July 23, 2022

Just getting started in running? Read this expert advice on proper nutrition.


More protein or more carbs? What about those sport gels? New runners can easily let themselves get overwhelmed with nutrition information and products.

Keep it simple with these tips.


“Hydration is one of the first things we forget about, especially in colder weather,” said Jessica Bennett, a Vanderbilt University Medical Center dietician who is also board certified in sports nutrition. “Think about one cup before a run and one cup after.”

You may like to bring along a bottle of water on your run/walk. Look into hands-free water bottles sold at athletic stores.

And, if caffeine is a regular part of your life, Bennett’s advice is to drink two cups of water for every caffeinated drink to keep yourself continuously hydrated.

Sports drinks like Gatorade are not necessary at the beginning stages of running. Water is the key.


Carbohydrates give energy, so Bennett suggests a small, good carb snack before a run/walk. A piece of fruit, a granola bar, a small bowl of oatmeal or a fruit smoothie are a few ideas.

Carbohydrates are partially converted to glycogen and stored in the muscles. That’s what helps sustain a workout, according to eatright.org from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

That’s why marathoners “carb-load” before race day. But for our purposes now, a small carb snack before a run/walk is all you need.

Bennett also suggests avoiding high-fat, high-protein snacks right before a run; they can mess with your stomach.

After a run/walk, she advises having a protein/carb combo. A yummy favorite that gets the job done is chocolate milk. Other ideas: string cheese and an apple or yogurt and a turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread.

If food is part of your reward for pushing yourself out the door when you really didn’t feel like it, choose carefully. You conquered. Don’t let food conquer your effort.

“The biggest thing I see is that lots of people think, ‘Now, I can eat whatever I want,’” Bennett said. “Typically, you burn 100 calories per mile. So if you go eat a cheeseburger, you’re taking in more than you put out.”

Timing and food choices are personal.

“Because everyone is different, when you’re first starting out, I encourage you to write down when you ate and how you felt afterward,” Bennett said. Allow some trial-and-error time to find out what digests best and gives you energy. Maybe, you can eat 30 minutes before you plan to go out the door. Or maybe it’s better if you time the run for an hour afterward.

That personal preference includes sports products like gels and more that come into the picture as you add more miles to your routine. Gels, beans and such are used in the middle of a long run for quick energy.

“Just because it works for friend, doesn’t mean it will work for you,” Bennett said about products. “Alternatives like dried fruit and jelly beans also give quick sugar during a longer run. A lot in stores will add caffeine. Be cautious of anything with word ‘energy’ on it. You may or may not want that caffeine.”

For more good resources on running and nutrition, Bennett suggests www.runnersworld.com and www.NancyClarkRD.com.

“Both have really great, sound information,” she said.


More guidance

For a personal health assessment and plan, call the Vanderbilt Nutrition Clinic at 615-936-3952. Appointments generally require a referral from your physician.


Links to more advice for new runners

Get a fresh start with running later in life

Ready to run? Start with good running shoes

On your mark, get set: 8 training tips for your first half marathon