The best energy food for beginner running

By Genny Owen
4 min read

Tackling her first marathon this year, she’s done all the legwork so you don’t have to.

What you feed your body with pre and post run can have a major impact on your performance, mood and overall general health. It’s estimated that we burn around 100 calories per mile running and as a newbie to running, you may find your appetite increases too. It’s therefore important that we that we fuel our bodies sufficiently.

That said, if you’re new to running, you don’t need to go into overdrive and start carb loading or purchasing protein power and energy bars galore! Following a general balanced diet is more than sufficient when you’re just starting out. It may well be that you just need to make a few small tweaks in order to see and feel substantial changes.

So what is a balanced diet anyway?

Firstly a balanced diet doesn’t equal restriction or bland boredom. It’s about eating a variety of healthy foods but also treating yourself once in a while. Think of it as ‘everything in moderation, including moderation’ (!).  In general a balanced diet is made up of 50-60% Carbohydrates, 20-25% Proteins, 15-20% Fats, Vitamins and Minerals.

Complex, unrefined carbs such as whole grain rice or pasta and sweet potato are perfect, whilst lean meats, milk, fish and eggs are great sources of protein. Whilst the name might suggest otherwise, some fats are good for you. Try to steer clear from ‘bad’ fats often seen in processed food and opt for unsaturated fats found in nuts, seeds, fish and my all time favourite, the trusty avocado! You’ll also find heaps of vitamins and minerals in fruit and vegetables so try to load these up on your plate at each meal.  

Why is a balanced diet important?

The different food groups all have distinct primary benefits. Carbs are great for slow release energy, helping us tick along, whilst protein is found to aid muscle repair, recovery and growth. Fats (in moderation) also help our energy levels and cell growth, whilst vitamins and minerals can boost our immune system, keeping us fighting fit. Combined, a balanced diet therefore offers us an array of benefits, making it perfect for running.

What and when?

We all react differently to certain foods, so take this one with a pinch of salt and play around to find what works for you. The general advice is to avoid eating anything 30-60 minutes before you run so that your body has time to fully digest and process food (as well as hopefully avoid stomach cramps, stitches etc whilst running). If you want to eat something 30-60 minutes beforehand, try to avoid sugary sweets and chocolate which are just empty calories. Whilst their shiny wrappers might be tempting and the initial sugar rush gives you an instant hit,  it will be very short lived.

Why not opt for something that offers slow release energy such as a banana, or an easily digestible yoghurt or smoothie to keep you going. If you’re eating a little earlier, say 2 hours before or more, you can choose something more substantial that fits in with meal time. I’m a huge fan of peanut butter on toast, porridge or avo and eggs on toast.

If you’re going to run first thing in the morning, it may well be that you can’t face the thought of any food at all. That’s ok, given that you’ll be running for an hour or less, your body should cope just fine. If that’s the case, stay hydrated and try to eat a decent meal the night before to put your body in good stead. For example, salmon with brown rice and green veg or a homemade chicken stir fry should do the trick.

Post exercise, the first hour is key as your body tries to return to normality, restoring our glycogen levels and repairing muscles which have been under stress during exercise. To give our bodies a helping hand in this ‘power hour’, a 200-400 calorie snack with carbs and protein is recommended. I personally never feel that hungry immediately after exercise, so I find a smoothie or protein bar works for me, but it’s totally up to you.

At the end of the day, just listen to your body. Food can be used as fuel both pre and post running. But if you’re feeling fatigued or weak it may well be because you haven’t quite figured out what works for you just yet. So long as you follow a balanced diet though, you’re on the right track!

Get gear

Cliff Bars – A great snack, pre or post running. Essentially a healthy flapjack but with the right balance of carbs and protein to leave you feeling content and energised. With so many flavours to choose from, it’s easy to get addicted.

Tribe Protein Bar – Another great snack filled with protein, made from 100% natural ingredients. Delicious flavours including chocolate brownie and coffee and walnut make them the perfect fix when you’re craving something sweet. Top tip…great dessert when softened slightly in the microwave and added to natural/greek yoghurt.

Meridian Peanut Butter – Buying a large tub of this is dangerous since it tastes so good! But it’s a great source of protein and good fats since its made up entirely from nuts and no added nasties. Great on toast, in smoothies, drizzled over porridge, the opportunities are endless!

SiS Mini Go Bar – A yummy snack that’s not only bound to give you energy but also packs in 2 of your 5 a day fruit.

Get inspired 

Lacking ideas on what to cook for dinner or craving some yummy running snacks? Eat2Run has you covered! As a sports nutritionist, Sarah’s recipes are not only guaranteed to be packed full of energy and goodness for performance, but they’re also downright delicious. Sarah’s ginger oat bars are a team favourite. 

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