Endurance athletes and endurance runners spend a lot of time in training and in competition, which underscores the importance of adequate calories to fuel the activity. Generally speaking, endurance athletes have an advantage in that endurance sports lend themselves to being able to burn fat for fuel and use fat as the primary source of fuel during some endurance events BUT an athlete’s ability to store carbohydrates (glycogen) and consume adequate fluid is a critical factor in energy levels. This is precisely why you see so many athletes eating large bowls of pasta or large volumes of other carbohydrates before a race. However, this process of storing glucose as glycogen takes time (days ahead of time) and adequate water (more than what I see most runners drinking). Plus, many of the runners I work with don’t want to have a ginormous bowl of something or other the night before a race especially if they have nerves or other factors that may throw their GI out of balance.
Because there is a limit of how quickly cells can convert extra carbohydrate to be stored as glycogen (remember adequate water is needed too), it’s important runners and endurance athletes eat small, regular, even frequent bouts of carbohydrate vs a belly buster bowl of pasta the night before a race or long run.
Enter snacks…. snacks are opportunities to full in nutritional gaps and also consume carbohydrate for fuel to store as glycogen. I focus on snacks that help provide key nutrients for runners like iron, vitamin D, B vitamins (involved with energy metabolism), and other key vitamins and minerals that may be lost depending on sweat loss or workout intensity. It’s also important to consume snacks that will have some bit of fiber and protein to help sustain and nourish. If a runner is eating a snack and then working out, a high fiber snack may not be the best idea. Keeping that in mind, know that the list below provides only ideas and it’s still important to “try it on for size” and determine what works best for you and your body. Also keep in mind that I intentionally didn’t include portions because you may need more or less than your running friend and portions can take us out of tuning in with our bodies to see how much we need and instead take us into an arbitrary serving size that may not be appropriate for you and your energy needs. Make sense? Snacks for runners are about as varied as the type of foods runners eat, so honor your preferences, listen to your hunger and fullness cues, and nourish the body so you can get out there and do what you love – run!
14 of the Best Snacks for Runners
- Apple + nut butter
- Pear + cheese slice
- Raisins and almonds
- Yogurt + berries
- Yogurt + chia seeds
- Cottage cheese + peach
- String cheese + grapes
- Whole grain toast with nut butter and apple butter or jam
- Watermelon + peanuts
- Whole grain crackers + avocado
- Homemade popsicle with yogurt, fruit, milk of choice
- Minestrone or other soup with vegetables and beans
- Nature’s Path Heritage Flakes or Heritage Os (both high fiber low sugar) + milk of choice
- Mix oats + peanut butter + chia seeds + honey for homemade protein ball
10 Lower Fiber (pre-workout snacks) Snacks for Runners – Note: some bodies handle fiber loads pre-workout better or differently than other bodies. So you may or may not need low fiber pre-workout.
- Pretzels + nut butter
- Graham crackers + few almonds
- Saltines or other cracker + cheese slice
- Smoothie slushy with 100% fruit juice or fruit if tolerated + 1/2 cup milk of choice + ice
- Chicken noodle soup
- Fruited yogurt
- Chex or rice krispies cereal + milk of choice
- Mix rice krispies + peanut butter + honey for homemade protein ball
- unsweetened applesauce + cottage cheese
- dried apricots or dried apples + nut butter
There you have it, 24 different snack for runner options to inspire and help you fuel the body. These snacks for runners provide B vitamins, iron, fiber, protein, and a variety of other benefits (like fluid in the smoothie, popsicle, cereal, soup) or additional salt (soup, crackers, salted nut butter, cheese) if you need to replace sodium from a longer/higher intensity/sweaty run. I hope that gives you a bit more insight into snacks for runners and if you have any questions, feel free to comment below!