Running & Walking Nutrition Basics

I vividly remember the moment I started to appreciate the relationship between food and running. It was my freshman year of high school (Go Panthers!) when I discovered both distance running and gyros at the exact same time. I thought gyros were the perfect lunch–until I ate one on the same day as a track workout. Let’s just say that after that day my relationship with gyros changed forever. And my understanding of how to properly eat before a workout (and why) got a little better.

My next big revelation about nutrition and its impact on running came after college when I started running longer and longer distances (marathons and ultra marathons). Luckily, I had an experienced distance-running coach who explained the importance of in-race nutrition and its impact on performance. Even after 26 marathons and a half dozen or so ultra marathons in just over a decade, I am still playing with what works best for my body during long running events.

While I am not claiming to be a Sports Nutritionist, I do have a lot of experience when it comes to seeking out and finding the right fuel for my endurance events of choice. This is probably the topic that gets brought up the most when I talk with new half- and full-marathon runners.

If you are planning to run a race of ninety minutes or more and you are not thinking about a nutrition plan, you might want to start!

Below are some basic rules of thumb that I follow. Keep in mind that everyone is different and it is important to experiment and figure out what works best for you.

Nutrition Pre-Exercise or Pre-Race: (Source: Cassie Dimmick)

  • Shorter weekday workouts: eat 30-60 min before
  • Longer weekend workouts or competition: eat 2-3 hours before (Don’t worry about waking up that early before the long run unless you are simulating race day. Eat well the night before and snack 30-45 minutes before running.)
  • Choose a meal or snack that is low in fat, contains complex carbohydrates, and has a little protein.
  • Rule of Half: half a bagel, half a banana, half a cup of coffee, etc
  • Eat familiar foods that you know you can tolerate
  • Practice leading up to a long distance race
  • Drink 10-16 oz of fluid 1-2 hours before exercise and another 4-8 oz right before you start.

Pre-Exercise food examples:

  • Granola bar and a banana
  • English muffin or bagel with peanut butter and a piece of fruit
  • Smoothie
  • Nutrition Bar
  • Gel or Sports Chews
  • Pretzels

Nutrition During Exercise or Race: (Source: Cassie Dimmick)

  • Muscles use glycogen (the stored energy form of carbohydrates) and fat for fuel. Both fat and glycogen are used in most activities. Fat can be used as a fuel during aerobic exercise (long, low intensity exercise), but glycogen is the main fuel during strenuous exercise (running a half or full marathon) and anaerobic exercise (short bursts of all-out running).
  • For exercise over 90 minutes, you need additional carbs from gels, bars, or other well-tolerated foods.
  • For runs up to 120 minutes, 30 to 60 grams of carbs per hour of exercise is helpful.
  • For runs over 120 minutes, aim for 60-90 grams per hour as tolerated.

Examples of approximately 30 Grams of carbohydrate:

  • 1 banana
  • 10 pretzels
  • 2 Fig Newtons
  • 1/4 bagel
  • Gels and Sports Chews (Note: Gels and chews have roughly 22 to 29 grams of carbs per serving along with electrolytes. Take these with water to speed delivery of energy into your system.)

Nutrition Post Exercise or Race:

To become a better runner or walker you need to recover from running or walking. For proper recovery, it is recommended that you eat something with both carbohydrates and protein within 45 minutes to an hour after exercise. Failing to do so will most likely effect recovery time and limit the the improvements you can gain from your workout. Failing to recover not only can hinder potential benefits from exercise, but also can lead to injury over time. Read more about the science behind post-exercise recovery in this report by the American Council on Exercise.

I hope this article helps you answer some of your basic sports nutrition questions. At the very least, I hope it gets you thinking about the subject if you have not been already. If this is something you are really fascinated by and think it is the edge you need, I would recommend going to see a Sports Nutritionist to learn more. And remember, we are all different, so it’s important to experiment and find out what works best for your body.

2019 Erika Wells Memorial Scholarship Co-Winner Katie Manion

For four years in a row, Indy Runners has awarded two $500 scholarships to local high school graduates whose lives have been positively impacted by the sport of running. This years’ winners are Jada Coleman from Ben Davis High School and Katie Manion from North Central High School.

Erika Wells, who the scholarship is named after, was a beloved member of Indy Runners who passed away in October 2016. Her dedication to service, personal growth, and social engagement was unparalleled, and she embodied Indy Runners’ belief in the transformative power of running as part of a healthy lifestyle and a way to unify a community. The Erika Wells Scholarship is awarded to high school graduates who exemplify these characteristics.

Katie Manion (North Central High School)

Katie was a member of the North Central Panthers cross country team all four years and a team captain for the 2018-19 season. She also ran track her freshman and sophomore years of high school and competed in the Mini Marathon in 2016. She graduated with a 4.379 grade point average and will be attending Saint Louis University in the fall.

Each scholarship applicant was asked to write and submit an essay on how they came to love running, what the sport of running means to them, or how they believe running will impact their future. We are happy to share Katie’s essay below.

