Healthy Eating for City2Surf

Participating in the City2Surf is a great way to:

  • raise funds for our Brain Injury Unit
  • socialise with friends
  • get yourself off the couch and be physically active!

Depending on your age and ability, whether you’re in for a serious run or taking a steady walk in this 14 km distance race means you have very different nutrition and hydration needs.

Nutrition—what to eat?


Carbohydrate is the main fuel used in exercise, especially in prolonged continuous activity such as City2Surf. The body naturally stores carbohydrate as glycogen in our muscles and liver but at a limited supply. When the stored glycogen runs out without input of extra fuel, this can lead to fatigue and reduced performance.

How much do I need?
The amount of carbohydrate foods that you need depends on the frequency, duration and intensity of your training and the group you are running on the day. When you are on high training days or if you are intending to run in the athlete groups within a qualifying time, you should increase your carbohydrate intake to match with the increase in activity. Vice versa, if you are on low or no training days or you are in City2Surf for a ‘fun run’, you should reduce your carbohydrate intake to reflect the decreased activity.

It is best to include carbohydrate-rich foods as part of your meals or snacks before, during and after exercise. Having carbohydrate foods before exercise helps top up blood glucose levels and glycogen stores in the muscle and liver. Replacing carbohydrate during exercise can enhance sports performance while carbohydrate intake after exercise enables recovery of your glycogen stores.

The table below provides a guide of the amount of carbohydrate you would need for fuel and recovery in grams depending on the intensity of your activity (adapted from AIS Sports Nutrition):

Intensity of Activity     Situation Carbohydrate Targets
Light Low-intensity or skill-based activities 3–5 g per kg BM*
Moderate Moderate exercise program (~1 hr/day) 5–7 g per kg BM*
High Endurance program (ie moderate-to-high intensity exercise of 1–3 hr/day) 6–10 g per kg BM*
Very High Extreme commitment (ie moderate-to-high intensity exercise of > 4–5 hr/day) 8–12 g per kg BM*

*BM = body mass

Choosing the right carbohydrate foods
Carbohydrate foods can be classified as nutrient-dense, nutrient-poor or high-fat and may be consumed for different purposes as shown below (adapted from AIS Sports Nutrition).

Category Description Examples
(each provides 50g carbohydrate if specified amount)
Nutrient-dense carbohydrate Foods and fluids that are rich sources of other nutrients including protein, vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants in addition to carbohydrate Bread (100g, 4 slices white or 3 wholegrain)
Cereals (60g, 5 wheat biscuits or 2 cups cornflakes)
Rice, cooked (180g, 1 cup)
Pasta or noodles, cooked (200g, 1.3 cups)
Starchy vegetable eg potato (350g, 1 very large)
Sweetened low-fat milk (560mL)
Everyday food that should form the base of one’s diet leading up to the City2Surf. Helps to meet other nutrient targets
Nutrient-poor carbohydrate Foods and fluids that contain carbohydrate but minimal or no other nutrients Soft drink (500mL)
Lollies (60g)
Carbohydrate gels (2 sachets)
Sports drink (700mL)
Cordial (800mL)
Shouldn’t be a major part of the everyday diet but may provide a compact carbohydrate source around training for or during City2Surf
High-fat carbohydrate Foods that contain carbohydrate but are high in fat Pastries, cakes, chips (hot and crisps) and chocolate ‘Sometimes’ foods best not consumed around training for or during City2Surf


Protein in the diet is important for us to build structural proteins such as muscles and various others functions.

In endurance exercise such as training for City2Surf, you may require extra protein foods to make up for the energy used and to assist in repair and recovery of muscles after exercise. The table below provides a guide to estimate protein requirements for different athlete groups (adapted from AIS Sports Nutrition).

Group Protein Intake
Sedentary men and women 0.8-1.0
Elite male endurance athletes 1.6
Moderate-intensity endurance athletes (a)
Recreational endurance athletes (b) 0.8–1.0
Female athletes ~15% lower than male athletes

(a) Exercising approximately four to five times per week for 45-60 min
(b) Exercising four to five times per week for 30 min at <55% VO2peak

There is no need to focus on very high protein foods or protein supplements as we tend to consume well in excess of 2.0g protein/kg body mass per day if we include foods from all food groups including meat, poultry, fish and alternatives. The following table provides you with examples of the amount of foods that gives ~10g of protein (adapted from AIS Sports Nutrition).

