tips For Distance Runners

bristol half marathon

Nutrition Tips

I have a good friend who happens to be an Army Green Beret who suggested I write a nutrition tips post for distance runners.

The importance of nutrition during and before racing is so crucial that far too many runners mistake their bad races on account of training too hard or not enough.

I will be discussing some nutrition tips within this post that will help you run a better race and assist you in not making some of the same mistakes I have made over the years.

The farther you run the more your body relies on fueling correctly. A 150 pound individual burns anywhere from 100-120 calories per mile and the heavier the athlete the more calories are burned.

That being said, we have a 150lb runner going out for a 20 mile long run. He or she is going to burn just over 2000 calories in those miles covered, not to mention their metabolism will burn additional calories at a greater rate after the workout itself.

Nutrition Studies

David Nieman, an exercise researcher at Appalacian State University found that men who exercised on a stationary bike for just 45 minutes burned additional  calories for 14 hours after the workout was complete.

The New York Times in, For An Exercise Afterburn Intensity May Be The Key, supports the study of Mr. Nieman.

Dr.Amy Knab of Appalacian State and her collegues did a simple study where they had a group of men age 22 to 33 sit in a metabolic chamber for 24 hours where they did little more then sit, stretch and eat and still burned 2400 calories for the day.

She had a second group do the same thing, but this time cycle on a stationary bike for 45 minutes at 70% VO2max (the maximal effort your body can produce), which found that the men burned 190 extra calories 14 hours after the workout was complete, a 37% increase.

This tell us that runner I mentioned above who does that 20 mile run is going to be burning calories for many hours afterward, thus studying nutrition tips from exercise science specialists and other experience athletes is of vital importance for running success.

You have to replace what is lost and not only replace but replace adequately. If you burn 2000 calories in a run and are already very active even after the run how much more important is eating and focusing on getting the proper amount of calories to make up for what you burned become?

Learn More About The Helo Watch

Running Mistakes

I value the mistakes I have made in my own nutrition tactics in races cause at least I can write about them and possibly stop other runners from hindering their race performances.

You MUST ingest enough calories during your race or you will run out of glycogen and probably more importantly, take in the proper amount of carbohydrates and protein prior to the race even starting, in order to maximize your race performance come race morning.

Have you ever done a 16-22 mile long run, drank down a few bottles of sports drink or water and were just to0 tired to eat or lost your appetite afterward and decided to take a nap instead? I know I have…

Don’t do this! You are already severely dehydrated after a run of that length. You have to replace the carbs, minerals and electrolytes you lost in that run.

I have had that empty feeling countless times over the years. Make the time to eat something high in carbs immediately after your run. It is hard to do but you have to do it.

Here are a few nutrition tips that I pray you adhere to before, during and after your races.


  • DO eat a high carbohydrate meal the night before the race, preferably a large bowl of pasta i.e. spaghetti, ziti etc and shy away from salads as they are harder for the body to digest although vegetables are fine
  • DO get up 2-3 hours before the race starts and eat a 500-600 calorie, high carbohydrate breakfast. I usually have a small bowl of grits and a bagel with some peanut butter on it.
  • DON’T overeat the night before the race as this will make you feel sluggish and heavy the morning of the race
  • DON’T drink too much the morning of the race. The last thing you want to do is get 5 miles into a 13 or 26.2 mile race and get a major stitch that you’ll have to deal with the entire race.
  • DO take a 65mg Iron Tablet daily. This will prevent you from becoming anemic and running low on your body’s capability to transport oxygen to your working muscles. Run low on this and no matter how motivated you are, you will feel run down and not be able to hit splits in training or races.


  • DO aim to ingest 8oz of fluid every 5K or 3 miles.
  • DO grab more then one cup at each aid station
  • DO take a gel every 5 miles. This is 100-120 calories that will go straight to your blood stream and deliver vital nutrients, electrolytes and glycogen to your muscles.
  • DO remember the importance of this. You can get down 100-120 calories immediately to your working muscles by not neglecting ingesting gels. It takes you drinking down a 16 oz bottle of fluid to get the same amount of calories and takes a lot longer.
  • DON’T sip! A huge mistake I have made in my earlier marathons. You need to DRINK, that means grabbing a few cups every three miles and ensure you focus on getting the majority of the contents in each cup. It takes about 3 of those miniature plastic cups they hand out to us to equal 8oz. How much do you really drink when you run by those aid stations? Be honest with yourself. Do you think it has been enough? Can you do better?
  • DON’T wait until your thirsty to start drinking. TRUST ME, this is NOT what you want to do. Ingest fluid early on and every 2-3 miles, don’t wait until your at mile 17 frothing at the mouth and walking to start drinking. It will be too late then.

