Best food to fuel running

While there is no one best food to eat for running, feeling appropriately is crucial.

At lower exercise intensities, our bodies rely mostly on fat for fuel. For example, during walking our body can rely mostly on body fat stores. At higher intensities, where we tend to feel out of breath, our body relies predominantly on carbohydrates. First it will use the carbohydrate stored as glycogen in our muscles and liver. This glycogen comes mostly from the carbohydrates we eat. So eating carbohydrates is crucial for running performance. 

Running <60 minutes

For runs of less than 60 minutes, a standard diet with carbohydrates included at each meal should be adequate. E.g. fruit and cereal at breakfast, rice at lunch and dinner. The exact amount of carbohydrate you need depends on your training status, body weight and hours of training per week. So the exact amount for you would need to be calculated with a dietitian.

Running >60 minutes

When it comes to runs of greater than 60 minutes, you may need to consider extra carbohydrates. For instance, in the 60 minutes prior to the run you would ideally consume some carbohydrates. This could look like:

  • 2 pieces of toast w/ a low-fat spread
  • 2 pieces of fruit
  • Piece of fruit + muesli bar
  • Small fruit smoothie (no milk)

All of the above foods are predominantly carbohydrate based. Things to avoid in the 60 minutes prior to a run include high fat, protein or fibre foods. All of these foods take longer to digest so may cause an upset stomach during running. They also don’t serve as valuable fuel during a run.

Runs longer than 60 minutes may also require fuel during the run. Eating some carbohydrate during your run will top up your fuel stores and stop you ‘hitting the wall’. During exercise, however, your blood flow is directed away from your gut and to your working muscles. This means your gut isn’t able to work at 100%. So simple carbs are crucial during this time. The low fibre, simple carbohydrates that we wouldn’t recommend consuming day to day are perfect in this instance. Think sports gels and lollies. Around 30g of carbohydrates per hour of exercise is recommended during such events. For training longer than 60 minutes, it is worth discussing with a sports dietitian your individual needs.

About the author

Picture of Cheyenne Holman

Cheyenne Holman

Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD)
Accredited Sports Dietitian
Certified Personal Trainer
Yoga Alliance Certified Yoga Teacher