Fueling For Road Races

Have you ever felt like you’re running through deep water though you are on a flat surface during a road race? Chances are you are falling short on one of three main nutrition factors that can influence how well you race and how you feel: carbohydrates, fluids, and electrolytes. Carbohydrates provide the energy needed to race while fluids are essential for helping ensure your body doesn’t overheat, preventing dehydration, and transporting nutrients and oxygen to hard-working muscles. Electrolytes help your body hold on to more of the fluid you consume as well as help muscles work. Fall short on any of these three and running may feel harder than it should.


The longer the distance you run, the more important fueling your body becomes. On shorter runs, such as a 5K, 8K, or 10K–like the Peachtree Road Race–, you don’t necessarily need carbohydrates while you are running. However, some runners may find getting some carbohydrates helpful, especially if they did not eat enough before their race. For races lasting over an hour, it’s a good idea to consume 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour after the first hour of running through a sports drink, gels, sports blocks, or gummies.


Fluids are also very important for running. Every runner has different fluid needs based on how much fluid they lose through sweat. Below are some general guidelines that should be individualized for each runner. Also, be sure to try these in practice first before trying them in a race.

  • Pre-race: drink 16-20 ounces of water or a sports drink 2 to 3 hours before you run. Sip on water or a sports drink within the hour before you run.
  • During the race: drink 3-8 ounces every 20 to 30 minutes. For hot races or races over an hour, choose a sports drink or combination of a sports drink and water.
  • Post-race: drink 24 ounces of fluid for every pound you lose from sweat. Don’t worry, you don’t need to weigh yourself. Instead, drink 16 ounces of milk, chocolate milk, a protein smoothie, or high sodium sports drink soon after you finish–and then continue to drink over the hours after you finish racing.

If you drink water after you finish a race, you will urinate out much of the fluid you drank. Instead, choose a drink with added benefits. Milk or chocolate milk are my top recommendations due to their 13 essential nutrients. Or you can make a protein shake with milk. All of these options will help you hydrate better than water. Plus, they will help you replace your carbohydrate stores and provide high-quality protein for repairing muscle.

In addition to concentrating on your fluid intake pre-, during, and post-race, it is important to drink enough every day. About 50% of athletes start their training sessions, races, or events dehydrated! Instead of drinking water all day long, add milk to meals and snacks to help you stay hydrated for a longer period of time.


Giving attention to electrolytes is equally important to carbohydrate and fluid intake.  Electrolyte losses vary considerably among athletes. In the absence of testing sweat electrolyte losses and getting individualized recommendations from a sports dietitian, it’s a good idea to drink an electrolyte-containing sports drink during your runs. In hotter, more humid weather or during longer runs this can become even more important. And remember, milk–white or flavored–is a natural source of electrolytes that are added in sports drinks including calcium, potassium, sodium, and magnesium. 

Drinking milk after exercise can help replace these electrolytes that are lost in sweat.

Focus on these top three running needs and you’ll not only feel better but also enjoy faster racing times!

Marie Spano, MS, RD, CSCS, CSSD is a sports nutritionist who loves helping athletes achieve peak performance and optimal health.

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