Runners: keep reading to discover your secret weapon for your next PR.
While high-tech watches and epic playlists may give us the motivation we need to push through our runs, it’s important that we don’t forget the ultimate necessity for performance: FUEL!
How we fuel our bodies before, during, and after a run can make a huge difference in regards to our performance and mindset. That’s why today I’ve partnered with The Eugene Marathon to share the basics of fueling for our fastest, strongest runs.
“Runners, on your marks...get set...go!”
(Keep reading to find out how you can get $10 off your entry to the full or half marathon!)
Before a run...
Just like we fill up our cars before a trip, it's important that we fuel up our bodies before a run to help us go faster and farther. We can also think of our run as a burning fire that needs to be tended to. In order to start the fire, we must first gather some fuel to get things going. Instead of sticks or paper, however, our fuel is carbohydrates.
2-4 hours before a run:
Enjoying a meal 2-4 hours before a run is a great way to fuel up while still giving our bodies enough time to digest our food. For the pre-run meal, runners should focus on building a carbohydrate-rich plate with moderate amounts of fat and protein. For those of us with sensitive stomachs, it’s best to avoid foods that are high in fiber and fat to avoid digestive discomfort.
Some examples of pre-run meals include...
- Oatmeal topped with nut butter and banana slices
- A yogurt parfait with berries and granola
- A turkey or peanut butter and jelly sandwich
- Pancakes with scrambled eggs
1 hour before a run:
For a quick source of energy that isn’t too heavy on the stomach, we should reach for a source of carbs that is easily digestible and low in protein, fat, and fiber.
Some examples include…
- Rice cakes
- A banana
During a run...
What happens to a fire if it runs out of fuel? It burns out, right? The same principle applies to our bodies when they "burn" through their fuel during a run. In order to avoid burn out, it's important that we give our bodies the energy they need to keep going.
For a run that lasts less than 45 minutes: Most runners only need plain water. This is because they should have enough energy stores to last them through a shorter workout.
For a run that is greater than 45 minutes: Runners need 30-60 grams of carbs per hour from carb-rich fluids or foods (see examples below).
For runs longer than 2.5 hours: As the duration of the run increases, so does the amount of carbs needed to maintain performance. After 2.5-3 hours, runners' needs increase to 80-90 grams of carbs per hour. It’s also smart to include fuel that has a mix of carbohydrates and protein, as well as different flavor profiles to spice up our palettes. Some examples include peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or trail mix.
Sources of running-friendly carbs...
- Fluids: sports drinks, sports gels, liquid meals, fruit juice
- Food: bananas, dried fruit, gummy candies, pretzels, energy bars, bagels, graham crackers
For reference, 20-30 grams of carbs usually looks like: 12 oz of a sports drink, 1 sports gel, a medium banana, or 1 oz of pretzels
Which is better: food or fluid? That answer is for each of us to discover. Some people find that solid food doesn't sit well in their stomach. Others find the same to be true with certain fluids. In order to pinpoint our ideal fueling regimen, we need to experiment with different foods and fluids to find what works best for us.
After a run...
Just because we’ve stopped running doesn’t mean we should stop thinking about fueling our bodies. Our tired muscles need carbs and protein to help them repair and store up for the next workout. Protein is essential for increasing net muscle protein balance, promoting muscle tissue repair, and rebuilding damaged muscles. Carbohydrates are needed to restore energy and release insulin, which is a hormone that tells our bodies to use and store energy.
Many of us have heard that right after exercise, our muscles are extra efficient at using carbohydrates and protein to build muscle and replenish energy stores. This is why many people are not only concerned about what to refuel with after a run, but also when to refuel.
Here's what we need to keep in mind about post-run nutrition timing: when there are less than 8 hours between workouts, it is essential to consume carbs immediately after a workout to maximize fuel usage (on a more specific level, the recommended amount is 1-1.2 grams of carbohydrates per kg of body weight per hour for the first 4 hours).
However, for the majority of us who don’t need to train more than once a day, the time at which fuel is consumed isn’t as crucial. Instead, it's important to focus on the quantity and quality of the food we’re consuming throughout the day.
The key a post-run meal is consuming about a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein (the recommended amount of protein post-run is around 15-25 grams).
A few meal ideas that can easily meet carb/protein needs...
- Fruit smoothie made with yogurt or protein powder
- Chocolate milk
- Turkey sandwich
- Energy bar with both protein and carbs
Now that we’ve covered what to eat before, during, and after a run, I’d like to leave us with one final thought: There is no magic meal, snack, or beverage that will miraculously lead to optimal performance for everyone.
Why? Simply put: we're different. We all have different bodies with digestive systems that can handle different types of food in different amounts. We also have different environments, preferences, lifestyles, and cultural beliefs that determine what types of food we’ll reach for.
What works for our running partner might not work for us, and that is totally OK. That’s why it’s important for us runners to experiment and find what works best for our unique, individual needs.
What have you found that works best for you? Has this blog motivated you to try a new fueling strategy for your next run? Feel free to leave your experiences/thoughts in the comments below.
And always remember...food is fuel. Now go get 'em, tiger.
Click HERE to sign up for the Eugene Marathon or Half Marathon and use discount code "YEAHGIRL" for $10 off your race entry
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Need a little extra one-on-one help? Check out my virtual nutrition counseling services.
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- Karpinski C, Rosenbloom CA. Sports Nutrition: A Handbook for Professionals, Sixth Edition. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2017.
- Clark N. Nancy' Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook, Fifth Edition. Human Kinetics. 2013.