10 running nutrition questions get answered

1/ I have a nervous stomach. What can I eat on race morning?

Keep it simple. An hour and a half to two hours before your race, have a slice of plain toast, a small bowl of dry cereal or half a sports bar. For half and full marathons, eat the other half of the bar about 45 minutes before you run. Practise this in training so you know what works for you.

Lisa Dorfman, nutritionist

2/ Why do I get dizzy during a run?

If you feel dizzy, stop and rest. Often it’s a sign of dehydration. To stay hydrated, drink water before and during your run. On long runs and/or hot days, have some sports drink with electrolytes to replenish your fluids and sodium. Dizziness may also indicate that you’re not eating enough: if you run in the morning, have a small snack such as a banana or slice of toast before you head out. For runs of 60 minutes or longer, try a gel or sports drink for energy.

Beth Peralta, nutritionist 

3/ How can I speed along my pre-run poo?

Staying hydrated and eating fibre-rich foods (legumes, brown rice, beans) will help keep you regular. Two to three days before a long run or race, dial back your fibre intake to reduce your risk of a mid-run emergency, unless you’re prone to constipation. If you’re struggling to go before you head out, a cup of coffee or a handful of dried prunes can have a laxative effect, but they may need a couple of hours to work. Practise your food-coffee-run routine in training so you know what works best for you.

Molly Morgan, nutritionist and author of Drink Your Way to Gut Health

4/ How do my fuelling needs change as I age?

You can’t cram for good nutrition when you hit your 50s. Build 
a good foundation with healthy fats,
 lean protein, low-fat dairy (or another calcium source) and colourful fruits 
and veggies in your younger years. As you age, make sure you get enough protein for muscle repair. Try ‘protein pacing’, or spreading out your meals and snacks so you consume 15-20g about every four hours. Your feeling of thirst also declines, making it even more important to pay attention to hydration.

Nancy Clark, nutritionist

5/ What’s the best post-race brunch?

After a hard effort, it’s vital to replenish your carbs, protein, fluids and electrolytes, which means eating a balanced meal, including water to rehydrate. Opt for eggs, bacon and toast, or yoghurt with fruit, to refuel.
 If you prefer lunch during brunch, try a chicken sandwich with a side salad or a burger with sweet potato fries.

Jason Machowsky, sports dietitian

6/ How much of the effect of mid-run fuelling is really physical versus mental?

Consuming carbs every 30-45 minutes during runs of an hour or more has a real physiological effect on your body. The sugars in gels, chews or sports drinks maintain your blood-glucose levels, preventing your body from using fat as fuel, which can slow you down.

Tara Whiton, running coach and exercise physiologist

7/ Are whole grains always best for runners?

No. While whole grains are the preferred carb source most of the time because they provide nutrients such as vitamin B6 and magnesium, they’re also high in fibre. A lot of fibre before a run could result in a race to the toilet, so white carbs are a better pre-run option. After a run, whole grains slow down digestion, which means it takes longer to refuel your muscles. Instead, have a banana with peanut butter immediately post-run and return to eating whole grains at your next meal.

Nick Fischer, nutritionist for P3R Marathon

8/ When should I start carb-loading?

Don’t make the mistake of eating three bowls of pasta the night before a race – you’ll feel sluggish. Your body can’t top off your muscle stores 
in one meal, anyway. For a half or full marathon, start increasing carb intake two or three days before the race; for ultras, three or four days. Your muscles convert carbs to glycogen, which powers your runs. Spreading out your intake will stock your muscles for race day. Aim for five grams of simple carbs – such as white pasta or potatoes – per day for each pound of body weight.

Monique Ryan, nutritionist

9/ Is it okay to have a beer after a run or race?

As a treat, yes. A 330ml bottle provides fluids, sodium, potassium and 11g of carbohydrates, which you need for recovery. It also – and this is important – tastes great. But choose a brew that’s less than four per cent alcohol by volume so you’re not tempted to go overboard. And don’t forget to rehydrate, restock glycogen stores and repair your muscles.

Dr Kelly Pritchett, nutritionist 

10/ Are there disadvantages to running first thing in the morning after a coffee but without breakfast?

It depends on the length and type of workout. Try not to run for more than 60 minutes on empty and avoid intense workouts. Otherwise you may struggle if you have insufficient glycogen stores to fuel your muscles. The caffeine in your pre-run coffee will boost your alertness – helping to get you ready to run. If you've run without food it’s important to be even more diligent with your refuelling as soon as you finish. Aim to eat something within the first 30 minutes of finishing – including some protein and carbohydrate. Failure to refuel properly when you’re already depleted means you risk problems with fatigue, and it also stresses your immune system. 

Jo Pavey, 5-time Olympian