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  

To Eat Less Calories or Carbohydrates?

That is the question- at least for weight loss.

We as a nation are severely plump. About a third of us are obese- meaning that an averaged height woman (5'4") is approximately 60 pounds over her ideal weight. Sixty pounds! I am not talking about a dress size bigger. I am talking about A LOT of ADDITIONAL calories and A LOT of ADDITIONAL calories from carbohydrates. I say “additional” in my obnoxious CAPITALS because we all need both calories and carbohydrates to properly function, but not in the amounts we are currently eating. 

Therefore, when the oh so tantalizing nutrition debate on whether calories makes us fat, or the quality of calories (i.e. carbohydrates) makes us store fat, I say BOTH.

It’s a fact. When we eat too many calories, we store them as fat. The fatter we get, the bigger our fat cells get and the more they wreak havoc on our hormones affecting our metabolism and inflammation that can increase our risk of developing diabetes, hypertension, and other metabolic conditions. A good rule of thumb (if you don’t have a pre-diagnosed thyroid or hormonal condition) is: if you can’t lose weight or have been gaining weight, you are probably eating too much and are not expending enough energy.

I agree, calories are NOT created equal. If you look back to the 1970’s you will see that with the rise of sugar intake and other refined grain products came a rise in overweight/obesity. Carbohydrates stimulate insulin secretion, a hormone that helps utilize glucose for energy and store fat. Therefore, the quality of our food is definitely important, and the more we focus on balancing our blood sugar with healthy/complex carbohydrates rather than sodas and white foods, the more control we’ll have over how we use and store our energy. 

A few practical things you can do to reduce both calories and refined carbohydrates are the following:

*Do not skip meals, especially breakfast, since it’s been linked with higher calorie intake throughout the day.

*Eat fiber-rich foods: vegetables, fruits and whole grains. A piece of bread should have at least 3 grams of fiber and a serving of cereal should have 5 grams.

*Snacks should not exceed 200 calories and should ideally be a mix of carbohydrate, protein, and fat. Examples are: Greek yogurt, a piece of fruit with a handful of nuts, a slice of partly-skimmed cheese with a whole grain toast.

*Specifically for lunch and dinner, half your plate should be fruits and/or vegetables (preferably vegetables).

*Do NOT, for the love of g*d, eat fried food.

*Do not drink your calories. Most sugary drinks have no nutrition, only calories.

*KNOW & UNDERSTAND that the US spends about $60 billion a year in marketing unhealthy foods like fried chicken, soda, sugary cereals, and pizza; therefore, if you can’t stop thinking about that burger & fries from Burger King, to a certain extent, it’s understandable. Just be aware and try to logically think if you would’ve wanted that burger & fries if it wasn’t advertised on every TV, computer, and magazine in your immediate surrounding. 

As Dr. Nestle said so eloquently, we “must learn to eat less but eat better.” And this simple notion- takes time and energy, pun intended.

If you are interested in a 10-minute free consultation on weight loss and other nutrition-related issues, please contact me at Include your name, number, and a good time to reach you.

Dr. Marion Nestle addresses “Why Calories Count”

G. Taubes “What Really Makes Us Fat.”