Do you have long runs coming up? Feeling fatigued? Try these nutrition tips to fuel your run efficiently.
Whether you eat too much of the wrong things, or you're dogged by on-the-run GI distress, there are just so many ways to go wrong when trying to balance your nutrition and running needs. Here are six tips for fueling your run, and how to tweak your eating routine to see improvements.
Eat wholesome, whole-grain-carb-rich, low fat, low fiber foods before your workouts. Unfortunately, carbs have become public enemy No. 1 in recent years. But carbs are the body’s best form of fuel. That doesn’t mean you have to load up on bagels, pastas, and muffins. Fill up with high-quality unprocessed carbs like whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, that also offer vitamins and minerals to improve your health and prevent illness. Avoid refined and processed carbs, which contain lots of calories and additives with little health benefit.
Eat like an athlete, all day long. That means: hydrate well, eat whole foods, and limit the junk. What you drink and eat in the days before a tough workout or race can have a huge impact on how you feel while you’re on the run. Alcohol, spices, saturated fats, sugar and artificial sweeteners can drag down your performance. You don’t want all the time and effort you put into getting stronger and faster to go to waste because you filled up on junk.
Limit sports foods to workout longer than 70 minutes. There are so many sports foods on the market that make bold promises about performance. And they can offer convenient nutrition when you’re on the go. But many of them are also packed with sweeteners and calories that can pack on the pounds. You only need energy gels, chews, and sports drinks if you’re running for more than 70 minutes, or you’ll be out on a particularly hot day.
Develop healthy drinking habits. Research has shown that dehydration can drag down your time, and make even an easy pace feel tough. Drink when you are thirsty, and go into each workout well-hydrated. How do you know if you’re well hydrated? If your pee is the color of light straw, you’re adequately hydrated. If it’s darker, say the color of apple juice, you need to drink more. Sip calorie-free fluids throughout the day so you don’t feel like you have to chug down bottle-fulls right before your run. This can lead to a sloshy-feeling in the gut, which can lead to GI distress.
Eat less and eat earlier. Leave time for pre-run pit stops. If you’re fueling up right before a run, allow at least 30 minutes to digest your food and fluids before you head out. This can help you avoid stressful mid-run searches and stops for bathrooms on the road. The more you eat or drink, the more time you’ll need for digestion.
Plan ahead. It’s way too easy to eat back all the calories you just burned on the road —and then some—which can lead to unwanted pounds. Plan your post-run meal before you head out and prepare it so that it’s easy to grab on your way in. If you walk in feeling famished and fatigued, it’s easy to grab whatever is within reach, and that can get in the way of reaching your fitness goals.
Jen has spent the past six years working as Special Projects Editor for Runner's World magazine, and writing stories for the magazine. She also has a book, The Runner's World Training Journal for Beginners, and contributes stories to The Portland Press Herald.