Nutrition & Hydration for Runners

Have you ever wondered why you see runners that always seem to have better endurance than you? What is the secret that gives them that extra edge to keep running without running out of fuel? Are you confused about what to eat and drink before a run? After hours of exhaustive research and trial and error these are the secrets I have uncovered.

As an active athlete, refining nutrition helps remove stress from the body and speeds recovery. Optimizing your nutrition will improve your ability to burn fat as energy, reduce your cravings, produce less joint inflammation, improve mental clarity, and enable quick recovery from exercise.

When you go for a run, the blood in your body is being directed toward your muscles and toward your skin in order to cool you off. If you want to be an efficient running machine, it is important to eat foods that are easily digestible so that the blood is not drawn to your digestive system. For optimum performance, you will want to eat food that easily turns into energy that you can use--nutrient dense foods that are easily assimilated.

Nutrition/hydration before the run: With proper nutrition you can work harder and perform better. The body first burns simple carbs before switching to complex carbs. You want your fuel to be simple so that your body will only burn the simple carbs and won't need to covert the complex carbs into energy. Avoid large amounts of acidic protein before a run as it will cause cramping. Protein is for building muscle, not fueling your body.

  • For workouts of high intensity over a short period of time (less than 45 minutes), eat simple carbs such as dates, bananas, mangos, papayas or coconut oil.
  • For workouts of moderate intensity over a moderate period of time (45 to 90 minutes), take in some alkaline protein such as hemp, flax seeds or almonds. Have you tried hemp or almond milk? Yum!
  • For workouts of low intensity over a long time (more than 90 minutes), eat a combination of simple carbs and alkaline protein (3:1 ratio). On these runs you will train your body to use fat as fuel by running at a slower intensity.
  • Ensure that you are fully hydrated from the day before. The old standard calls for 8 glasses of water per day, but take into account the size of your body. Smaller bodies might require less, larger bodies might require more. Don’t wait until you experience the signs of dehydration. Keep a bottle of water with you during the day and drink from it regularly. Beverages that are not diuretics count toward hydrating. Things that don’t count—coffee, soda and caffeinated tea.

Nutrition during the run: Prepare for your runs by having the right nutrition and hydration on hand.

  • For runs with a duration of less than 30 minutes, nutrition is not needed. You will be burning the glycogen stores and the snack that you had before the run will get you through.
  • For runs with a duration of longer than 30 minutes, nutrition should be taken every 15-20 minutes once you hit the 30 minute mark. Some convenient options are energy gels (Gu), energy blocks/chews (Gatorade) and beans (Jelly Belly Sport Beans). They help to keep your blood sugar level steady and include electrolytes. Some even contain caffeine. Always follow gels/blocks/beans with a drink of water.
  • You should be hydrating every 15 minutes. A good rule of thumb is to drink 4-6 ounces every 20 minutes. Warmer weather will require more fluids at a higher frequency.
  • Do you tend to have salt deposits on your face after a run? If so, you will want a drink with a higher level of electrolytes, so don’t water your drink down. While running, you lose sodium and potassium through sweating. If you don’t replace those, your body won’t retain the fluids that you have consumed and you can experience muscle cramps.
  • Do you have to consume a drink containing electrolytes? The answer is a resounding YES! If you don’t sufficiently replace electrolytes during your runs and only use water, you can risk over-hydration. There is a condition called hyponatremia, which is low blood sodium concentration. Drinking too much water can cause the sodium in your body to become diluted. Your body's water levels rise your cells begin to swell. This can cause health problems, from mild to life-threatening. Women should be especially careful because a women's sex hormones affects the body's ability to balance sodium levels.

Nutrition after the run: On your run, you have broken the muscle down and now you must feed it.

  • Immediately after the run, eat a simple carb—something with very little fat and no fiber. Have a green juice or a pudding snack, definitely something that is liquid or near liquid.
  • 45 minutes to an hour after the run, incorporate a high quality digestible raw protein. The carb/protein ratio should be 3:1. Good protein choices are hemp, quinoa, nut butters or hummus. Pair this with some fresh veggies.

With proper planning, you can enhance your performance and truly enjoy every run!