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Eating to Fuel Your Running

Fueling doesn’t have to be confusing. Janine Bowman, marathon runner and registered dietician, sheds wisdom on nutrition puzzlers.

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Fueling doesn’t have to be confusing. Janine Bowman, marathon runner and registered dietician at St. Anthony’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla., sheds some wisdom on reader-submitted nutrition puzzlers.

I just finished my first marathon. I’m thrilled with my accomplishment, but not with the fact that I gained weight while training. What went wrong – Michelle

Janine Bowman: There are three potential reasons for your weight gain. First, it’s possible that nothing went “wrong.” When you train intensely, you build muscle. As muscle is denser than fat, this may cause the number on the scale to increase slightly.

Second, you could have been eating too much. Many equate “training for a marathon” with “eating whatever I want,” but in fact, it’s easy to overcompensate in the consumption department. In this case, take a close look at your daily calories and see how much you are really taking in.

Third, if you skipped meals in an effort to lose weight, you may have lowered your metabolism, which leads to weight gain. In the future, make sure to eat every three to four hours to keep your metabolism high.

One hour before a long run, what is the best way to fuel my body? —Angie

JB: Carbohydrates! I recommend a small meal that contains approximately 30 grams of carbs for runs lasting longer than an hour. Half a bagel, an English muffin or a small bowl of cereal will fill this requirement. You should look for foods that are low in fiber in order to prevent upsetting your stomach during the run. Pay attention to exactly what you consume and how it makes you feel during your workout. Next time, tweak this if necessary. Finding your perfect pre-run snack may require some trial and error.


I’m having trouble  guring out my caloric needs. What is a good range of calories for female runners? —Christine

JB: Runners need about 24 to 29 calories per pound of body weight. If you are struggling to decipher your proper calorie intake, it’s best to see a dietician. If this isn’t an option, you can download a smart phone app to calculate this for you.

Keep in mind, if you are trying to lose weight, your caloric intake shouldn’t be based on your goal weight. Instead multiply your current weight by 24 and subtract by 500. This way, you’ll lose weight at a safe and sustainable rate without compromising your metabolism.

I’m used to running 20 miles a week, but had to stop due to injury. Should I change my eating habits?— Yuki

JB: Yes. If you are not burning the same amount of calories, you definitely need to modify your diet. Remember to listen to your body’s cues. You’ll likely be less hungry. Pay attention to this instead of eating what you are used to out of habit. Also, look for other activities you can perform while injured. Trying new sports, such as biking or yoga, will help maintain your fitness and increase energy expenditure.

I’ve heard that you should eat to refuel, but after a long run, I have no appetite at all. What should I do? –Joni

JB: It’s crucial to eat after a long run, as your glycogen stores deplete within one hour following a strenuous workout. If your glycogen is depleted, this will lead to poor recovery and muscular fatigue. You don’t need to have a meal right after crossing the finish line, but it’s important to get something in your system before that 60-minute window closes.

Your post-run snack should be carb-heavy and contain some protein. If you have a weak stomach, protein shakes made with milk and fruit are a great option, as they are often easier to get down than a hot meal. You can also add protein powder to fruit juice for a thinner drink if you feel especially queasy. Make sure you are rehydrating as well to combat the nausea.


What’s the proper balance of protein and carbs for runners? —Michelle Leigh

JB: We recommend that 45 to 60 percent of your calories come from carbohydrates. Protein should be somewhere between 20 to 30 percent. The remainder of your calories will come from fat—keep this percentage under 30 percent for heart-health purposes.

As a vegetarian and a runner, is there anything special I need to do to stay healthy?—Lisa

JB: Because you are lacking meat (and sometimes dairy) in your diet, it can be more difficult to eat sufficient protein, vitamin B12, ribo avin, calcium, iron and zinc. You can get still get everything your body needs; you simply need to plan well. Incorporating whole grains, beans, peanut butter, tofu, tempeh and edamame into your meals will help to ward off vitamin deficiencies. Stay conscious of the above nutrients as you plan your breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. ■


Janine Bowman, RD, LDN, is a registered dietician with the St. Anthony’s LifeHelp Nutrition and Diabetes Center in St. Petersburg, Fla. She also is a mother of two and a marathon runner who has participated in the Boston, New York City and Miami Marathons, as well as the St. Anthony’s Triathlon.