Animal Foods Plant Foods
2 small eggs
30 g (1.5 slices) reduced fat cheese
70 g cottage cheese
1 cup (250 ml) low-fat milk
35 g lean beef, lamb or pork (cooked weight)
40 g lean chicken (cooked weight)
50 g grilled fish
50 g canned tuna or salmon
200 g reduced fat yoghurt
150 g light fromage frais
4 slices (120 g) wholemeal bread
3 cups (90 g) wholegrain cereal
2 cups (330 g) cooked pasta
3 cups (400 g) cooked rice
3/4 cup (150 g) lentils or kidney beans
200 g baked beans
120 g tofu
60 g nuts or seeds
300 ml soy milk
100 g soy meat

Eating for Recovery

The consumption of protein and carbohydrate foods in combination immediately post-exercise makes the best recovery food. This is because protein helps to prevent muscles from further break down as a result of exercise and to facilitate repair of the muscles while carbohydrate restores the used muscle glycogen and enhances uptake of protein by the muscles. Ideas for a light snack with the perfect protein and carbohydrate combination include a tub of flavoured yoghurt or a carton of flavoured milk, a sandwich with meat, cheese or peanut butter fillings or a bowl of breakfast cereal with low fat milk.


Keeping the body hydrated is essential for optimal sporting performance. If your total body water is below normal with sweating, this impairs the body’s ability to cool down with increasing body temperature due to exercise, as well as elevate your heart rate. This can make you feel more tired, lose concentration and even resulting in stomach discomfort. Therefore it is important to drink regularly throughout the City2Surf race, especially under hot conditions.

Your fluid requirement varies greatly depending on factors as how much one sweats, body size, fitness level, the weather and the intensity of the exercise. Usually, one would typically replace 30–70% of sweat losses during exercise but many a times we tend to forget to drink as we are too focused on the race. So the best advice is, have a drink before the race, have a drink whenever you are at one of the six drink stations and drink regularly.

Tips to stay well hydrated

  • Ensure adequate fluid balance—drink regularly during the day leading up to the event
  • Just prior to commencing the exercise session, drink 300-600mL of fluid
  • Devise a fluid plan for all sessions longer than 30 minutes duration
  • Drink regularly during the session and remember if you notice increased sweating or fluid losses, consider a Sports drink with electrolytes for rehydration
  • Drinking does not come instinctively for athletes too, so your coach can help you recognize its importance!


Should I go on special diets to prepare for City2Surf?

Some individuals may adopt special diets such as vegetarianism or gluten free diets in preparation for the race for various reasons, such as to restrict energy intake or perceived benefits on sporting performance. Some people need to go on special diets due to a medical condition like Coeliac Disease for gluten restriction or cultural and religious reasons for vegetarian or other. While it is up to the individual to decide whether to follow a special dietary regime, it is adequate if you follow the guidelines for general healthy eating as outlined in the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating.

For more personalised advice on sports nutrition, find an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) specialised in this area on the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) website or an Accredited Sports Dietitian.

Should I drink sport drink for City2Surf?

Fluid intake is enhanced when beverages are cool (~15 °C), flavoured and contain sodium (salt). This makes sports drink an ideal choice for City2Surf if you are planning to run at high intensity for 60 minutes or more. Australia has strict food standards on the formulation of sport drinks so different brands sold in Australia have very similar composition, containing 10–20 mmol/L sodium and 4–8% carbohydrate. The sodium encourages fluid intake while the carbohydrate allows refueling during exercise. Nonetheless, water is still a suitable option for City2Surf especially if you’re only in for a relaxed ‘fun run’. It is worth noting that since water does not stimulate fluid intake, you should drink water regularly and not rely on your thirst.

For more information on nutrition and hydration for sports, please visit Australian Sports Commission and Sports Dietitians Australia.