What to Eat Before and After a Run

August 2, 2023

What to Eat Before and After a Run: Fuelling Your Body for Peak Performance

‍Running is not just a physical activity; it’s a way of life for many enthusiasts, whether they’re training for a marathon or simply enjoying a leisurely jog. But to perform at your best and make the most of your runs, it’s crucial to pay attention to your diet and nutrition. What you eat before and after a run can have a significant impact on your energy levels, endurance, and overall performance. In this article, we’ll explore the best food choices to fuel your body for running, whether you’re tackling a short or long distance. We’ll also delve into the importance of taking a Fitwins virtual challenge to motivate yourself and stay on track with your running goals.

The Role of Nutrition in Running Performance

When it comes to running, proper nutrition is essential not only for maintaining good health but also for promoting peak athletic performance. Your diet can make or break a workout or race, affecting how you feel, work, and think. But what exactly does a runner’s diet entail? Let’s dive into the nutrients that runners need to optimise their performance.

Carbohydrates: The Energy Powerhouse

Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy for athletes, making up a significant portion of a runner’s diet. They should account for about 60% to 65% of your total calorie intake, although individual needs may vary. Sprinters may require more than 70% of their calories from carbs, while endurance runners may need as little as 50%.

Research has shown that our bodies work most efficiently with carbohydrates for both quick bursts of energy and long-lasting endurance. Opt for carbohydrates from sources such as fruits, potatoes, starchy vegetables, steamed or boiled rice, whole-grain bread, and whole-grain pasta. Whole-grain foods are less processed and retain more natural nutrients, including B vitamins, fiber, and minerals like zinc, iron, magnesium, and manganese.

Protein: Building Blocks for Recovery

Protein plays a crucial role in repairing tissue damaged during training and providing some energy. It’s also essential for keeping you feeling full, which is beneficial if you’re trying to manage your weight. The USDA recommends that protein should make up about 10% to 35% of your daily intake. However, endurance athletes, including runners, may benefit from consuming 1.2 to 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.

Choose protein sources that are low in fat and cholesterol, such as beans, eggs, fish, poultry, lean meats, low-fat dairy products, and whole grains. Eggs, for example, are a powerhouse of essential amino acids that aid in muscle repair and recovery. They also provide a significant percentage of your daily protein needs and essential vitamins, except for vitamin C.

Healthy Fats: Fueling the Distance

While it’s important to be mindful of your fat intake, healthy fats play a crucial role in a runner’s diet. They provide a concentrated source of energy and help maintain cell structure and function. Aim for no more than 20% to 35% of your total diet to come from fats, focusing on foods low in saturated fats and cholesterol.

Include foods such as nuts, oils, and cold-water fish in your diet to obtain essential fats like omega-3s, which are vital for good health and disease prevention. The National Institutes of Health recommends consuming 500 mg to 1,600 mg of omega-3 fatty acids daily. Incorporating these fats into your diet can support your overall well-being and running performance.

Essential Vitamins and Minerals for Runners

Vitamins and minerals may not provide direct energy for runners, but they play a crucial role in overall health and performance. Exercise can produce free radicals that can damage cells, and vitamins C and E act as antioxidants to neutralise these harmful substances. Minerals also play a vital role in running, particularly calcium, iron, and sodium:

Calcium: A calcium-rich diet is essential for runners to prevent osteoporosis and stress fractures. Include low-fat dairy products, calcium-fortified juices, dark leafy vegetables, beans, and eggs in your diet. Guidelines for calcium intake vary, with most adults between 19 and 50 years aiming for 1,000 mg/day, while women over 50 need 1,200 mg/day. Younger runners (ages 9 to 18) require 1,300 mg/day.

Iron: Iron is necessary for delivering oxygen to your cells. Inadequate iron intake can lead to weakness and fatigue, especially during running. Men aged 19 to 50 should consume 8 mg of iron per day, while women of the same age should aim for 18 mg. Include lean meats, leafy green vegetables, nuts, shrimp, and scallops in your diet to ensure an adequate iron intake.

Sodium and Electrolytes: During exercise, small amounts of sodium and other electrolytes are lost through sweat. These electrolytes need to be replaced to maintain proper fluid balance and prevent dehydration. If you find yourself craving salty foods, it may indicate a need for more sodium. Drinking sports drinks or incorporating salt into your diet during longer runs (over 90 minutes) can help replenish these electrolytes.

The Role of Supplements: Do You Really Need Them?

