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  • Jacque Maldonado, MS, RD

Fuel for Distance Runners: Before, During and After

Updated: Jul 30, 2023

Our top-notch sports dietitian, Jacque Maldonado, was a featured writer for the Colfax Marathon. Check out her article on properly fueling for long runs.



  • Consume a carbohydrate-rich snack or meal before exercise to top off muscle stores.

  • With pre-competition jitters, liquid meal replacements may be a better choice than whole foods.

  • Include small amounts of protein in your pre-exercise meal(s). Protein helps build and repair muscle tissue. Adequate protein before exercise may help reduce post-exercise muscle soreness.

  • Choose pre-exercise meal(s) that are low in fat and fiber to ensure optimal digestion.

3-4 Hours before

  • Peanut butter & honey on toast + instant breakfast drink

  • Fruit and yogurt smoothie + low-fat granola

  • Oatmeal with brown sugar and almonds + skim milk + banana

  • Low-fat cottage cheese + apple butter + crackers + fresh grapes

  • Lean hamburger on bun with lettuce & tomato + side salad + yogurt-fruit parfait

  • Turkey and Swiss sandwich + fruit + sports drink

  • Low-fat tuna melt sandwich + fruit cup + fat-free yogurt

30-60 minutes before

  • Sports drink or water

  • Sports gel, sport beans or gummies, sports bar

  • Piece of fruit or jam sandwich



  • Nutrition during prolonged exercise requires the proper mix and timing of fluids, carbohydrate, and electrolytes. Too little or too much fluids and carbohydrates can result in cramping and other intestinal problems.

  • Adequate fluids to replace sweat losses: Prevent excessive fluid loss (>2% body weight lost as fluid). Dehydration can cause fatigue and impair performance. Knowing your sweat rate will help you determine the right amount of fluid to drink.

  • A plan tailored to YOUR needs: A nutrition plan based on YOUR needs can help maximize performance. Experiment with sport drinks and foods for different types of workouts and competitions. Record your tolerance to learn what works best. Most distance runners need 30-60 grams carbohydrate per hour to perform to your potential. On training runs you can consume less carbs to teach your body to burn more fat – don’t do this during a race. Fluid needs vary depending on the temperature, altitude and individual sweat rates.

  • Sports drinks that contain carbohydrate and electrolytes, while avoiding ingredients that may slow digestion (double strength sports drinks or fruit juice)

  • Easily digested carbohydrate-rich foods during endurance events, for example, banana, bread or roll with jam or honey, sports foods (gels, gummy chews), or bite-sized pieces of low-fat granola or sports bars.

  • Fluids consumed with carbohydrate gels or carbohydrate-rich foods to speed fuel transport to muscles.



  • Restore fluid and electrolytes (sodium and potassium) lost in sweat; weigh before and after exercise and replenish what was lost

  • Replace muscle fuel (carbohydrate) utilized during practice

  • Provide protein to aid in repair of damaged muscle tissue and to stimulate development of new tissue

  • Begin nutrition recovery with a snack or meal within 15-60 minutes following practice or competition


  • Carbohydrate-electrolyte recovery sport drink to replenish fluids and electrolytes lost in sweat

  • Chocolate milk


  • Smoothie made with yogurt and frozen berries

  • Sports drink (carbohydrate, electrolyte, fluid) + sport bar (carbohydrate, protein)

  • Graham crackers with peanut butter + low-fat chocolate milk + banana


  • Whole wheat pita sandwich with turkey and veggies + pretzels + low-fat milk

  • Rice bowl with beans, cheese, salsa, avocado + whole grain tortilla chips or whole wheat tortilla

  • Stir fry with lean steak, broccoli, bell peppers, carrots + brown rice


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