Nutrition Tips for Runners - Fueling and Hydrating your Run

Nutrition tips for runners and how to hydrate and fuel before, after and during a run.

Nutrition for runners

Runners often feel that a big, long run deserves a big fat treat. You've worked hard, burnt off lots of calories and therefore your body is entitled to fill up on whatever you fancy.

Unfortunately eating rubbish makes you run like rubbish too.

Nutrition Tips for Runners

Working out the best nutrition tips for runners does get a bit confusing as there are so many different philosophies and "runners diets". In the end though it all boils down to the same simple ideals.

We all know that a balanced diet is good for us but as a runner you also need to make sure that your diet takes into account your increased exercise and the effects that exercise has on your body. Plus you need to fuel your body so it is ready to run.

Your running nutrition needs to :

Keeping Hydrated

Our bodies are made up of 60 % water so it stands to reason that hydrating is important. Don't just think you need to drink during and after a run as you need to be well hydrated ALL the time.

  • Every Day - How much fluid should you drink daily?  Aim for the 8 x 8 rule which means 8 x 8 oz (236 ml) glasses of fluid (water, tea, coffee......) per day for the average healthy person. If you are overweight, add an extra glass for each 25 Ib of excess weight and if you live in a hot climate add extra fluid too.

  • During Exercise - Depending on the length of the run (say 30 minutes or more) and the temperature, I would take a bottle of water. Have a few sips every 10 minutes or so. Some people add electrolytes to their water but I personally like to take Saltsticks. Don't  over hydrate though as it can lead to hyponatremia.

  • After Exercise - You need to rehydrate after exercise to replace lost fluids. Calculating how much you sweat during a run is easy. Weigh yourself before and after a run.  For every pound (roughly 450 gm) that you have lost, that equates to 16 oz (473 ml) of sweat. 

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Food for Energy - How to Fuel Your Run

Before you head out the door for your run, you'll need to make sure that your body has enough energy to power your muscles.

#1. Get your energy from CARBS

Most people like to stock up their bodies with carbohydrates (carbs), especially before a long morning run or a race. If you are heading out in the early morning, have a light breakfast that stocks up your glycogen levels after the over night fast. Eat something that is easily digestible and not later than 30 minutes before heading out the door otherwise it will sit heavily in your stomach. Try to eat a bit of fat and protein such as peanut butter on toast or egg on toast.  If you are running later in the day, just make sure to leave a window of at least half an hour between eating and running.

If your run is under 2 hours, you will probably have enough energy on board to last you. However you should definitely take fluids.

If you do want to carry something to eat, take something small and easily digestible such as a handful of nuts or some dried fruit. Others carry glucose gels, drinks, bars etc to munch on whilst they are running. Remember though that you need to carry what you are bringing either in your pockets or a running pack.

#2. Get your energy from FAT

There has been a long term belief that the only way to power our muscles is by glucose.  Our bodies can stock about 2,000 calories of carbohydrate fuel which will last you around 2-3 hours depending on how fast you are running.

However.....exciting studies are now showing that we can teach our body to power our muscles by mainly fat, of which we have 40,000 calories (even skinny people), which can last you for days.

Due to our high carbohydrate lifestyles, our bodies  like to use the glucose/glycogen first as it is so easily available. So to start using our huge fat stores, we actually have to teach our bodies to use it before the carbs. One of the main ways to do that is by reducing our carbohydrate intake and upping our fat intake, on a daily basis.

Surely Fat Makes you Fat....

Incorrect, as it is mostly sugars and carbohydrates that make you fat. If you eat the right fats and reduce your carbohydrates, your body will be forced to use your fat for energy. 

I have been what is known as 'Fat Adapted' for a while now meaning my body has learnt to use my fat stores for energy rather than relying on glucose.

I can run for a good 2 hours without any food before or during my run. It really is so liberating and my running pouch is no longer stuffed with a picnic of emergency rations.  I have even lost weight and I was pretty lean already.

If you are interested in understanding a bit more about how a low carb, high fat diet works, here are 2 great resources:

  1. The Future of Fat Burning (blog article)
  2. The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance (book).  
    The first part of the book is quite scientific but after that it has some great explanations on how to make it work for you, plus lots of recipes and case studies.

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Food for Repair -

Any activity takes a toll on our body. Energy and electrolytes get depleted, muscles and tendons might get a bit worn down or damaged and we generally get a bit fatigued.

Straight after a run, drink fluids to start replacing what you've lost. Fluids help other nutrients to circulate in your body.  It has been scientifically proven that our body is the most receptive to absorbing nutrients within 30 minutes after a workout so also start eating before you whiz into the shower. 

A lot of people think if they train hard then they can eat what they like and in huge quantities. Then they wonder why they are not losing or are even gaining weight and also why their body feels so lethargic for the rest of the day.

Nutrition Tips for Runners - What to eat after a run

  • Protein is really important as it helps repair damaged muscles.
  • You will also need some carbohydrate to replace the glycogen used by your muscles. 

Note: If you follow a "Low carb, high fat" diet then ingesting large quantities of carbohydrate is not so relevant to you. 

 Aim for a ratio of around 3:1 or 4:1 (4 parts carbs to 1 part protein) .  You also don't need to eat for 2 people. One normal sized serving is enough. And if you are still a bit peckish, add some dried fruit or nuts.

Examples  might be:

  • Chocolate milkshake
  • Toast with peanut butter
  • Scrambled egg on toast
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Banana + peanut butter
  • Plain yogurt + mixed fruit

---- Nutrition Tips for Runners ----

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