While there is a market full of energy supplements, sports gels, chews, and protein bars claiming to provide the fuel you need for running, in most cases, they are not necessary to maintain energy levels before, during, or after your run. Some supplements may provide a convenient source of energy during long runs, but it’s important to consider whether highly processed snacks are truly needed.

Instead of relying on supplements, focus on obtaining essential nutrients from whole foods. A well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, and whole grains should provide you with the necessary fuel for running. Save your money and opt for natural food sources rather than relying on supplements.

Timing Your Meals and Snacks: What to Eat Before a Run

Knowing when and what to eat before a run is essential for optimal performance. You want to fuel your body adequately without feeling starved or stuffed. It’s generally recommended to avoid eating immediately before running to prevent cramping or side stitches. However, running on an empty stomach can leave you drained and exhausted during your runs. Finding the right balance is crucial, and it may require some trial and error to determine what works best for you.

Pre-Run Meal Timing

Researchers have found mixed results when it comes to the timing of pre-run meals. Some studies suggest that consuming carbs within one hour before exercise could impair performance compared to eating two to three hours before training. On the other hand, other studies indicate a performance benefit to allowing more time between eating and training.

As a general rule, some running experts recommend consuming a light meal about one and a half to two hours before running or a small snack 30 minutes to an hour before running. Experiment during training runs and workouts to determine what timing works best for your body.

If you’ve had a large meal, it’s best to wait at least two hours before running, especially if the meal contains greasy, fatty, or fried foods. These types of foods take longer to digest and can lead to discomfort during your run. If you’ve had a smaller meal, you may be able to run about an hour after eating, depending on the specific food choices and your individual digestive system.

Pre-Run Meal Choices

When choosing what to eat before a run, opt for foods that are high in carbohydrates and lower in fat, fiber, and protein. Here are some examples of pre-run meal options:

A bagel with peanut butter: Bagels provide a good source of carbohydrates, and peanut butter adds a dose of protein and healthy fats.

A banana and an energy bar: Bananas are a quick source of energy, and energy bars provide a combination of carbs, protein, and fats.

A bowl of cold cereal with a cup of milk: Choose a low-sugar cereal and pair it with milk for a balanced pre-run meal.

Oatmeal with berries: Oatmeal is a great source of complex carbs, and berries add natural sweetness and antioxidants.

A turkey and cheese sandwich on whole-wheat bread: Whole-wheat bread offers sustained energy, and the turkey and cheese provide protein.

If you prefer to run on an empty stomach, you can still have enough energy stores for a shorter run. However, if you have time for a light snack, consider having a piece of toast with jam or half of an energy bar. Focus on easily digestible carbohydrates that provide a quick energy boost.

What to Eat During a Run: Fuelling Mid-Run

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For shorter runs lasting less than an hour, you typically won’t need to refuel until your workout is over. Most of the energy during these runs comes from glycogen stored in your muscles. However, if you’re running for 90 minutes or longer, you may need to consume carbohydrates to replace lost glucose and replenish your energy stores.

During longer runs, aim to consume carbohydrates and fluids to sustain your energy levels. Sports drinks, gels, and chews are popular choices as they provide a combination of carbohydrates, electrolytes, and hydration. However, if you prefer natural food sources, there are plenty of options to choose from, such as bananas, grapes, energy bars, and raisins. Look for lightweight, high-glycemic index carbs that are easy to consume during your run. Avoid foods that are difficult to chew or swallow and those that may cause stomach upset, such as spicy foods, dairy products, and high-fiber foods.

What to Eat After a Run: Recovery and Replenishment

What you eat after a run is just as important as what you eat before and during your run. Proper post-run nutrition is crucial for replenishing lost fluids, restoring glycogen levels, and aiding in muscle recovery. The timing and composition of your post-run meal or snack can significantly impact your recovery and overall performance.

Post-Run Meal Timing

In general, aim to eat within 30 minutes to two hours after your run. This window of opportunity allows your body to efficiently utilise the nutrients and aid in muscle repair. If you wait too long to refuel, your body may not fully benefit from the recovery process.

Post-Run Meal Choices

When it comes to post-run meals or snacks, the key is to include a combination of fluids, carbohydrates, and protein. Here are some options to consider:

Bagel with nut butter: This combo provides a balance of carbs, protein, and healthy fats.

Protein shake with fruits: Blend a protein powder of your choice with fruits to create a nutrient-packed post-run shake.

Greek yogurt with fruit: Greek yogurt is high in protein and pairs well with fresh fruits for added vitamins and antioxidants.

Energy bars: Look for bars with a balanced ratio of carbs and protein, aiming for a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio.

