Skip to content

Fueling Strategies For Distance Runners

Free Salmon Fish photo and picture

Having a well-balanced nutrition plan is necessary for distance running, whether it is a 10k, half marathon, or full marathon, as they all involve high levels of endurance and burn a significant amount of calories.

Your nutrition plan or fuel should be adjusted based on your body weight, the duration of the run, and the intensity of your training schedule. Timing your meals appropriately to align with the requirements of the sport can ultimately determine if you finish strongly or not finish at all.

Why fuel for long races or long runs

Marathon fueling strategy becomes an essential part of the training for runners preparing for long distances like half marathons, marathons, or ultramarathons.

When it comes to shorter distances like the 1 mile, 5k, or 10k, your body’s energy stores are typically enough to complete the race. However, this is not the case for longer distances.

So, why is it necessary for runners to properly fuel themselves before their long runs or races? One way to understand this is by considering the energy they expend. To avoid delving into the intricacies of food science, it is important to acknowledge that all the food and drinks we consume contain certain amounts of energy. By referring to nutrition labels, you can get an estimate of the calories present in a specific food item.

In order to run long distances successfully without experiencing a sudden loss of energy known as “bonking,” your body must have an adequate amount of stored energy. Imagine your body as a car; just like a car needs enough fuel in its tank to function properly or at all, your body requires sufficient energy to perform well during long runs.

In a fundamental sense, the same applies to your body as well. To successfully endure the extensive distances involved in half marathon, marathon, and ultramarathon training, your body needs to have sufficient energy reserves.

Here are some tips and ideas to help power your training and performances, as carbohydrates, protein, and fat are essential nutrients that provide energy.


When going through rigorous training sessions lasting from one to three hours daily, it is important to consume a diet predominantly comprised of carbohydrates. Aim to consume 2.7 to 4.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight every day. For instance, if you weigh 135 pounds, you should consume 365 to 607 grams of carbohydrates daily to meet your needs as a runner.

Opt for high-quality carbohydrates, including whole-grain breads, cereals, rice, pasta, starchy vegetables, fruit, low-fat milk, and yogurt, as they all contain around 15 grams of carbohydrates.

  • One slice of bread
  • One 6-inch tortilla
  • 1/2 cup corn
  • 1/2 cup mashed potatoes
  • 1/2 medium baked potato or sweet potato
  • 1/3 cup rice
  • 3 cups popcorn
  • One small apple
  • 15 grapes
  • Two tangerines
  • 2 tablespoons raisins
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 3 cups green beans
  • 1 1/4 cup milk or yogurt


Eating protein helps in the development of muscle mass. The recommended protein intake is approximately 0.6 to 0.8 grams per pound of body weight. For instance, if a runner weighs 135 pounds, they should consume 81 to 108 grams of protein daily. It is crucial to understand that exceeding the recommended amount will not accelerate the growth of lean muscle.

Select protein-rich foods like lean beef, pork, chicken, turkey, beans, nuts, eggs, and low-fat dairy products due to their content of 7 grams of protein.

  • 1 ounce cheese
  • 1 ounce beef, pork, chicken or turkey
  • 1/4 cup cottage cheese
  • 1/2 cup black beans or kidney beans
  • One whole egg
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 1 cup milk or plain yogurt


Although there isn’t a specific guideline regarding fat intake for runners, it is essential for every runner to include healthy fats in their diet. Such fats comprise nuts and seeds, nut butters, avocado, and olive or canola oil.

Pre-run fueling strategies

Thankfully, being an endurance athlete does not necessitate experiencing fatigue during a race; it is actually possible to avoid it. There is an abundance of marathon and long run fueling strategies available on the internet, which runners from all around the globe rely on to enhance their performance. However, like any online information, the quality and usefulness of these tips vary.

At minimum, consider the following fueling strategies before running:

  • To prevent experiencing uncomfortable runners’ trots during the run, it is advisable to refrain from consuming fried, high dairy, fibrous, or heavy foods shortly before starting the run.

