Before, During, and After the Run
How you fuel your body before, during, and after the run makes a difference in how you feel and how you perform.
Before Your Run
Follow these guidelines as you prepare for your workout.
Hydrating Before the Run
As was mentioned previously, if you start your run fully hydrated you'll have more success. A rule of thumb is to consume 14–20 ounces of water or sports drink 2–3 hours before you run. Drink 8 ounces right before you start your run.
The best way to know if you are drinking enough is to note the color of your urine. If darker than a pale yellow, you need more fluid; if your urine is completely clear, you may be drinking too much before your run.
Fueling Before the Run
The amount you eat before a run will vary by the timing of your run. A moderate-sized meal is optimally consumed 3–4 hours before a run. If there are only 2 hours between your meal and your run, the portion should be smaller. If you are short on time before your run, you'll only have room for a snack.
The point is to have your food fully digested before you run so that the fuel you just consumed provides energy for your working muscles. Your pre-run meal should consist of the components of a balanced meal while minimizing fat and fiber to minimize digestive distress. Liquid meals may be better tolerated when your food is consumed closer to the run.
The small amount of protein in your pre-run meal helps build and repair muscle tissue and may help with post-exercise soreness. Pre-run food examples include a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a fruit smoothie, or a turkey and cheese sandwich.
A small percentage of runners may experience rebound hypoglycemia when consuming a sugary snack 30–60 minutes before running. Symptoms may include weakness, lightheadedness, trembling, and heart palpitations during the run. Solutions include using a slow-absorbing carbohydrate fuel source as your snack, or better yet, being prepared by having regularly spaced meals and snacks 1–2 hours before the run.
Frequently Asked Questions
I just woke up out of bed and go right out the door for my run. How can I eat? If you just woke up you can be sure your glycogen stores are lower than optimal. If you don't have that much time before your run, consume at least 8 ounces of a liquid carbohydrate drink before taking your first steps.
Eating before I run gives me GI distress. If you can't eat anything before your morning run, make sure the evening-before meal was sufficient. It may also help to consume a mini-meal before bedtime. Do make sure you consume water before starting your run. Also, some people can't eat before a run but can eat without GI distress during the run. Have a carbohydrate source of fuel with you during the run.
I run right after work and I'm already starving. When you run after work, make sure you have available a mid-afternoon snack sufficient in carbohydrates but with some protein to hold you through the afternoon. When you get too hungry, you are more apt to reach for a high-fat food source right before your run, giving you an upset stomach during or after the run.
During the Run
You should use the following instructions during your workouts.
Hydrating During the Run
For any run lasting more than 20 minutes, hydration during the run is important. In cool conditions you may not need to hydrate during a run lasting 30–45 minutes. But if the heat and/or humidity is elevated, don't trust your thirst. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that athletes consume fluids at a rate close to their sweat rate, which for most is 3–7 ounces every 15 minutes.
Fueling During the Run
Fuel your body with 30–60 grams of a fast-absorbing carbohydrate for every hour of your run. Ideally this is broken down into 10–20 grams of carbohydrate every 20 minutes. Your fuel can be in the form of a carbohydrate-based beverage, gels, jellybeans, fruit, or carbohydrate snack bar, based on your preference and tolerance.
Experiment with sports drinks and bars during your training runs to find out what works best for you. Fueling during the run can consist of sports drinks, fruit slices, gels, gummy chews, or bites of low-fat sports or granola bars.
Optimal carbohydrate concentration in a sports drink should be 4–8 percent concentration, or 10–18 grams per 8 ounces. Best carbohydrate sources include a combination of glucose, maltodextrin, sucrose, and dextrose. Sports drinks that contain only electrolytes are insufficient for runs lasting longer than 45 minutes unless another carbohydrate source, such as gels, bars, chews, or fruit, is ingested.
I drink lots of water during my 2-hour runs but I don't eat. Is there a problem with that? Running long distance and only consuming water can lead to a condition called hyponatremia. Hyponatremia is a condition where there is too little sodium in the bloodstream. Sodium is lost through sweat, and plain water consumed in excess during a run dilutes the sodium balance. Even when well acclimated, it is always a good idea to use endurance drinks that contain adequate sodium as well as needed carbohydrates.
After the Run
Follow these tips to ensure a safe recovery after you've finished your run.
Hydrating After the Run
Continue to drink fluids after your run is complete. Pay attention to your urge to urinate and note its color. You should urinate within 1 hour of completing your run. Continue drinking fluids until the color of your urine is pale yellow.
Fueling After the Run
Whenever you run you deplete your glycogen stores, lose fluid and electrolytes, and damage muscle fibers. As soon as you complete your run, think recovery. Nutrition is as important immediately following your run as it was before and during your run. Quickly fueling your body after the run takes advantage of the body's ability to repair and restore to optimal levels.
Fuel your body within 30 minutes of your run with a snack consisting of protein, carbohydrates, and fluids. Look for foods to provide at least 10 grams of protein. Protein aids in repair of damaged muscle tissue and stimulates development of new tissue. Consume 30–50 grams of carbohydrate to replenish depleted glycogen and also to enhance muscle repair. Examples of post-run fuel include smoothies with added protein, sports bars containing at least 10 grams of protein, chocolate milk, or a turkey sandwich.
What should I look for in an energy bar?
The energy bar you choose depends on its purpose. For before and during exercise, choose energy bars that provide mostly carbohydrates and are low in fiber and fat. For after exercise and for between-meal snacks, choose energy bars that contain at least a 1:3 ratio of protein to carbohydrates with less than 30 percent of the calories coming from fat.
I feel nauseous after my runs and can't eat anything for a few hours. What can I do to get in my post-run nutrition? If you are feeling nauseous after your runs, think about what you are eating and drinking before and during your run. Before the run make sure you are consuming easily digestible foods low in fat and fiber. During your run, experiment with other beverages and carbohydrate sources to see if others are better tolerated.
When finished with your run, try drinking 4–8 ounces of a carbonated beverage such as ginger ale or even a cola to help settle your stomach. You'll accomplish ingesting carbs and fluid by consuming this beverage. If that works you can move on to consuming a healthier snack or meal for continued replenishment.