What should you eat while training for a half marathon or 5K? It’s a common question, and running magazines and blogs are filled with answers and advice, much of it conflicting. Here’s a rule of thumb: For every mile you run, you burn about 100 additional calories. So running five miles equals 500 more calories burned, and so on. But you don’t want to use those extra calories as an excuse to go crazy with food, or you’ll sabotage all that hard work.
If possible, it’s helpful to work with a sports nutritionist who can tailor dietary changes to your lifestyle. (Kaiser Permanente offers fitness nutrition coaching, so take advantage of this service if you’re a member.) But here are some basic guidelines to follow.
Look at the Big Picture
Runners can get a tad, shall we say, obsessive, about what they eat, especially in the weeks leading up to a race. But it’s much healthier to look at your diet as a whole, and implement these expert-tested strategies to eat well every day.
Think of Calories in Categories
Rather than focusing on eating – or not eating – specific foods, try thinking of your calories as falling into general groupings. A general guideline for runners:
- Get 50-70 percent of calories from carbohydrates (grains, pasta, bread, etc.)
- Get 20-30 percent from fats (oils, avocados, nuts, etc.)
- Get 10-20 percent of calories from protein (fish, meat, chicken, beans, etc.)
Timing is Everything
Ask experienced runners, and you’ll hear that when you eat is almost as important as what you eat. For example, you want to eat most of your carbs just before and directly after a run. In fact, it’s extremely important to eat a carb-heavy snack within half an hour after a run to replace lost glycogen in your muscles.
You also don’t want to eat a heavy meal just before you run, but you want to get the additional energy provided by carbo-loading. We will be covering this topic more as we get closer to the race.