TotR: Nutrition for Runners

Patty from My No-Guilt Life, Erika from MCM Mama Runs and I are thrilled to have Lisa from Running out of Wine as our guest host for this week’s Tuesdays on the Run!  Today’s topic is nutrition for runners.  I’ll be honest here and admit that this is one of the things that I struggle with the most.

When I started losing weight and getting active, I stuck with a low-carb, South Beach inspired diet which worked great and let me drop thirty pounds in about nine months without being hungry.  That eating style worked great for me even after I started running until my long runs reached about six miles.  At that point, I’d run out of energy and not be able to go any further.  I finally realized that it was because I needed some more carbs in my diet.  Unfortunately when I added in some more carbs, my weight loss slowed down and then stalled out entirely.  As I focused more on running performance, I focused less on keeping my diet clean and eventually the scale started moving up again (although not all the way back to my starting weight!).

I know I’ll run faster if I can get down to my goal weight (still about 45 pounds away) but I have trouble with endurance and energy if I don’t eat some carbs while training and racing.  I’ve read the Paleo diet for runners book and about ten other books about running nutrition and I’m still confused.  You’d think that running for hours each week would naturally let you drop pounds, but it’s so easy to overeat or to eat the wrong things as a “treat” for all that hard work.  Unless you have an enviable metabolism, there’s no amount of training that will offset a queso and chips addiction!

So, here’s what I’m focusing on to combine proper energy for running and fuel for recovery with slow weight loss:

  • Plenty of protein.  I’m trying to make sure I have protein in every meal and snack.  Peanut butter is one of my favorite sources.  I’m quite partial to a nice piece of fish or chicken breast too.
  • Carbs in moderation and as unprocessed as possible.  When I can, I try to stay with a lower carb diet because I have blood sugar issues and because eating carbs makes me hungry which leads to overeating.  I still eat some carbs in moderation like beans and corn and barley or lentils.  And I eat as much fruit as I want because I think it’s good for me (although I do try to pair it up with some kind of protein as well).  On the day before and the day of a long run or distance race, I have more things like potatoes and pasta.
  • No crap.  That means that even after a half marathon I don’t have cookies, cupcakes, chips or french fries.  I think that’s absolutely fine for most people, but in the same way that an alcoholic can’t have one beer without starting a craving for more; I can’t have one cupcake without starting to crave (and justify!) having more and slipping back into eating junk on a daily basis.  I’m hoping that in a year or two I may have healed my psyche or endocrine system enough that I can have a cupcake without triggering that response but I know that right now I really can’t without a huge struggle to get back on track.
  • Fueling long runs. I used to use honey stinger gummies and just loved them, but they started hurting my stomach recently, so I’ve been trying new things.  I did not like the applesauce packs (too acidic) or the raisins (too sticky).  However, I did try some Salted Caramel GU that I got at a race last year (Space Coast?) and tucked away for later.  Oh my.  I’ve tried GU before and didn’t like it but this is just divine.  It tastes so good and seems to settle in my stomach just fine.  And it has a little caffeine.  I’m not sure what it is about it, but I feel like I’m a rock star for a couple of miles after having 1/2 of one.  I’ll keep trying them on the next few long runs and then during Gasparilla before I go and buy a whole case.  So far so good!


I’m just sticking with what seems to work for me right now.  I do treat it as a bit of an ongoing experiment so I’m open to adjustments based on my running performance, hunger levels and what the scale tells me.  I’m really excited to learn what everyone else has to say on this topic because I’m still really confused about what the “right” answer is!

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TotR: Nutrition for Runners — 38 Comments

  1. That salted caremel us one of my favorites. I also like the salted watermelon. I eat healthy for the most part on a daily basis that I do like that “crap” at the end of a race. Kind of like my little reward…haha.

    • Salted watermelon sounds awful, but intriguing at the same time. I’ll keep my eye out to give it a try!

  2. I think for many runners we start eating better and running around the same time, causing an initial weight loss but then as we continue running more we need to figure out how to fuel those miles while also avoiding gaining the weight back! It sounds like you have some really great strategies. I have also found that avoiding processed foods is really important (as well as junk food) because then you know you will be focusing on eating foods with nutrients which is what we really need!
    Thanks for having me co-host today!
    Lisa @ Running Out Of Wine recently posted…Nutrition For Runners: Paleo and Whole30 TipsMy Profile

    • That’s so true! I am trying to minimize the processed food as well although I’m a bit dependent on Cliff Bars right now for breakfast and snacks! And we’re so happy to have you co-host as well!

  3. I’ve not tried the salted caramel GU but I have friends who love it! If I use anything during a run or race, it’s a Clif Shot blok. Split it in half and I work on them over the course of a few miles instead of chewing them. Helps my tummy better!
    Melanie recently posted…TOTR: Runner NutritionMy Profile

    • I’ve heard great things about those as well. I may give them a try too!

