by Kyla Williams

Fuelling your body with optimum nutrition can give you the energy and strength to perform your best as a runner. The food you eat can also help to reduce risk of injury, accelerate recovery and prevent illness.

The nutritional needs for runners differ to the average person, and also to those participating in other forms of exercise. Running requires a certain balance of carbohydrates, protein and fats and requirements for certain vitamins and minerals are increased. Below are a few key nutritional areas to consider as a runner in order to get the most out of your performance.

A runners diet for optimal performance and recovery

The most important fuel for runners is carbohydrate as it is a direct source of energy for your muscles. Carbohydrate can be stored as glycogen in your muscles and liver, and this is the preferred form of energy for both fast and slow energy release. Runners should aim to have approximately 60-65% of their energy intake from carbohydrates. Foods high in carbohydrate include potatoes, pasta, oats, bread, rice and fruits. Choose wholegrain options where possible as they are richer in nutrients and are released slower for longer lasting energy. A diet low in carbohydrates may leave you with very little energy for running.

Protein is required for repairing muscle tissue damaged during training. There is no significant increase in protein requirements for endurance exercise, therefore it is easy to achieve the recommended daily intake (1.2 - 1.4g per kg body weight). Runners should aim to have 15-20% of their energy intake from protein. Good sources of protein include lean meats, fish, cheese, yoghurt, eggs, nuts, seeds, pulses and tofu.

Fat is essential for the structure of cell membranes, bone barrow and much more. Fat consumption for runners is recommended as 20-25% of energy intake. Omega-3 fats found in oily fish, nuts and seeds are particularly important for runners as they help to deliver oxygen to muscles, reduce joint stiffness and may speed up recovery.

Prevent cell damage with antioxidants

Exercising produces free radicals that can damage cells, therefore prolonged running can cause muscle soreness and increase risk of disease such as atherosclerosis. Antioxidants such as vitamins A, C and E help to neutralize free radicals, therefore preventing damage to cells. The best source of antioxidants are found in brightly coloured fruits and vegetables and nuts and seeds. Antioxidants are also very important for immune function.

Vitamins and minerals for bone health

Calcium is especially important for runners. Calcium is essential for bone health and can prevent osteoporosis and fractures. Dietary sources of calcium include milk, cheese, yoghurt, tofu, dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, fish, pulses and eggs. Magnesium and vitamin D are also needed for good bone health. Magnesium is found in high amounts in seeds. Vitamin D can be made by your skin from sunlight, however in the winter months, vitamin D can be found in small amounts in oily fish.

Oxygen to your cells

Running requires a lot of oxygen to be transported to your cells, so to ensure that your blood cells are working properly, you need to have adequate iron in your diet from foods such as meat, bran flakes, lentils and beans. B vitamins found in fish and dark green leafy vegetables also help to deliver oxygen to cells. A diet lacking in iron and B vitamins can leave you feeling weak and fatigued during exercise.

Good times to eat

Consuming a carbohydrate rich meal 2-4 hours before training helps to increase liver and muscle glycogen stores which increases carbohydrate burning in the muscle cells and therefore delays fatigue when running. A pre work out carbohydrate snack 1-2 hours before exercise such as a piece of fruit or a glass of milk can also help.

After exercise, eating as soon as possible speeds up glycogen storage. A carbohydrate and protein combination is most effective in promoting recovery and improves performance. An optimal ratio of protein to carbohydrate is 1:4.


If fluid is not replaced during exercise, dehydration can lead to reduced performance as blood flow is reduced. It is important to drink water while running, however it is also very important to not drink too much water on its own as your blood sodium levels can become overly diluted. To prevent this from happening, if you are running for longer than 60 minutes you can replace some of the electrolytes lost through sweat. Sports drinks or diluted fruit juice (1:1 ratio of juice to water) with a pinch of salt will help to hydrate, provide simple sugars and may prevent gastric problems and muscle cramping.


For more advice on sports nutrition including weight management, supplements and competition advice, please contact Nutritionist Kyla Williams on or visit

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