Small Group Discussion: Nutrition for Runners and Triathletes with Chrissy Carroll

chrissy carroll, RDChrissy Carroll is a registered dietician, CPT, marathoner, triathlete. She blogs at Snacking in Sneakers, and also offers corporate wellness services at Inspired Wellness Solutions.

Everyday Eating for Runners & Triathletes – Top Tips

1) Eat enough calories to fuel training without overeating.

– Eat “around” training.

– Choose lower calorie, high volume/high nutrient foods outside of training.

2) Your meal plan should contain a balance of carbs, protein, and fat.

– Specific ranges may vary based on training, weight, medical history, etc – but generally you are looking at 50-65% of calories from carbohydrate, 20-30% of calories from fat, and 10-20% of calories from protein.

3) If you’re trying to lose weight, the ideal time to do so is in the off-season, early in training, or during a lighter intensity year.

It’s important to eat right to fuel without overeating. People sign up for marathons thinking it will be a great way to lose weight, but it often doesn’t work out for them. Training can throw off the balance of your normal active lifestyle, so you need to decide your priority. Do you want to lose weight, or “qualify for Boston”?

If training for the big race is your main goal, then focus on weight loss during the off-season, or when you’re not training. If you still want to try to lose weight while training, cut no more than 20%, or 500 calories, from your daily allotment (based on your training plan). For example, if your plan estimates you need 2,500 calories per day to effectively train, don’t go below 2,000 if you are trying to lose weight. For people trying to lose weight while endurance training, bumping up the protein is also helpful.

Structure your meals around your training. Carbohydrates are really important for athletes because muscles store carbs for energy.

Chrissy spoke of the plate method for meal planning – you can check out these great PDF printables for more information on how to structure your meals based on your training level. Chrissy passed these around during the session.

Athlete Plates – Easy Day
Athlete Plates – Moderate Day
Athlete Plates – Hard Day

**Myth – Strength Training – a pound of muscle burns about 5-7 extra calories a day. Strength training doesn’t boost your metabolism that much. It’s a myth!

For shorter workouts – you don’t really need to have a recovery meal. Doing a 30-45 run? Don’t worry about it!

Calories in/calories out….Nutrients should come from good/real foods.

Pre-exercise meals

  • 3-4 mile runs – don’t worry too much about pre-workout meal
  • 45 min-1 hour you should eat something beforehand – banana, peanut butter on toast,
  • 10-mile run/race day – 1 – 4 hours ahead of time (personal preference) The closer to the race, the less food you want to eat!
    • Carbs – 1 hour before run – 1 gram per kg, 2 hours before – 2 grams per kg, up to 4 hours
  • Avoid whole grains if they bother you. Refined grains might be better. Avoid too much fat, it can slow digestion and upset your stomach. High-carb with some protein. For example: 1-2 hours out – cereal with milk/banana; bagel with cream cheese; frozen waffles with fruit/honey; quinoa, poached egg/spinach; rice;

Each person needs to find what works for them, because sports nutrition is very individual.

What is carb-loading?

Not eating giant plates of pasta everyday the week leading up to the event!

Tapering your runs, and eating your regular training diet is carb loading. Two to three days before the race/long run, bump up your carbs up – the amount of grains or starchy vegetables – but don’t get crazy. Carb loading is only needed if you’re doing an event that lasts 90 minutes or longer.

Fueling during exercise

Exercise < 45 min – nothing is needed

45 min – 1h 15 m – mouth rinse – Gatorade in the mouth, swish & spit out (your body absorbs through your mouth)

>1h 15m – 30 – 60 grams of carbs per hour while you’re out there, starting around the 30-45 minute mark

Some other tips for fueling during exercise:

  • Starting too early – upset GI system. Start too late – you can hit the wall
  • No difference in effectiveness between gels, blocks, real food.
  • Sports drinks (Gatorade) – 1 and done. Provides electrolytes, carbs, fluids.
  • Real food: raisins – no salt – use electrolyte based drink also.
  • Easily digestible, easy to eat,
  • Using sports drinks for long race – have to pee more, over-hydration
  • Gels – 25 grams carbs – every 30-45 minutes – drink water or electrolyte drink, not a sports drink.
  • Blocks/beans – drink water or electrolyte drink
  • Bars – lots of fat and fiber – watch out for stomach upset.


Sodium – longer than an hour – take in electrolytes – the only electrolyte you need to worry about is sodium – 500-700mg of sodium per liter of fluid that you drink.

  • Use a higher sodium drink if you are a salty sweater or it’s really hot. You can add a pinch of salt. S-cap – sodium capsule.
  • Cramping is mostly neuromuscular fatigue, not really sodium issues.
  • Weigh naked before run/after long run – if you have lost more than 2-3% of your body weight, you need to be hydrating more. If you’ve lost 1-3 pounds, you’re fine. If you’ve stayed the same or gained, you are over-hydrating.
  • Too much water is BAD.


  • After run
    • Short run – no need to recover
    • 45 minute run, and won’t eat until lunch, have a small snack.
  • Longer than 1-1.5 hours (or really intense shorter workouts), or doing 2-a-days, or if you’ve just done a race. Within 30-60 min – carbs and protein about 15-25 grams of protein; carbs – 1 gram per kilogram

For more information, Chrissy has a wonderful handout you can find here.

This live blog was compile by Christy Mensi from the Sisterhood of the Shrinking Jeans.