Hydration is also crucial after a run. Replenish lost fluids with water, chocolate milk, or a recovery drink. Chocolate milk, in particular, has been shown to be an effective option for exercise recovery, according to a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

Avoid high-fat, fried, or greasy foods that are high in calories but low in nutritional value. These types of foods can undo the benefits of your run and hinder your recovery. Sugary sodas should also be avoided as they offer little nutritional value and can contribute to dehydration.

Hydration Guidelines for Runners

Staying properly hydrated is vital for optimal running performance. The amount of fluid you need to drink before, during, and after a run depends on various factors, including the duration of your run and your sweat rate. While there used to be specific guidelines for fluid consumption, newer recommendations advocate for a more personalised approach based on individual needs. Here’s a general overview of hydration guidelines for runners:

Pre-Run Hydration

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends slowly drinking beverages at least four hours before exercise. As a starting point, aim for a volume of about 5 to 7 milliliters per kilogram of body weight. However, if you don’t produce urine or if your urine is dark or highly concentrated, gradually increase your fluid intake by an additional 3 to 5 mL per kilogram of body weight about two hours before your run.

For those who find calculating hydration needs complex, a rule of thumb often provided by running coaches can be useful. If you plan to run for approximately 45 minutes, pre-hydrate by drinking around 17 to 20 ounces (500-600 ml) of fluid two hours before your run, followed by 10 to 12 ounces (300-350 ml) of water or a sports drink 0 to 10 minutes before exercise.

Hydration During Your Run

The ACSM recommends early and regular fluid consumption during training. However, specific guidelines for fluid volume are challenging to provide due to variations in clothing, duration, weather, and other individual factors. Your sweat rate can serve as a useful indicator to determine your personalised hydration needs.

As a starting point, consider consuming 0.4 to 0.8 liters of fluid per hour of running. Runners who are faster or heavier, or those competing in warm environments, may require fluids at the higher end of the range. Slower or lighter individuals running in cooler climates may need fluids at the lower end. Remember to choose beverages that contain electrolytes and carbohydrates to maintain fluid-electrolyte balance and support exercise performance.

Hydration After Your Run

Replacing lost fluids after your run is crucial for recovery. In most cases, you can achieve this by drinking fluids and eating a balanced meal. However, if you’re dehydrated, aim to drink about 1.5 liters of fluid for each kilogram of body weight lost. Severe dehydration may require intravenous fluids to restore proper hydration levels.

Taking on a Fitwins Virtual Challenge: Staying Motivated and Achieving Your Running Goals

In addition to focusing on your diet and hydration, participating in a Fitwins virtual challenge can provide you with the motivation and structure you need to stay on track with your running goals. Fitwins offers a variety of virtual challenges that allow you to compete against yourself and other participants, regardless of your location. These challenges can range from individual distance goals to team-based events, fostering a sense of community and friendly competition.

By taking a Fitwins virtual challenge, you’ll have the opportunity to track your progress, earn Medals and rewards, and receive support from fellow runners via our Social Media Page. The challenges can be customised to suit your fitness level and goals, providing you with the flexibility to challenge yourself at your own pace. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced runner, Fitwins virtual challenges can help you stay motivated, accountable, and engaged in your running journey.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long should you wait after eating to run?

It’s generally recommended to wait one and a half to two hours after a small meal before running. Alternatively, you can have a small snack 30 minutes to one hour before running. Experiment to find the timing that works best for you.

What diet do elite marathon runners follow?

Elite marathon runners follow different diets based on their body weight, training schedule, and individual preferences. However, endurance runners tend to consume more carbohydrates than the general population, typically around 8 to 10 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight each day. They also require more calories due to the high energy demands of long-distance running.

What diet works for runners who do not want to shed pounds?

Runners who want to maintain their weight without shedding pounds should focus on consuming a diet that is slightly higher in calories than what is needed to maintain weight. If you’re experiencing unwanted weight loss while running, gradually increase your calorie intake with larger portion sizes of nutrient-dense foods or by adding a nutritious daily meal or snack. Start small and adjust as necessary until you reach and maintain your desired weight.

In Conclusion

Fuelling your body with the right food choices before and after a run is essential for peak performance and overall well-being. Prioritise carbohydrates for energy, protein for recovery, healthy fats for endurance, and essential vitamins and minerals to support overall health. Remember to hydrate properly before, during, and after your runs, and consider participating in a Fitwins virtual challenge to stay motivated and engaged with your running goals. By adopting a well-rounded approach to nutrition and training, you’ll be on your way to achieving your running dreams and maximising your potential.

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