NUTRITION & HYDRATION
Sometimes, what separates a good runner from a great runner, is nutrition and proper hydration.
Even with the best training and action plan in mind, you may not successfully finish your run if you haven’t nailed the nutrition aspect.
If you’re not sure how to optimally feed your body both before and during a long run, then this article has a ton of useful information to help you set off on the right foot.
How should runners eat and drink?
The topic of nutrition for runners is such a broad topic, that one could write practically an entire encyclopaedia on it.
The human body is a complex piece of organic machinery – when subjected to a high degree of stress where mental toughness alone isn’t enough to get the job done – proper nutrition really comes into play and can mean the difference between feeling tired and fatigued at the end of a run or fresh and accomplished.
It’s probably fair to say that most runners don’t take their nutrition and hydration seriously, unless they are competing professionally – but even then, it’s very easy to slip up with the calories, macro-nutrients and all that ‘fun stuff’.
However, the good news is that proper nutrition to help you perform as a runner isn’t an overly complicated science. As long as you have a few basics down, you can build up from there and fine-tune your nutritional approach according to your goals.
One of the most important aspects of running is meal timing, not only before a run but also at the start of the day – and, what you consume during those long, gruelling runs.
At this point, we want to discuss the importance of protein: the number one nutrient which fuels muscle growth and endurance, and helps you recover after a punishing (but satisfying) workout. Why is protein so important for active people, particularly runners?
Protein helps build muscle tissue – a reasonable amount of lean muscle tissue in and around your working muscles is necessary to help you run efficiently – particularly with the onset of age, when your body may have a hard time building and retaining muscle.
The second thing we want to highlight in this article is hydration, which accounts for everything from the water and fruit juice you consume throughout the day to the tea, coffee or energy drinks you love.
Hydration, in fact, is one of the key aspects involved in running – helping to keep you free from cramps, injuries and sprains, and helping your muscles to go the distance.
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A tale of protein, carbs and fats – How should runners eat throughout the day?
Protein and carbs go hand in hand – as a runner, you can’t rely on protein alone and expect to see great results just because you took adequate amounts throughout the day.
Carbohydrates form a vital part of the equation as they help your body ‘shuttle’ the protein to the muscles, keeping them full and ready. A body topped up with the right protein to carbohydrate ratio means that your working muscles will always be ready for the task ahead.
Furthermore, carbohydrates are responsible for producing glycogen in your muscle – the energy centres responsible for helping you contract them forcefully and powerfully if you need to, or keeping them going for those lengthy endurance runs.
Without a reasonable amount of carbohydrates in your diet, your muscles would look flat and even become prone to injury. So, the take-home is: you need carbs for energy and force production as well as endurance – and, to recover when your muscles are at rest.
We also need to bring healthy fats into the picture as the Omega-3 and 6 nutrients will help keep inflammation levels down in the body and supply it with long-term fuel which can be used both during runs and afterward to recover. Oily fish, seeds and nuts are all great sources.
Remember, the right ratio of protein, carbs and fats does not come into play before a run or in the middle of one, but at the start of the day. A ratio of 40:40:20 works well for starters (protein to carbs to fat).
The best way to kick off your day is with a protein-rich breakfast with moderate levels of carbs and fats. So, we’re talking oatmeal with egg whites or an omelette with some pancakes, or even muesli with some bananas and walnuts on the side.
Fibre is another essential nutrient you need to have plenty of in your diet, as it will help you digest your meals more efficiently. Always include a generous amount of fruits and vegetables with each meal throughout the day.
How runners should eat before and during a long run
Now that we’ve covered a few basics, let’s talk some strategy for meal timing and choices before our run. Are you running early in the morning? The middle of the day? An afternoon or evening session perhaps?
If you’re planning to hit the track early in the morning, then it’s probably best to have a meal rich in protein and complex carbs (slow releasing carbs) the night before, along with some milk or fruit juice.
Alternatively, you could have a protein shake first thing in the morning along with your breakfast.
For mid-day, afternoon or evening workouts, you’d want to ideally eat at least 3 hours prior to the workout. Make sure you ingest quality protein like whole eggs, salmon, lean beef or a large handful of nuts – all are excellent protein choices.
Include some complex carbs to have a steady stream of energy throughout the workout: oatmeal, whole-wheat cookies, bran bread with some peanut butter – get creative!
Now, how do we plan nutrition and hydration during a long run? The most practical way to do this is to carry a selection of Isotonic Energy or Hydration Gels, these are normally taken on the run every 30 minutes or so – be careful as some do have added caffeine – we have a wide range in store.
You could also carry a 300-500ml protein shake with you taking small sips at designated points it’ll keep your muscles fueled up and hydrated from start to finish.
And that’s all there is to it.
Starting out a proper nutrition plan as a runner is really straightforward, as long as your basics are down.
And remember, if you need any advice regarding running shoes, gait analysis or any other equipment the Weybridge Sports Team are on hand to help in any way we can.