As a runner, you not only have to consider fueling for your health, but also for your movement and running goals. Proper fueling and hydration can help you feel stronger and healthier both physically and mentally. One of the most frequently asked questions is “what should I eat before, during, and after I run?” Here I break down the basics to make sure you stay properly fueled and hydrated through your training.
Carbohydrates are our preferred source of energy while exercising. When we consume enough carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits, starchy vegetables, legumes, and dairy products, we spare the breakdown of our proteins, maintain blood sugar, and promote gastrointestinal (GI) health through fiber. On easy days or rest days, carbohydrates should make up 1/3 of your plate. Aim to consume 40-65% of your Calories from nutrient dense carbohydrates.
Proteins are the building blocks for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. Protein rich sources include lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, yogurt, milk, beans, nuts, seeds, and nut butters. Not only are proteins used for muscle mass and tissue repair, they are necessary to create enzymes and some hormones (glucagon and insulin) and strengthen our immune system. Aim to consume 10-35% of your Calories from a variety of protein sources.
Fats are our preferred source of energy at rest and provide us energy after long, slow bouts of exercise. Some examples of fats to incorporate are olive oil, canola oil, fatty fish, nuts and nut butters, seeds, and avocados. Fats also offer our bodies insulation and protection, allow for normal cell and hormone function (testosterone, estrogen, and cortisol), and increase brain development and growth. Without enough fat, we are also unable to transport and absorb our fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K). Aim to consume 20-35% of your total Calories from healthful fats/day.
Water is a very essential nutrient. Dehydration as little as 2% can decrease performance. Divide your body weight in half and drink at least an ounce per pound of body weight and adjust based on the activity, temperature, and humidity. Signs and symptoms that you are dehydrated include: thirst, less frequent urination, dark urine, fatigue, lightheadedness, dizziness, and dry skin. Monitor your urine color throughout the day, it should be like the color of “lemonade not apple juice.”
Before exercise we want to make sure we are properly fueled 1-3 hours before. Choose foods that are carbohydrate rich with some protein, low in fiber, and low in fat. Fat and fiber take longer to digest so may increase GI upset. Pre-exercise fuel examples are a turkey sandwich, yogurt with fruit & granola, peanut butter and toast, eggs and toast, cereal or oatmeal with milk. About 60 minutes prior, sip ~2 cups of water and choose foods that are mostly carbohydrate and easy to digest. Examples are granola bars, bananas, dates, pretzels, animal crackers, dried cereal, gels, chews, or a sports drink. Practice the timing and pay attention to how the foods and beverages make you feel during your run – are you feeling constipated, do you have a water belly, are you having diarrhea?
During exercise our goal is to sustain energy and hydration levels. If you are exercising for over 90 minutes, aim to consume 30-60g of carbohydrates every hour after the first hour of exercise. Examples include gels, chews, sports drinks, pretzels, raisins, and dried cereal. Hydrate with 1-2 cups of fluid every 15-20 minutes.
After exercise our muscles are like sponges. We want to consume a balanced meal within one hour to kick start the repair of our muscles and replenish our energy stores. This meal can be similar to your pre-exercise meal, but can incorporate a little more fat. Some examples include: chicken stir fry with rice, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, fish with potatoes and veggies. If you have a finicky stomach within an hour after exercise, consider liquids such as chocolate milk or a protein and fruit smoothie. To calculate how much fluid you should drink after a workout, weigh yourself before and after exercise and for every pound lost, hydrate with 2-3 cups of fluid. When in doubt, continuously hydrate after a run and monitor your urine color to make sure you are rehydrating properly.
About Carolyn Stocker, MS, RD, LD, CSCS*D | IG: @castocker_rd
Carolyn Stocker is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with a Masters in Exercise Science from Springfield College. Carolyn has worked for the Marathon Sports Family since January, 2017. She has worked in the Northampton, Shrewsbury, and Wellesley stores and now is part of the E-commerce team. Currently, Carolyn teaches nutrition at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA and is the owner of Carolyn Stocker Performance, LLC where she works with athletes at all levels and consults as a dietitian and coach with the Chaski Endurance Collective.
Carolyn grew up in Western Massachusetts and started running when she was 5 years old. In high school, she was a Western Massachusetts Champion in XC and track and a State champion in track. At the University of Maine, Carolyn raced the 5k and 10k and is on the top 10 all-time list for those events for indoor and outdoor track. Outside of collegiate running, she holds the junior record at the Mt. Washington Road Race in Gorham, NH and is a member of the United States Snowshoe Team.
Carolyn is a lover of all things travel, mountains, coffee, craft beer, cows, and authentic food (Thai, Vietnamese, and Mexican are her top 3).
Get in touch with Carolyn!