Runners can eat. If you’ve ever shocked friends or family by stuffing your face before, during, or after a long run, welcome to the club! Your fans just don’t understand. Something happens when you’re training for longer distances and your weekly mileage increases, you start seeing food differently. “When I was running professionally, I would eat anything to perform better,” says Fitbit Ambassador Ryan Hall. “Food is a performance-enhancing substance.” He means it—Hall ate three meals and three snacks a day, plus a midnight snack, to avoid losing too much weight during training. And as much as he loves superfood salmon and sweet potatoes, some of those nutrition choices got a little more … unusual.
From the mindset of athletes who really and truly think of food as fuel, here are just a few of the weird and wonderful foods that runners eat.
Chips & pretzels for a quick salt lick
Potato chips aren’t too peculiar, but spectators might be surprised to see bags of junk food being passed out mid-marathon. Athletes need salt, and chips and pretzels are a quick way to replenish sodium. No shame if you suck the salt off that pretzel, chase it with a few sips of water, and get back out there.
Running on jelly beans & gummy bears
Then there are the candy bowls on course. When athletes need simple carbs, stat, that means sugar! You can buy sports supplements in bean and gummy form, but some people prefer to run on old-fashioned candy.
Will run for chocolate candies & bars
For chocoholics, nutty bars and candies can hit the spot. Light and easy to grab, they offer sugar, a little protein, and a sprinkle of salt. It’s not that different from a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, right?
Beet juice for breakfast
Endurance athletes are all about beets, as studies have shown cardiovascular benefits for cyclists, runners, and other athletes. Rather than eating the roots or greens, many athletes slurp the juice. Olympic marathoner Shalane Flanagan makes a morning smoothie that’s a shocking color.
Pucker-worthy tart cherry juice
Pickle juice, please
Ever seen an athlete drinking from a pickle jar post-workout? That brine is another salty trick to take in sodium. One study suggested that the vinegar may also help with muscle cramps. Just be sure to double fist it with a glass of water to balance out the sodium.
Cola for caffeine fiends
While most of us should stop drinking sugary soda (an ultra-processed food!), marathoners and triathletes still swig paper cups full of flat cola. Believers swear that the sugar and caffeine give them a boost through those tough final miles.
Sushi rice on a roll
Move over pasta—rice is also popular for carbo-loading, and sushi is the perfect combo of carbs plus protein. Many marathoners make it a pre-race dinner, and ultra-marathoners have been known to eat it on the road. If the thought of raw fish makes your stomach flip-flop, pros are also packing rice balls and cakes.
Sweet potatoes to go
Ryan Hall wraps sweet potatoes in foil for an on-the-go snack. “I pretend I’m eating a burrito when I get weird stares on an airplane,” shrugs Hall. “But sweet potatoes are one of the best carbs a runner can eat, with a low glycemic index, and cramp-fighting potassium.” Other runners load mashed potatoes into plastic baggies. Sure, they’d probably be nicer next to a roast dinner, but it works for simple carbs on the run.
Last but never least: liver
“I walked into the house the other day to find my wife Sara putting beef liver into the blender,” says Hall. “I always give weird foods a try, but it tasted pretty much like you would imagine. One bite was enough for me.” Distance runners chew on liver for iron, and the Halls have tried soaking it in milk, yogurt, and other marinades, to tame its strong flavor. “I still haven’t found a way to actually enjoy eating liver,” admits Hall. “But food is fuel, so it must go down.”
To be clear, no one is suggesting that you focus on chips, candy, and soda leading up to your next race. In the long run, there’s no replacement for good nutrition. But the rules are different for sports nutrition, and especially after many miles or hours, they tend to bend. If a weird food works for you, go for it! And if you see a friend or teammate taking a bite out of something bizarre, give her a high five. Sometimes, you’ve got to eat what it takes to get across that finish line.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.