At the age of seven, my parents signed me up for my elementary school’s running club. At the age of eight, I ran my first 5k. By the time I was nine, my neighbor and I were running around our neighborhood together on a daily basis. When I was 11, I completed my first cross country season at Eastwood Middle School, and I loved every minute of it. At this point in my life, running kept me going. It gave me something to look forward to after school, a way to release my negative emotions, and a way to keep my growing body strong.

Right before my 12th birthday, I found myself in the hospital at Riley. I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. While sitting in my bed, my doctors rattled off the dangers of running and the precautions that I would need to take in order to be able to continue to practice the sport I love. I was told that running would become incredibly challenging and that I would have to wear monitors while on the move to ensure my safety. I would have to take lengthy breaks between reps and space out my workouts to keep my glucose levels stable. They told me it would be hard to get faster. I made varsity the next year. And the year after that. I did not let myself become defined by my diagnosis and I refused to let it slow me down.

As I went into high school, my body began to slow down as my disease became harder to control. It became evident that maintaining the speed that I had known for so long would be nearly impossible. Freshmen year was the most difficult. Not only was I trying to find my place on the team socially, but I was watching myself fall behind my peers in practice. By the time the first meet rolled around, I was nowhere close to making varsity. I was having to sit out of practice two or three times a week, and it was honestly humiliating. I always felt like people thought I was a slacker or uncommitted, but in reality, I was just sick.

Before this point, I loved running for the competition. I loved collecting my ribbons and hanging up medals in my room. However, I was no longer able to compete at the level that I had in the past. I began to receive less and less medals, and my bulletin board full of ribbons did not become any more impressive. But during this time, I began to love running more and more. It reminded me that I was still strong, and it still does. Though I cannot run everyday, I feel unstoppable when I am able to. It has taught me that I do not need to be the fastest to be the happiest, and that is all that matters.

Remember, if you think you know a deserving young candidate for the 2020 Erika Wells Scholarship, encourage them to apply this upcoming winter/spring!

2019 Erika Wells Memorial Scholarship Co-Winner Jada Coleman

For four years in a row, Indy Runners has awarded two $500 scholarships to local high school graduates whose lives have been positively impacted by the sport of running. This years’ winners are Jada Coleman from Ben Davis High School and Katie Manion from North Central High School.

Erika Wells, who the scholarship is named after, was a beloved member of Indy Runners who passed away in October 2016. Her dedication to service, personal growth, and social engagement was unparalleled, and she embodied Indy Runners’ belief in the transformative power of running as part of a healthy lifestyle and a way to unify a community. The Erika Wells Scholarship is awarded to high school graduates who exemplify these characteristics.

Jada Coleman (Ben Davis High School)

Jada was a four-year varsity Track and Field athlete for the Ben Davis Giants. She ran the 4 x 100 relay, the 4 x 400 relay, and the 300 intermediate hurdles. In addition to Track and Field, she was a four-year varsity basketball player and a three-year member of the volleyball team. She graduated last May with a 3.92 grade point average and will be attending Marshall University this fall.

Each scholarship applicant was asked to write and submit an essay on how they came to love running, what the sport of running means to them, or how they believe running will impact their future. We are happy to share Jada’s essay below.

I fell flat on my face and attempted to run again. I did not get to the finish line in time to secure my place but I did not give up. I was in first place. I clipped a hurdle during the Girls’ Track and Field 2017 Sectional Championship at Ben Davis High School on my last hurdle.

The next season I worked ten times harder than I already had. When I felt like giving up and wanted to stop during workouts, I replayed falling over the hurdle in my head and remembered that I had to redeem myself from the past year. I studied videos of professional hurdlers, worked out during my off-season, and worked on staying on my tippy toes while running. I had a great season and now it was time for Sectionals again. It was such a larger crowd than before and it was almost as if more people had come my junior year just to see me fall again. I told myself I was not going to fail and was more ready than ever. By the end of my race in 300 meter hurdles, I got a personal record and became the 2018 Sectional Champion!

This whole experience was very chaotic, sadly, but it gave me the knowledge of believing in myself even if thousands of people do not. It made me learn how to have self-confidence and gave me a reason to never give up on something no matter how many times I fail. After an experience like that, most weak-minded runners would have quit. I faced my mistakes and improved upon them.

The adrenaline running gives me makes me push myself more and more. I love running so much that even when it felt like I did not belong on the track anymore, one more workout and one more result reassured me of the reasons why I do belong on a track. I have come to realize that it is not always about running perfect races, it is how you finish. My love for running drove me into a mindset that anything is possible when you have faith. I had faith in myself and went out there the next year and surprised everyone watching me run. They did not expect me to get that far knowing how I performed in the previous year.

Love conquers all. When you love something and want it you will do anything in your power to go and get it. I went after what I wanted. I knew that I loved to run and that it was my destiny to be on the track so I was going to show everyone why they should believe in me the way I did. I love the wind in my face, the soreness after a workout, and that my body aches are a symbol that it all will pay off. I love running and I realized that when I failed but kept trying. Loving to run is in my blood.

Make sure to check out our next blog post, as it will feature this year’s other winner: Katie Manion from North Central High School. And if you think you know a deserving young candidate for the 2020 Erika Wells Scholarship, encourage them to apply this upcoming winter/spring!