A beginner’s guide to fuel for the GNR

Another year is nearly upon us and many of you warriors will be taking the stand on Sunday to take part in the annual Great North Run (GNR)…

First off, well done for taking part… I wish you the very best of luck!

Secondly, have you got your nutrition right? Have you done your research on what to eat and how to get the best out of your body?

For those of you that have already done the GNR before you may well already have your perfect plan, however for those who haven’t: read on for a little bit of guidance.

Here’s the thing, our body’s main source of energy is carbohydrates. These are easy to break down and are quickly metabolised.

So, it makes sense to have a full supply before Sunday…

As a quick overview, carbohydrates are stored in our muscle cells as glycogen. Any excess that we consume is stored in our fat cells as fat. Our body will draw carbohydrates from our muscle cells and use this as energy. A full storage will last approximately 90 minutes during moderate intensity exercise.

So how do we make sure we have enough?

First of all, lets identify a few problems and mistakes people make:


  1. They increase their calorie consumption the week before in order to carb load – which leads to overeating.
  2. They turn to calorie dense foods such as pizza to carb load – again, overeating.
  3. Other food groups are completely eliminated from their diets in order to eat more carbs – while protein and fats are still very important.


Should you carb load?

You should definitely make sure you have enough stored energy, but the issue lies when people see it as a free-for-all, start eating everything in sight and basically overindulge… remember it’s not more calories you need, it’s simply a higher carbohydrate intake.

What to do:

This is not a one-rule-for-all scenario, it really comes down to many factors such as your level of competitiveness, ability and body type. For example, are you a natural practising runner or a slightly overweight first timer that hasn’t really done any training prior to the event?

Let’s assume you are a natural runner and have spent many months training for this event. Many don’t consider altering their diets leading up to the race and will “traditionally” binge the evening before on bowls of pasta. This is not a good idea as it will lead to a lot of discomfort and probably digestion issues the next day.

A better way would be to start gradually increasing your carbohydrates and decreasing your fat intake (not eliminating) – without increasing the total calorie intake. As an example (these percentages are based off overall meals):

Thursday – 40-50% carbohydrates / fat 20-30% / 30% protein

Carb sources: oats, rice, potatoes, fruits, pasta


Friday – 50-60% carbohydrates / fat 20% / 20-30% protein

Carb source: oats, rice, potatoes, fruits, pasta


Saturday – 60-70% carbohydrates / fat 20% / 10-20% protein

Carb source: white rice, cereals, less fibrous fruits, pasta – faster digestible carbs


Your calories should remain more or less the same with only your carbohydrate intake increasing.


Sunday – This is completely down to preference and what you can stomach (if anything) – You should be fully stored by this point so more carbs is not necessary. However, a small, light manageable snack a couple of hours prior might help, as an example:

  • Low fat yogurt & grapes
  • Ripe banana & small handful of nuts

For the average competitor it will last around 120 minutes. The above guide should see you through with enough energy, but just in case, take with you a few energy gels for quick energy releases later in the race.

If you are experienced and have practiced carb loading before, hopefully this will offer a little insight and advice. If you haven’t and it’s all new to you then my advice would be not changing things up too drastically.

“Ensure you are not doing anything you haven’t done before, even if it is only gradually changing the composition of a diet in the days leading up to the event”

People should compete how they train, unless they have practices strategies on longer runs leading up to the event” – Steven Marshall (Head Performance Nutritionist at Team Northumbria)

Let me take this opportunity to wish you the very best of luck, and please let me know if this was helpful.