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Nutritional tips for medium and long distance walking events

Walking is a great way to get fitter and healthier and it can vary from a gentle stroll to a brisk walk or a hike in the hills. For some taking up a walking challenge or joining an event can help to keep them motivated. Dudley borough offers a wide range of walking opportunities, including the annual Dudley Trail event.

You don’t need to follow a specific diet when taking up walking, but leading up to an event or long walk you might find the nutritional tips in this article helpful.

Our related article Walking – get started and stay motivated also gives some more general healthy eating advice and information about the benefits of walking, which you might find useful.

Before the event
Carbohydrates provide energy and are the most important source of fuel for exercise. Your body can store small amounts of carbohydrate in the muscles and liver as glycogen, but these stores are limited so you need to make sure you’re fully fuelled before the event.You should try to eat plenty of starchy carbohydrate foods the night before the event, as well as for breakfast. This will help to top up your glycogen (energy) stores. Opt for whole grain varieties where possible (e.g. whole wheat pasta, brown rice, whole wheat noodles, wholemeal bread), as the fibre in whole grains provides a slower release of energy. Other good sources of carbohydrates include potatoes (with skins), couscous, breakfast cereals, beans and pulses. Add plenty of fruit and vegetables and moderate amounts of foods containing protein (e.g. lean meat, fish, beans, eggs, nuts or lower fat dairy foods) for a balanced meal.For your meal the night before you might like to try:

For breakfast you could try:

  • High fibre, low sugar breakfast (e.g. plain whole wheat cereal biscuits, plain shredded whole grain pillows, no added sugar muesli). Serve with semi-skimmed milk or low fat plain yoghurt and top with fresh, dried or tinned fruit.
  • Porridge oats made with semi-skimmed milk and topped with fresh, dried or tinned fruit (e.g. mashed banana and blueberries). Sprinkle on some plain nuts for added protein.
  • Wholemeal toast topped with peanut butter, low fat cheese spread, mashed avocado, scrambled eggs or baked beans

During an event

During an event you’ll need some extra energy to keep you going, especially in longer distance events. However, you may not need to eat as much as you think.

The exact number of calories that you use up will depend on a range of factors, including walking speed, distance, weight, gender, muscle tone etc. However, an average woman weighing 70kg and walking 3 miles per hour (1 mile every 20 minutes) would burn around 230 calories an hour. For each event distance in the annual Dudley Trail this is equivalent to:

  • 6 miles (2 hours) = approx 460 calories
  • 9 miles (3 hours) = approx 690 calories
  • 12 miles (4 hours) = approx 925 calories
  • 18 miles (6 hours) = approx 1,385 calories
  • 26 miles (8 ½) = approx 1,960 calories

You can check out your own walking pace, or check the calories burnt during different activities, using these handy online tools:

Walking calorie calculator

Exercise calorie calculator

What you eat is just as important as getting some extra energy. To help you plan ahead for an event we’ve put together some healthy snack ideas, which are easy to carry and eat on the go. Try to eat little and often throughout the event; smaller portions are easier to digest!

  • Fruit is a healthy snack and the natural sugars will provide a quick energy boost. Different fruits contain various vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre. Try bananas, apples, berries, orange segments and grapes.
  • Fruity flapjacks/granola bars. The fruit will give a quick boost of energy due to the sugar content, whereas oats are a starchy carbohydrate, which provides longer lasting energy. Oats also contain fibre, which may help you to feel fuller for longer.
  • Handful of mixed plain nuts, seeds and dried fruit. Nuts and seeds are a good source of protein and fibre. They are also high in unsaturated fats, which provide plenty of energy. Unsaturated fats in the diet can also help lower the level of LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood. Add a little dried fruit to add natural sweetness and give a quick energy boost.
  • Peanut butter and banana sandwiches (made with wholemeal bread). This snack contains a combination of short and longer term energy sources. Bananas provide natural sugars for short term energy, whereas wholemeal bread is high in fibre so releases energy more slowly. Peanut butter is high in fat so provides additional energy.
  • Slice of malt loaf with a small amount of low fat spread. Malt loaf contains starchy carbohydrates and plenty of dried fruit, providing a good source of energy.


The amount of fluid we need depends on things like the weather and how much exercise you do, but European recommendations suggest women need about 1.5 litres (2 ¾ pints) fluid per day and men need about 2.0 litres (3 ½ pints) fluid per day. We can get the fluids we need from water, other drinks and the foods we eat (especially fruits, vegetables, soups and stews).

When we exercise we lose water as sweat so a regular intake of fluids is important before, during and after exercise. If you don’t get enough fluid you might become dehydrated and this can make you feel tired, get headaches and not perform at your best. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids the night before and the morning of an event so you start the race hydrated, although avoid guzzling lots of fluid in one go. During the walk try to drink small amounts of fluids regularly and don’t wait until you’re thirsty as this means you’re already partly dehydrated.

Water is a great choice to keep you hydrated and should be sufficient during a moderate intensity activity such as walking. If you don’t like plain water you could try adding flavour with slices of lemon/lime or drink well diluted squash.

Should I drink anything other than water?

Sports drinks contain minerals (electrolytes) such as sodium and usually contain carbohydrates in the form of glucose (sugar); although low and zero calorie versions are available. These drinks are designed to replace sodium lost in sweat, help rehydration and provide additional energy. However, they are only suitable for people taking part in high level endurance sports or when sweat loss is high.

Energy drinks are full of sugar and caffeine and while they’ll give you a quick energy boost, this is short lived. They also don’t contain electrolytes to help hydration and replace sodium lost as sweat. Energy drinks shouldn’t be used in place of sports drinks during exercise.

For a long walk it’s better to get the extra energy you need from healthy snacks (see ideas above) and drink water regularly to stay hydrated. Glucose (sugar) in sports and energy drinks may give you a quick energy boost, but won’t help to fill you up so just provide ’empty’ calories. Sugary drinks also contribute to tooth decay if consumed regularly. If it’s a particularly hot day and you’re sweating a lot you may need some additional sodium. If so, you can make your own low energy sports drink by adding a pinch of salt to a bottle of well diluted squash.

Happy walking!