  • To ensure proper digestion of the foods, it is recommended to eat at least an hour, if not longer, before your run.

  • Eating easily digestible foods

  • The effects of caffeine on runs can vary, being beneficial for some individuals while detrimental for others. Nevertheless, reducing the consumption of caffeine is advisable in order to minimize its diuretic impacts.

It is always beneficial to begin a run when adequately hydrated.

Mid-run fueling strategies

Dedicating a separate post to mid-run fueling strategies is essential! It is clear that during a long run or race, you won’t pause your competition to enjoy a sandwich or have a smoothie. Rather, the priority is on convenient sources of energy that are easily carried, consumed while running, and provide a quick energy boost.

Every day, the expansive market for mid-run fuel continues to grow and expand.

In addition to a variety of commercial options such as gels, chomps, sports beans resembling jelly beans, gummies, special drinks, special powders, and energy bars, runners also have the alternative of discovering numerous do-it-yourself recipes for mid-run fuel on the internet. By utilizing natural, whole foods and ingredients, they can craft their own bars and gels.

The primary concept of mid-run fueling is to continually replenish your energy reserves before you exhaust them entirely and experience a significant drop in performance.

The frequency and quantity of refueling will vary significantly based on numerous factors such as the race/run distance, nutritional requirements, duration of running, and notably, one’s stomach tolerance.

Once again, when it comes to discovering the most effective mid-run fueling options for yourself, remember that you are an individual experiment. Therefore, do not delay until the day of the race to develop your plan.

Going for the long haul

If you find yourself in a race, it doesn’t matter how fit or fast you are, because if your energy depletes and you are unable to regain it, or if your stomach experiences a gastrointestinal issue, you will realize the vital role fueling plays in a runner’s achievement in endurance races.

Thankfully, almost every time you prepare for a long run, you’ll have a chance to try something new. You can observe how the meal you had earlier affects your stomach.

It is advisable to assess your preference for a specific gel or chomp, as well as your ability to open the packaging while running. It is important to establish your fueling strategies early on in your training and consistently practice them. This will ensure that on race day, you are calm and already familiar with what fueling methods suit you best, similar to being as composed as a cucumber.

Just like your physical and mental conditioning, fueling strategies for long runs and races will play a crucial role in your training. Don’t leave anything to luck and keep in mind that what may work effectively for someone else might not work for you, or might not work at all.

Fuel before, during and after a workout 

It is advisable to have a meal containing 200 to 300 grams of carbohydrates and approximately 30 grams of lean protein, which should be low in fat, three to four hours prior to a lengthy training run or competition. By consuming such a meal, you will guarantee adequate fuel for your workout while also allowing enough time for your stomach to digest before commencing the run. An instance of such a meal could be a turkey sandwich accompanied by baked chips and a serving of fruit.

If you find that you do not have sufficient time to eat a meal three to four hours prior to your run or race, it is advisable to consume a snack one to two hours before. Suitable options for this snack include fruit, milk, a bowl of cereal, yogurt, a small bagel topped with peanut butter, or cheese and crackers. In the event that you only have less than an hour before your exercise, the most optimal choice would be liquids, such as a sports drink or a low-fat liquid meal replacement.

To ensure sufficient fuel during training runs lasting more than one to two hours, aim to consume 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour. Suitable options consist of sports drinks, sodium, potassium, as well as energy gels or chews along with water.

Rehydrate and restore your body post-workout with a snack that is rich in both carbohydrates and protein. Consuming carbohydrates will replenish muscle glycogen that was depleted during an extended training run or race, while protein will aid in repairing and building the muscles. Some suggestions for snacks include a grilled chicken or turkey sandwich, low-fat chocolate milk, a combination of cottage cheese and fruit, or crackers with cheese.

Begin your recovery within 30 minutes after training if you intend to run the next day. In case the following day is designated as a rest day, incorporate recovery foods into your upcoming meal.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *