New Runner: 7 Fueling Basics

Learning the right way to fuel will lead to big running gains.

This story is part of an ongoing series aimed at new runners.

You won’t be able to run very far without some fuel, and that can come via your regular meals and snacks as well as specialized running nutrition. Here are the basics to get you started.

Daily Meals

To be the healthiest runner you can be, you’ll want to eat nutritious, balanced meals. You need carbohydrates for energy, protein for your muscles and fats to lube your joints. To get lots of vitamins and minerals, choose colorful foods. You also need to drink a lot of water every day, and even more around workouts.

Choices, Choices

If you’re running longer than a few miles, you’ll likely want to venture into the realm of sports nutrition, which comes in four major groups: drinks, bars, gels and chews (DBGC). People tend to prefer certain flavors, textures, etc., so choose something to try and see how your body reacts.

Tummy Troubles

It’s good to be concerned about what you eat and how you’ll feel on a run, because there is a direct correlation. Practice with different kinds of fuel to figure out what works best for you—everyone is different. If you want to run a half marathon, try some strawberry chews on one of your long runs. Depending on how temperamental your tummy is, you may want to try eating various DBGC on shorter runs too.

Before a Run

Many nutritional products are specifically labeled to be eaten before a run. They tend to be high in carbohydrates and low in protein, since you want quick energy. If you’re having a full meal, try to eat a couple of hours before a run, so your stomach has time to digest. And if you need a boost before hitting the pavement, eat something light or a DBGC.

During a Run

The easiest thing to carry on a run is a DBGC. It’s important to note that bars, gels and chews are best taken with water, so either time eating them around a water fountain (or water station in a race) or carry a water bottle—you can get ones that are easy to hold and may even have a little pocket for your fuel of choice.

After a Run

Again you’ll find a lot of products labeled for “recovery,” which means post-run. There have been a lot of studies on the ideal ratio of carbohydrates and protein after a run, and the bottom line is that you want a combo. A smoothie with protein powder or Greek yogurt is a great option to also heed the call to eat colorful foods.

Final Note

There has been a massive influx of new products on the market and that competition has been great for consumers when it comes to organic ingredients, ranging flavors and more. So if you can’t get enough root beer, try that flavor GU—just do it before race day.

Still Confused?

If all this DBGC is boggling, just wait till you get to the store and see how broad the selection is! Here are some recommendations that our testers have raved about.
Drinks: Skratch Labs has some great flavors (pineapple!) and is a powder so you can adjust how strong it tastes.

Bars: Larabar is a gluten-free bar that is made of whole food ingredients and comes in about 20 flavors.

Gels: Honey Stinger tastes more natural than some gels with its honey base and flavorings with or without caffeine.

Chews: Clif Shot Bloks come in a long easy-to-hold packet and you can nibble one chew at a time, as you need it.

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