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Runners, Here’s How To Fuel Up and Stay Hydrated

Use these diet tips to keep your running regimen on track from start to finish

runner drinking after workout

When you take part in any fitness activity, your body needs nutrients and fluids that are not only required for strength and endurance during the activity, but also help you recover from it.

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This is especially true for runners. If you don’t have the proper nutritional and fluid balance headed into your run, you could risk draining your body of vital resources too quickly, or have less energy to complete your program. Dietitian Kate Patton, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD, offers advice on adopting a diet plan that fuels and hydrates you each time you step out the door.

“Whether you’re a new or casual jogger, a routine runner or training to run a marathon, you need a diet that’s high in carbohydrates, and moderate in protein and fat,” she says. “And as a rule, fluids are extremely important beyond simply quenching your thirst.”

Keep your carb intake up and on track

About 50% to 70% of your diet should be carbohydrates.

“Resist the urge to jump on the low-carb bandwagon because you need them for energy if you’re a runner or someone who does regular cardio exercise,” Patton says. Carbs fuel the body with glycogen. This fuel is then stored in your muscles, which helps them perform. Not having enough carbs or cutting carbs out of your diet completely will make you feel fatigued and sluggish.

“If you run about one hour per day, you should aim to eat about five to seven grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of your body weight, For endurance runners who train one to three hours per day, six to ten grams of carbohydrate per kilogram body weight is needed” Patton recommends.

Here’s how to calculate how many carbs you need:

  • First, convert your weight from pounds to kilograms by dividing your weight by 2.2.
  • Then, multiply that number by recommended grams of carb 5-10.
  • So if you weigh 150 pounds, that’s 150 ÷ 2.2 = 68 kilograms. And then 68 kilograms x 7 = 476 grams of carbs needed.

The best places to get carbohydrates

To ensure that you’ll have energy for running, make a list and stock up on these healthy sources of carbohydrates:

  • Whole grains (whole wheat, rye, or sprouted grain).
  • Bread, pasta, barley, cereal, crackers.
  • Gluten free grains like rice, quinoa, buckwheat, corn.
  • Milk.
  • Legumes.
  • Yogurt.
  • Starchy veggies like sweet potatoes, peas, butternut squash, acorn squash spaghetti.
  • Fruits.

When you’re doing your pre-run shopping, read the labels for carbohydrate content and make sure you take portion size and your how long you’ll be running into consideration.

Pack in plenty of protein

Protein helps build and repair muscle tissue. The right amount of protein promotes muscle growth, especially when you do strength training.

Here’s how to figure out how much protein you should eat to sustain for a one-to-two hour run:

  • First, convert your weight from pounds to kilograms by dividing your weight by 2.2.
  • Then multiply that by the average amount of protein that moderate routine runners should eat, which is 1.2 to 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
  • So if you weigh 150 pounds, that’s 150 ÷ 2.2 = 68 kilograms. And then 68 kilograms x 1.2 or 2.2 = 81 to 95 grams of protein needed.

“Protein intake at higher levels can also help you gain more muscle mass (and therefore strength) and can reduce the loss of muscle as you lose weight over time during your program,” Patton says.

Good sources of protein

Healthy sources of protein are easy to get quickly. To build and maintain your muscle strength for running, stock up on these high-protein foods:

  • Meat (The healthiest are lean, uncured meats.)
  • Poultry.
  • Fish (Tuna, salmon or trout are high in healthy omega-3 fats).
  • Eggs.
  • Milk.
  • Cottage cheese.
  • Beans.
  • Lentils.
  • Quinoa.
  • Plain Greek yogurt.
  • Tofu.
  • Nuts and seeds (also great source of healthy unsaturated fat).

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With the right combination of protein and carbohydrates, your diet will be optimized for strength and endurance during your running routine.

Stay hydrated

When you exercise, your muscles generate heat. Your body needs to get rid of that heat to maintain a normal temperature — by sweating. Sweating in turn reduces your body’s water level, and this loss of fluid needs to be replenished during and after your activity. Patton emphasizes that you need to drink plenty of liquids to avoid dehydration and muscle cramping.

Your best options to add liquids to your diet before, during and after running are water and sports drinks (sports drinks replace electrolytes and potassium).

Before or after running, drink these:

  • 100% fruit and vegetable juices.
  • Milk or chocolate milk (typically better tolerated after your run).
  • Unsweetened tea.
  • Smoothies made from real fruits.

Keep the liquids coming

“For the average hour-long run, drinking water while you’re running is a good guideline to stay hydrated,” Patton says. “But exactly how much you need depends on how much weight you lose during your run, and how long your actual run time is.”

Here are some guidelines on how to stay hydrated before, during and after your workout

  • Before your run — Drink 16-20 ounces of water and or sports drink within 4 hours before running. Drink another 8-12 ounces of water 10-15 minutes before running.
  • During your run — Plan on bringing fluids during the run, too. If running less than 60 minutes. You’ll need an average of 3 to 8 ounces of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes. If running greater than 60 minutes, drink 3-8 ounces of sports drink every additional 15-20 minutes to ensure you don’t become dehydrated.
  • After your run — Rehydrate after your run with at least another 16 to 24 ounces of fluid (water, sports drink, chocolate milk, smoothie) for every pound lost to rebalance your fluid levels.

“All of this takes practice out of the gate,” Patton says. “But in time you’ll have a strong sense of what your body needs and will begin to see how much more endurance you’ll have during your running program.”

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