The best nutrition advice for new runners

A conversation with Kristy Baumann, Registered Dietitian and creator of @Marathon.Nutritionist

Are you eating enough?

It’s not a trick question. Are you actually consuming enough calories each day to support your running?

Not too long ago, I wasn’t.

If you’re training and not eating enough, you are risking injury and fatigue. And there’s a good chance if you’re reducing your calories, your running performance will suffer.

Like many of us, I started running to “lose the baby weight.” When I first started my running journey I was 6 months postpartum, with two kids under 4. Running was the ideal way for me to kick my fitness into gear and get me closer to my pre-baby body (I now know that there is SO MUCH is wrong with this mentality, but we’ll save that for another day).

So naturally, I restricted my calories. I ate “a salad” because I thought that would help me get lose the weight. I avoided certain foods and became obsessed with earning my food by running a certain amount of miles. And when it came time to train and build my mileage, I didn’t add more calories to my diet. Simply, I wasn’t eating nearly enough to keep up with my mileage.

Thankfully, I quickly realized that under fueling was having a negative impact on my performance. I wasn’t getting faster, and I certainly wasn’t enjoying running or food. I was exhausted, mentally and physically. And then one day, I threw it all out the window. I discovered intuitive eating and the need to properly fuel my body – and a lot of this was thanks to Kristy at @marathon.nutritionist.

I first started following Kristy a year ago. I loved her fresh take on fitness for runners (and her posts are so fun and easy to follow, for all of the visual learners in the room!). I recently reached out to Kristy, a Registered Dietitian and longtime runner, to express my gratitude, but also to get some of her best nutrition tips for new runners. Here’s what Kristy had to share:

Question 1: What is your greatest piece (or pieces) of nutrition advice for new runners?

“I think it's common to get into running for weight loss…so then you think you should cut back on calories, too. But what actually happens is you become more hungry. I find for many runners this leads to overeating/binge eating at night. Or you have these thoughts of since I ran X miles, I can eat whatever or deserve to eat ice cream, cookies, candy, chips, etc. If you don’t give your body what it needs, performance suffers. Your body physically starts to change when you start running and it takes time for those adaptations to take place.”

Question 2: Are there any running/nutrition myths you'd like to debunk?

“Your diet does not have to be “perfect” in order to fuel well as a runner. The fastest, best runners eat ice cream, cookies, candy, and chips on occasion. And it’s not just because they are running more miles but because they have a healthy relationship with food. Feeling stressed, anxious or guilty around food does more harm than good. Maybe you try and eat “perfect” during the day or work week which only leads to splurging at night or on the weekends. Not only does this lead to more stress and guilt, but also more gut issues, feeling sluggish on your run, and poor recovery.”

“One of the most common questions I get is what to eat before or after a run. The number one thing I tell my runners is your everyday meals are more important than trying to eat a “perfect” pre or post-run snack. Keep it simple and focus on carbs before a run like a banana, dried fruit, or English muffin with jelly. For post-run fuel, focus on mostly carbs with some protein like chocolate milk, yogurt with berries and granola or a fruit smoothie with protein powder.”

Question 3: What can happen to a runner's body if they don't fuel properly?

“If you are ignoring your hunger, afraid of eating carbs, trying to cut back on calories, or eat super “clean,” you are asking to be injured! Food provides fuel and energy for your body. If you aren’t eating enough, cortisol (stress hormone) levels in your body increase. As a result, your body will start to conserve energy in different ways like by lowering your body temperature, stop producing hormones for reproduction, or have less energy for everyday tasks. Thus, common signs of underfueling include: feeling cold all the time, constantly thinking or obsessing about food, struggling to recover from your run, experiencing gut issues, or having an irregular period.”

Thank you, Kristy, for sharing your wisdom with us! To learn more about Kristy, check her out on Instagram @Marathon.Nutritionist. Give her a follow and you’ll be instantly inspired by her posts and actionable tips to help you have a better relationship with food!