Running: Fuel To Go The Distance

imageIt was estimated in 2012 that the running shoe market is a $3 billion industry. There is no doubt about it; running is popular! Having run a marathon and two half-marathons in the past decade, I am well aware of all the fun gadgets one can accumulate—the latest shoes, heart rate monitor, GPS, Dri-Fit ensemble, iPhone armband, water belt, you name it! But sometimes people forget to ask about the most important equipment of all…food!

In anticipation of NYRR NYC Half-Marathon taking place on March 16th, here is some key nutrition advice to help you enhance your training; it sure helped me along the way.


Carbohydrates are incredibly important to runners because they act as our primary fuel source. We store carbs in our muscles and liver by way of glycogen in order to maximize energy while on long-distance runs, like half or full marathons. Distance training enables us to increase our glycogen storage capacity up to 1,500-2,000 calories, on average. Assuming that we burn 100 calories per mile, we can run on stored energy for 15 to 20 miles. That means, for half-marathons, as long as we properly “carbo-load” throughout our training, and especially a few days prior to the race, we will avoid hitting the dreaded “wall.” But just to be on the safe side, I always carry a snack. Easy grab-and-go snacks are granola bars (KIND, Cliff, Luna, Mojo, Larabar), dried fruit, or trail mix.  

How many carbs are enough?

To ensure proper carbohydrate intake while training, you want to source about 45-55% of your total daily calories from carbohydrates. Therefore, an average intake of 2,000 calories per day would equate to 900-1,100 calories from carbs. Another general rule of thumb, for a moderate to high activity level, is to consume 3 to 5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight. This is especially important if you are competing at moderate intensity or greater for 90-minutes or more. Translation: jogging on the treadmill for 5 miles does not mean you get to eat a whole plate of pasta after! 

Which carbs should you eat?

Starches such as bagels and pasta are staple runner’s foods, but all wholegrain/ unprocessed complex carbohydrates are ideal for training. Integrating these foods into your diet will promote stable energy levels and prevent sugar lows. Tip: I would not recommend experimenting with new foods a week before the race. Stick with what you know works for you.

  • Fruits & Vegetables. Eat the skins for added antioxidants and fiber. Sweet potatoes are a great runner’s snack!
  • Beans & Lentils. Dry or canned.
  • Dairy products. Milk, chocolate milk, cottage cheese, yogurt and Greek yogurt.
  • Whole grains. Brown rice, quinoa, millet and buckwheat, to mention a few.
  • Whole grain pasta. Try Barilla Plus with added omega-3 and protein!
  • Whole grain breads.
  • High protein cereals. Try Nature’s Path Optimum Rebound, Back to Nature Flax & Fiber Crunch, or Kashi Go Lean.


While training, your body will also need adequate protein for repairing and rebuilding muscle tissue, especially after workouts lasting longer than 1 hour. Dairy and legumes are great sources of protein, but be sure to include others such as lean meats (chicken, fish, low sodium turkey-jerky), eggs, cheese and seeds with each meal to compliment your carbohydrate choices.


Recent research suggests that a post-run snack or meal should be consumed within 30-45 minutes of working out to avoid muscle fatigue, as well as injuries like tendonitis. A strong combination of protein and carbohydrates are recommended to help your muscles recover faster. 

Smart and delicious post-race snacks include:

  • 6 ounces of Greek yogurt with 1 cup of fruit
  • 1 cup of protein-rich cereal with 1 cup of milk
  • 1 cup of chocolate milk
  • 1 piece of toast with 1 teaspoon of almond butter & half a mashed banana
  • 1 small sweet potato with ½ cup of cottage cheese
  • A serving of whole wheat crackers with 2 ounces of tuna
  • Smoothie: 1 cup of milk with ½ cup of fruit + 2 tablespoons of hemp seeds
  • ½ cup of cooked quinoa with ¼ cup of crushed pistachios and dried fruit


Runners should always carry a water bottle, period. Calculating fluids lost while exercising can be tricky, but a quick tip is to monitor the color of your urine; you want to maintain a pale yellow color. Another tip, especially before your long runs, is to weigh yourself immediately before and after exercising. One pound lost is essentially 16 ounces (2 cups) of water. When you need to replenish significantly, make sure to drink from electrolyte-rich drinks such as coconut water. 

Are you training for a race? I want to hear about it! 

Written by Alanna Cabrero, MS, RD, CDN 

Picture by Rob Zand. 

Clark, N. Active. Carbo-loading: Tips for endurance athletes. 

What are my carb needs half training. Runners World.

Edited by Tamara Cabrero & NYHRC Team