  4. My twinkie again! Not surprised! First off, I have no answers because I have the same issues as you. I can only drop weight if I cut my calories deeply (which causes less energy on long runs) OR I have to run massive amounts of miles a week (which causes me to be more hungry!) vicious cycle. Also…I LOVE LOVE LOVE salted caramel GU, won’t use anything else now, it’s my favorite!
    Karen@losingtheglassslippers recently posted…2014 in PhotosMy Profile

    • It’s a really hard thing to balance! How funny that we’re back to being Twinkies again on the Gu! Good luck with your GSC training, I can’t wait to hear about it!

    • I definitely find that I have more energy running too since cleaning my my diet!

  5. I’m also trying to get more protein in my diet. The biggest challenge is breakfast, but I found whipped Greek yogurt, which is the consistency I like the best.
    Lesley recently posted…Running to DisneyMy Profile

    • I’ve never tried the whipped greek yogurt! I’ll have to check it out.

  6. I completely understand that you can’t have just one cookie, etc. I struggled with this when I was younger. One bite, and I’d be out of control. (I’ve got some sugar binge stories, believe me.) As I aged, it got better. Yea! Something good about getting old. Salted Caramel GU is my favorite. However, because it has caffeine I also keep Peanut Butter on hand. Too much caffeine during a run and my heart rate goes a little nutty.
    HoHo Runs recently posted…Weekend UpdateMy Profile

    • Good to hear that you’ve “grown” out of the problem with sugar. I’m hoping a year of avoiding/minimizing it will help reset me so that I can enjoy sweets/crap in moderation again.

  7. I have trouble with sweet stuff, too. I can’t just eat one cookie…I eat a whole sleeve of them. I definitely think “experiment” is the right word for the whole running/nutrition/losing weight process. It seems to be ever-changing and there’s always something new to try!
    Allyson recently posted…Eat and RunMy Profile

  8. I have stopped using Gu, but all the talk about the salted caramel has me reconsidering. I alternate Honey Stinger chews with Clif Shot Bloks. I am able to get some caffeine, but not a ton to upset my stomach. For a half or longer, I love peanut butter filled pretzels. So delicious and it helps settle the stomach.

    As for eating healthy every day, I suck at it. I try to be good, but I have no will power.
    Angie recently posted…This and ThatMy Profile

    • I really need to try those peanut butter filled pretzels for the half distance! Thanks for the good idea!

    • I think most of us runners struggle with getting enough protein!

  9. I have been experimenting with trying to fuel my longer runs as well- looks like there is no secret formula but I need to work on the good old method of trial and error. I do ok with the Gu but maybe waiting to late in the race last time, so maybe bump it up. I will keep working at it with you!
    Mary Beth Jackson recently posted…Something new with I-Tunes Podcasts!My Profile

    • I’m just starting with the Gu. I wish they made them in 1/2 serving containers. I really only like about 1/2 of the tube at one time but I can see that it’s going to get messy one of these days carrying an opened one in my pocket!

  10. I’ve been guilty of telling myself I could have a treat because I just ran… I’m trying not to do that any more! I don’t think there is one universal nutrition plan that works for everyone. I do know that I need some healthy carbs and protein (not necessarily a big bowl of pasta) the night before a long run. I also make sure to fuel for recovery as soon as my workout is done too. I think that one is key!
    Leana recently posted…Running…LatelyMy Profile

    • I agree that we’re all different and that’s why trying different things is so important, so we can find the right fit for us!

  11. I could have totally written this post. I have trouble dropping weight if I’m not watching carbs, but my running sucks if I don’t eat enough. It’s such a fine line for me.

    And the Salted Caramel and Salted Watermelon are the bomb!
    MCM Mama recently posted…TOTR: Fueling your runMy Profile

    • #truth Really it is so hard to find that balance for me. Glad to know I’m not alone in that!

  12. I agree 100% about keeping your fuel as natural and unprocessed as possible. Real food always seems to work better for me than some of the products marketed as fitness nutrition. Protein really helps too. I’ve noticed that if I don’t get enough protein I feel tired & sluggish. Thanks for sharing your tips!
    Aimee recently posted…BurnThis – a new app for FitspirationMy Profile

    • I’d like to try out a few more “real” food options for long run fueling. Guess I need to wander Publix with that in mind!

  13. Pingback: FAQ Friday #4: How to fuel on a long run

  14. UM that salted caramel Gu is my favorite too. I totally have a box stashed away somewhere and I’ve never bought a whole box of Fuel before since I like a bunch of different things. I still love the chocolate-which tastes like frosting to me. I definitely need tow ork on getting more protein!

    • I am really weird about chocolate flavored things that aren’t actual chocolate, but I may give the Chocolate Gu a try if it tastes like frosting!

    • It works great for me and actually tastes good, which other GUs don’t (to me!). Let me know if you try it!

  15. I’m still working on what works for me during long runs, but I do love the pink lemonade Honey Stinger chews. I’ve also been adding more protein to my diet and am trying to eat less junk, and I’ve totally seen improvement in the way I feel. Imagine that. 🙂
    Whitney @ French Fry Runner recently posted…Try Something New!My Profile

    • I adored the Honey Stinger chews for two years but somehow my tummy suddenly is not liking them!