What to Know About Running and Nutrition

Photo credit: Tomas Orihuela

Photo credit: Tomas Orihuela

Knowing what to eat before, during and after a run is a tricky thing, so we reached out to Move Ya Brass Krewe member and Registered Dietician Lisa Littrell for advice.

Lisa serves as the current Health and Nutrition Coordinator at Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans Head Start Program. She's also a lifelong athlete who found running in 2015. She ran her first 5K that year at The Crescent City Fall Classic and continued training so she could participate in this year's Rock 'n' Roll Marathon and an ultra 50K at the Croom Fools Run in Florida.  

Here's what she told us about fueling as a runner.

Before a Run

"I would advise [eating] something that's low in fiber," Lisa said. "If it's a long run [anything longer than 90 minutes], you should have a little bit of protein in there also. Toast with peanut butter or an egg in a tortilla, [or] fruit and yogurt. Something also that is low in fiber and that you have already experimented with prior to a race, because everybody's stomach reacts differently to things. So, it takes a little bit of trial and error."

For a shorter run, like a 5K, she suggested something small, like a piece of toast or a banana at least 30 minutes before.

During a Run

"If you're going beyond 90 minutes you definitely need to have nutrition during the run and be paying close attention to your electrolytes," Lisa stated.

Due to her stomach sensitivity issues, Lisa skips products from popular brands like Gatorade and NUUN, preferring instead Hüma gels because they contain more natural ingredients. She's also been experimenting with chewable salt tabs and products from Tailwind because they have a low FODMAP mix, which makes it easier to digest.

Actual food is an option as well, as she pointed out, "People will put peanut butter sandwiches in their packs or a boiled potato with salt, because that's your potassium and salt and your carbohydrates."

After a Run

Lisa advised eating something 15 to 30 minutes post run. "It doesn't have to be a full meal, but you should definitely have a little bit of carbohydrates and a little bit of protein directly after because of the hormonal effect. If you wait longer, you'll probably end up over eating later on because of the hormone reaction to a run … And then, you know, have your big meal later on, but there should definitely be some rehydration and refueling immediately after."

Forget About Carb Loading

Runners often hear about this, but, per Lisa, a consistently healthy diet is a better option. "I think that more important than what happens the day before a race is your routine," she said. "So as long as you're having a healthy diet on a day-to-day basis and you're hydrated on a regular basis then carb loading doesn't really affect your run. Because things like hydration and nutrition are based off of multiple days, not just the day before."

As for what to incorporate into your daily diet, Lisa detailed that thee meals plus snacks, or six small meals should do it. Before breakfast, keep it small and low in fiber, but after, switch to high fiber with protein.

"Yogurt and chia seeds, or oatmeal and a banana, or oatmeal and an egg, or something like that," she recommended. "In general, lots of fruits and vegetables, lean meats and complex carbohydrates for your meals which are high fiber carbohydrates, but like I said, if it's right before a run, if it's a snack to fuel your run, it has to be low carbohydrate because it's easier to digest and absorb."

Skip the Cheat Meals as Well

"My issue with cheat meals is people tend to go overboard on that day because they're waiting all week for this particular day," she explained.

Instead, Lisa prefers to stick to the 80/20 rule: healthy choices 80 percent of the time and choices based off of desire and craving 20 percent of the time.

"I think in terms of calorie content and mental health, it's better to just have a moderate diet every day of the week rather than have something restrictive six days of the week and then a cheat day on Sunday or something like that. But, I do definitely think post run you should eat whatever your heart desires," she laughed. "Because you worked hard."

As for Lisa's post run desire? A burger and fries.

Thomas Nguyen

A Native New Orleanian, Thomas joined the Move Ya Brass Krewe in the second week of its inception and has helped the group with its administrative functions ever since.  Thomas’ drive to exercise stemmed from his own battle with Type-2 Diabetes, which drove him to run more and participate in many races & half marathons throughout the city.