  • DO drink! You are going to be dehydrated and you have to replace lost fluids, electrolytes and nutrients you lost in the race
  • DO ingest a powerbar, cliffbar or other snack that is high in carbohydrates and minerals that you lost during the race immediately after you have finished. The mistakes we all have made is not eating something after a race because we are not hungry, feel as though if we did eat something we would get sick or lost our appetite and choose just to drink and forgo eating until later when we are hungry.
  • DON’T do THAT. Your muscles are like sponges and you have to eat, regardless if you are hungry or not, after a race so that you replace the carbohydrates burned during that maximal effort you just threw down on the roads. You will recover faster by doing so.
  • DO drink a high protein drink or chocolate milk. Protein can help re-build scar tissue that comes from racing hard. A protein drink will rebuild, rehydrate and rejuvenate endurance and sprint athletes.
  • DO take an ice bath. Ok, off the nutrition topic but your muscles are totally jacked up after a race effort and even more so the farther you have raced. An ice bath will draw the lactic acid out of your legs and rush oxygen rich blood to your muscles after you get out of the tub. One of my former WCAP teammates, SSG Troy Harrison, a 2.22.51 marathoner, would fill up a trash can in his garage with water and throw ice in it and do this religiously.

In closing, take your nutrition just as seriously as you take your training. It isn’t just the workout but what your doing the other 24 hours of the day.

The benefits of all your hard work comes down to how you balance everything else in your training arsenal.

Don’t put all your eggs into one basket and neglect other critical aspects of your preparation. Nutrition and your fueling practices in the race are going to make or break a great performance.

I have payed the heavy price of not drinking enough in past races and know firsthand how important this is.

If you have stop for a few seconds to drink down the entire contents of those cups at the aid stations so be it.

It is wiser to do that, then to neglect not drinking at all as you run by, because you don’t want to lose contact or slow down and pay for it later in the race.

I have written over 200 posts since RDA was founded and I have to say this is the closest to my heart. I don’t want to see runners, regardless of ability level or goals, fall short of their goals on something they can control like ingesting enough fluid and taking in calories.

You have the choice to drink properly, eat sufficiently before, during and after your races.Your recovery, mental and physical well being depends a great deal on how seriously you take your nutrition and fueling.

Runners hit the wall on account of a few key reasons and I call it a myth because if you do the things mentioned in this post you don’t have to experience it.

I didn’t experience a ‘wall’ when I ran 2.19. I had to really dig down deep to finish the last 2 miles of that race but I didn’t shut down. Below are a few reasons we slow and how you can overcome it:

  • Not drinking enough and becoming severely dehydrated. Drink, don’t sip!
  • They have not trained in such a way to teach their body to clear lactic acid faster then it has built up
  • Going out too fast too early and causing too much of an influx of lactic acid shutting the capability of the muscle fibers function down. Fortunately, this goes away quickly but we don’t want to slow down. Train and get acquainted with the pace you want to hold and then executing on race day will be that much more certain
  • They have not taught their body to burn fat and conserve carbohydrate. You do that by training at higher intensities for longer period of time. Yes, you do burn fat the longer you run but extending the amount of time you run at or near goal race paces will teach the body to rely more heavily on fats, rather then use up vital carbohydrate. Remember, your body only has roughly 1800-2000 calories at any given time of stories carbohydrates but much more fat calories available. This will get you to around mile 18-20 of the marathon. Where does the so called ‘wall’ usually hit runners? Think about it.
  • Not ingesting enough carbohydrates during the race losing central nervous system capability and rushing in fatigue.

You adhere to some of the tips above and you will have conquered and put on your body armor against hitting the wall in your next race!




Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

2 thoughts on “Nutrition Tips For Distance Runners

Comments are closed.