You’ve recently signed up for a race and have your training mapped out, but have you considered your nutrition? Whether you are a novice or elite endurance runner, having a nutrition plan can positively impact your training and race day results. With a few simple nutrition strategies, a properly fueled run can get you to the finish line with sustained energy. By implementing the following 4 tips into your nutrition plan, you’ll be ahead of the pack feeling energized.
Load Up with a Balanced Pre-Run Meal
As a runner, your muscles and brain will need mostly carbohydrates, some protein, and a little fat to sustain your mileage. A properly timed and balanced meal, preferably 3-4 hours before, will give the body able time to distribute nutrients to your muscles for use (1). Examples of a balanced pre-run meal are:
- Oatmeal made with milk, nut butter, and fruit, with an egg or protein shake
- Whole wheat sandwich with turkey and veggies, a side of fruit and a granola bar
- A half or a whole plain bagel with fruit, nut butter, and a glass of milk
- Whole grain pasta or rice with veggies and chicken or fish
Top Of Carbohydrate Stores
Prior to your run, especially when long-distance, consume a carbohydrate-rich snack 15-60 minutes before you take off. This will help top off needed carbohydrate stores. Depending on your specific needs, this can include:
- Fruits or a small fruit smoothie
- Carbohydrate sports drink
- Granola or energy bar
- Handful of cereal or granola
If your run exceeds 60 minutes, additional carbohydrates may be needed during your run. The recommendations are:
- 30 g of carbohydrate per hour for 1-2 hours of running (2)
- 60 g of carbohydrate per hour for 2-3 hours of running (2)
These are typically consumed in the form of sports gels, gummies or sports drinks as they are easily transportable during runs.
Post-Run, Rebuild with Carbs and Protein
Restoring carbohydrate after your run is essential in order to recover before your next training session. To maximize muscle stores of carbohydrate, consuming a carbohydrate-rich snack or meal 30 minutes post run is recommended (3). Adding a small amount of protein will help maintain muscle and can enhance storage of carbohydrate (2, 3). This can include foods and beverages such as:
- Low-fat chocolate milk
- Yogurt with fruit and granola
- Energy bar containing carbs and protein
- Fruit smoothie with yogurt and milk
- Whole grain cereals with milk and nuts
When the body can tolerate a meal, include adequate carbohydrates, protein, and some fat. Your body will need the continued sources of carbohydrates throughout the day to fully refuel in time for your next run. Some ideas for meals include:
- Breakfast burrito with veggies and low-fat cheese on a whole wheat wrap with a side of fruit
- Whole wheat pasta with meat sauce and side of veggies
- Grilled chicken sandwich with a side salad and sweet potato
- Rice bowl with fish, chicken or meat, veggies and a side of fruit
Maintain Hydration Status and Electrolyte Balance
Hydration needs are highly individualistic as there is variability in how much a person sweats and excretes fluids (2). It is best to understand how much fluid you need by working with a sports physiologist or nutritionist to calculate your needs. In general, it is recommended that runners begin hydrating 4 hours before exercise by consuming 1oz of fluid for every 10 pounds of body weight (i.e. 14oz for a 140-pound runner) (2). This early start on hydration will help normalize urine output before your run and increase hydration. During and after your run, maintain fluid intake to avoid thirst and supplement with an electrolyte-rich sports drink to meet your needs.
By making a few small adjustments to your current eating patterns, you can have better training runs and results on race day. In addition, being fully fueled can make you feel physically better during and after your runs. Consider your current diet and schedule to see where you can make the changes you need to properly fuel your training.
(1) “Fueling For Training.” USA Track and Field, http://www.usatf.org/groups/HighPerformance/AthleteDevelopment/NutritionalInfo/fueling_for_training.pdf.
(2) Karpinski, Christine, and Christine A Rosenbloom. Karpinski, Christine, and Christine A Rosenbloom. Sports Nutrition: A Handbook for Professionals. 6th ed., Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2017.
(3) Kerksick, Chad, et al. “International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: Nutrient timing.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, vol. 5, no. 1, 2008, p. 17., doi:10.1186/1550-2783-5-17.