Runner Nutrition

Erin Vancellette-Running-Coach-Runner-Nutrition-1.jpg

Gearing up for a race is so exciting!  Visions of crossing the finish line, feeling accomplished, with your head held high, drive you to run on those days when you don’t really want to.  Being acknowledged at work when someone says “She just ran a ____ - athon! Wow!” fires you up to finish those long runs in the cold. These thoughts can totally poke your amygdala, creating a surge of good feelings.  You’re driven to run this event. But, now, you’re more tired, this thing hurts, that thing hurts. The race seems farther away than it ever has. Now you’re not even sure you want to do it anymore. Why? Is it worth all of this pain? This is a sign that something in your training is off.  If you aren’t feeling motivated and not feeling stronger or more energetic because of your training, we need to assess what’s missing.


In my experience, more often than not, there are two really giant pieces missing:

1. A dynamic training plan

2. Nutrition plan to support your training

Let’s talk number 2.

Here are the facts as they relate to training nutrition:

1. Proper nutrition for you is VERY individual.

2. Eating right for your body will stabilize your energy for your strenuous runs/races.

3. Eating right for your body AFTER your runs/races will help you recover faster.

4. Your recovery plan after strenuous runs and races is as important as your training plan.  This is how you will be able to run/race for many many many years. This is the difference between an athlete and someone who does something once.

5. Digestion requires adequate blood flow to your gut or GI distress may occur.

(i) During strenuous runs, long runs or races, a lot of blood flow gets diverted from your gut to your limbs (legs mostly) to keep you moving. This is a really cool natural physiologic process. Your brain says “Something important is happening here. She needs her legs to keep going. So, let’s not worry about her stomach. Get her more blood flow to those legs!”  Think about it. If I have a bunch of food in my gut and all of a sudden, my gut says “nope” - the food in there needs to do something. The gut is going to try to process as it normally would but can’t. GI distress happens next. The gut can’t be efficient without the right amount of blood flow. Gas, intense bloating, diarrhea, vomiting, cramping like crazy - these are signs of GI distress. This will slow you down or stop you entirely.  And, this is one of the top 5 reasons that ultra-runners don’t finish. And, it’s mostly something that can be avoided.

Usual breakfast: fruit, eggs, salad greens, polenta, olive oil, cucumbers, caffeinated beverage

Usual breakfast: fruit, eggs, salad greens, polenta, olive oil, cucumbers, caffeinated beverage

6. The (3) most important meals for runners are the night before, the morning of and first meal after your long run/race.

(i) Part of training for an event should be identifying which foods help you and designing meals that work great for your gut.  The most important meals for all runners are the (a) night before, (b) the morning of and (c)the first meal after the event.  These (3) meals don’t need to be the exact same meal, but, meal (a) should always be the same, meal (b) should always be the same and meal (c)should be the same. Make sense? Know which foods work for you and mirror those meals accordingly.

7. Race day food intake should be consistent.

(i) Don’t take in any food or fluid during races that you have not tried during your training. Know that anything you eat or drink may taste good, but may cause you to visit the bushes.  

8. Treat your first meal AFTER the race as if you’re still in race prep.

(i) You just did it! You ran your race.  The best reward you can give yourself is to help your body’s natural physiological process by feeding it the nutrients it needs to start the recovery process.  Failing to do so will generally make you significantly more tired for days afterwards, decrease your brain’s processing power, put you in a shitty mood for days, create soreness that will be excruciating, and cause GI distress (Your gut is still not ready to process crap food for a day or days following an event).  There’s no better way to associate a negative experience with a positive experience - you’re basically dismissing the happiness you feel from crossing the finish line by eating like shit. Our brains are conditioned to remember the bad stuff over the good stuff. This means that in months or years later, you’ll mostly just remember how bad you felt after the race.  This will decrease your motivation to do it again. Reward yourself with continued positive energy so that you continue to do cool stuff!

Night before meal for the 2017 Ray Miller 50 Miler: turkey meat, blueberries, sweet potato spirals, brown rice, cucumbers, tomatoes, olive oil, salt and una cerveza= 9th place female

Night before meal for the 2017 Ray Miller 50 Miler: turkey meat, blueberries, sweet potato spirals, brown rice, cucumbers, tomatoes, olive oil, salt and una cerveza= 9th place female

9. Today’s trail aid stations are loaded with absolute abominations of food and snacks.

(i) This does not mean that this is how trail/ultra runners should eat.  This is marketing at its finest. “We have the best crap. Come race with us.”  Don’t be a dummy. Choose fruit, potatoes or GU’s. Choose something you’ve eaten before.

10. When healing up from an injury, eat as well as you would while you are in training.

(i) We need nutrients to feel good and to avoid getting sick AND to heal.  I know you take more Vitamin C when that co-worker shows up sneezing. Eating proper food helps your body be able to heal.  Eating like shit takes away from your healing process.

11. To lean up or lose weight while training, runners should NOT increase their calories after most moderately long runs.

(i) Avoid rewarding yourself with crap food after long runs. You won’t lose weight EVEN if you just ran 20 miles.  You just did all that work to un-do it. As you train, your body becomes more efficient at processing food. If you eat right you won’t feel hungry after these long runs.  As a personal trainer, I know that people run because they want to look a certain way. You know it and I know it. Running to change your metabolism will not work unless you eat to support your running. It’s just the way our bodies work.


Not so much fact, but, great guidelines:

  • Carbohydrates help you compete

  • Caffeine is ok

  • Alcohol is ok, but, can make you slower

  • Change up your grain every other week

  • Veg out, yo - big plates of vegetables

  • You don’t really need to consume TONS of water during your runs that are less than 60 minutes

  • Avoid pre-packaged foods that have LOTS of ingredients (think Farmers Market produce)

  • Avoid pop-nutrition/diet fads and stick to stuff that works for you

  • Work with a nutrition professional (I’m talking about people who went to school for this) to really define your nutrition needs. Stephanie has helped me move from an ok ultra runner to a pretty good runner! http://www.stephaniehoweviolett.com/nutrition/

Excerpt of my plan from Stephanie. IT TOTALLY WORKED!!

Excerpt of my plan from Stephanie. IT TOTALLY WORKED!!