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Before, during or in between runs a smoothie can be a quick and easy form of fuel for your body. Not all smoothies are created equal, however, and runners need to choose the right kind. What are the best smoothies for runners? It’s all in the ingredients, and those depend on when you will drink them.

When is the best time to drink a smoothie?

Smoothies are great any time: pre-run, post-run, or as an in between snack. But, when you have one will determine which basic ingredients you need to include.

  • Pre-run or even for breakfast you will need protein, complex carbohydrates and fiber. This combination will give you the energy you need to sustain a long run and keep hunger at bay.
  • Post-run you need to restock energy stores and include the nutrients that rebuild muscle tissue. Again, protein (for its amino acids) along with carbohydrates.
  • For a healthy snack anytime, strike a balance of protein, carbohydrates and (good) fat to give you the energy you need to go about your day while keeping your blood sugar level.

Which are the best ingredients in each category?

Smoothie Ingredient Options

Protein: This can be in liquid, solid or powder form including dairy, almond, coconut or soy milk, yogurt, protein powder, nuts and nut butters (without any added sugar . . . yes, the kind that you have to stir).

Carbohydrates: These are your fruits, vegetables, pure fruit or vegetable juices, and even uncooked oats. Each fruit or vegetable has its own nutritional properties and texture. Bananas are the most classic of all smoothie ingredients because they contain potassium and a high sugar content for quick energy and are great frozen or not. Berries are loaded with anti-oxidants, and the frozen kind is as good as, if not better than, fresh in smoothies. Spinach and kale are great veggie choices, but you will probably want to include some fruit or other sweetener to offset any bitterness.

Fats: Besides nuts and nut butters, flaxseed, chia seeds, coconut or coconut oil, and avocado are good options. If you choose full-fat dairy as your protein, go easier on the fats. It’s all about balance!

Extras: Kind of like healthy smoosh-ins, these add flavor or a nutrition boost. Cinnamon is known to help balance blood sugar so it’s a smart addition with high sugar fruits of if you have hypoglycemia. Maple syrup, stevia, and agave all add a touch of sweetness. Freshly grated ginger, a squeeze of citrus, or pepper will give your smoothie a kick, and natural cocoa powder has anti-oxidants and adds a yummy chocolate flavor. Extracts, including vanilla, peppermint or almond, add flavor without calories.

Note: If you do not use a liquid protein or juice, add water or ice to get the perfectly smooth or slushy texture you want. Extra ice makes your healthy fruit smoothie a refreshing summertime slushie.

As a runner, which nutrients do I need to be sure to include?

Certain nutrients are essential for runners (or any athlete) to support their bodies during extended periods of exercise and to aid recovery afterwards. Be sure that you are getting enough by including ingredients high in these nutrients:

  • ✓ Calcium is essential because it strengthens bones and (who knew?) prevents muscle cramps. Yes, you can get it from milk or yogurt, but dark, leafy greens (collard greens, spinach, Swiss chard) are an excellent source and ideal for those who can’t tolerate or prefer not to consume dairy products.
  • ✓ Iron plays a necessary role in carrying oxygen to cells and eliminating carbon dioxide from the body. Look to broccoli, Swiss chard and parsley as well as currants, pomegranates, apricots, tomatoes and even olives as a source of iron.
  • ✓ Potassium is an electrolyte that stimulates nerves and keeps the heart and other muscles working properly. It can be found in the ultimate smoothie ingredient – the banana – but also in other fruits such as apricots, cantaloupe, nectarines, pears and figs. To keep sugar intake down choose avocados or spinach instead of fruit.
  • ✓ Zinc is needed for tissue repair and endurance. To get enough be sure to include pumpkin seeds, peanuts, seaweed, spinach, parsley or sweet peppers.
  • ✓ Magnesium plays a role in a number of basic functions such as blood pressure regulation, muscle contraction and cardiac activity. Almonds, flaxseeds and sunflower seeds are all high in magnesium as are spinach, collard and beet greens, and dates.
  • ✓ Selenium is crucial for antioxidant production, and a deficiency results in longer recovery time. Great sources include Brazil nuts and sunflower seeds, seaweed and that superfood: spinach.
  • ✓ Sodium keeps dehydration at bay by helping cells retain water. Get your requirement from fruits and veg rather than the shaker.

So, in addition to protein, carbohydrates and fats, ideally you want to include ingredients with all of these nutrients in your smoothie. To start, try this super-nutritious green smoothie that is perfect for both fueling before and replenishing after a run.

Green Is Great Smoothie Recipe

Green Smoothie Recipe

1 - 2 cups of dark greens such as spinach, collard greens and Swiss chard

1 stalk of celery (dark green leaves included)

1/2 avocado

1/2 cup frozen berries, preferably blueberries

1 banana - try it frozen

1 peach and/or 1 pear – whichever is in season

2 pitted dates

Directions: Add all ingredients to blender with water and combine. Add more water or ice if needed to achieve the preferred consistency.

Tip: To turn this into a meal substitute or for a perfect protein shake, add a scoop of flavorless protein powder.

Experiment with ingredients and quantities to create your own super smoothies. With all the possible combinations of fruits and vegetables, you can be sure to get the nutrients you need with a minimum amount of effort, leaving more time for running!