Whether you’re a casual runner or you’re training for the marathon, you need to fuel your training and your races properly in order to both avoid injury and give it your best.
Depending on the type of running you are doing (long-distance vs. the 5k, sprints vs. slow-paced runs), you will need to adjust your diet and training accordingly. However, in the most general of terms, here is how to fuel for running:
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Fuel Before a Run
Most runners will recommend fueling your race or training with carbohydrates. If you run out of glycogen during a run, you will feel like you’ve hit a wall.
You don’t want to run on a full belly, though, so eat an hour or two beforehand, depending on how your digestive system works. A banana and some peanut butter can be a good quick-release option if you don’t want to eat a full meal.
You can also have eggs on toast, porridge with a banana, and some jam, toast, or cereal. All of these foods are high in carbs and will keep you going. White bread is better, as it will be easier to digest. You are aiming for slow-release carbohydrates that will keep you fueled for longer.
Make sure there is also some protein in the pre-run meal so that you’re not just running on carbs.
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Recover After a Run
After a run, you will need two things: to repair the muscle damage you’ve just caused and to refill your depleted glycogen stores. That means you’ll need some protein as well as some carbs.
You don’t need to overthink your protein intake. Use a protein calculator to figure out how much you need to be eating on a daily basis, and stick to that in the course of the day.
Believe it or not, the perfect post-run recovery fuel is chocolate milk. It has the perfect ratio of carbs and protein, and it will ensure that you get all the necessary amino acids. It will also rehydrate you and get your glycogen back on track.
You have a 30-minute window to eat after a run, so aim to consume something during that time, after you’ve caught your breath.
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Eat Real Food
The quality of the food you eat is arguably more important than the ratio of protein to carbs you consume. Anything that comes out of a bag and is full of ingredients you can’t even pronounce is probably not the best choice.
You want to be eating real food. Fruits, veggies, meats, dairy, and nuts should all be a part of your diet. Don’t go for the “low fat” and “lite” foods. Don’t be afraid of proper foods, as long as they are not highly processed and full of additives.
Ideally, you want to prep your meals in advance. Go to the market and buy whatever is in season in the fruit and veggie department. You need plenty of fiber, vitamins, and minerals to fuel your runs, and the best way to get them is to eat wholesome foods.
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Don’t forget that you also need to fuel your workouts with water. The more you sweat, the more you will need to replenish, so running long distances without water should be out of the question.
Make a habit of drinking water on a regular basis. Don’t drink sweet drinks and carbonated sugary drinks: they won’t satiate your thirst, and they will add too many calories to your diet.
Invest in one of those travel cups that will go with you everywhere and ensure you are drinking even when you’re not thirsty.
Plain water is the best choice. You can add a citrus to it, or go for the occasional sports drink if you need to rebalance your electrolytes. But stick to water 80% of the time, at least.
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Don’t Forget About Sleep
Finally, the ultimate fuel you should never forget about is sleep. No matter how well you eat and how well you train, if you don’t rest and recover well enough, you won’t be able to perform at your peak.
Depending on your sleeping habits, you can invest in an adjustable bed that will ensure you get all the rest you need. Don’t aim for the recommended eight hours if they don’t work for you. You may operate best with seven hours of sleep, or you may need nine.
The quality of your sleep is of paramount importance. Remove all electronics from the bedroom, and don’t look at any screens an hour before bedtime. Wake up to light instead of sound, and track your sleep patterns with a smartwatch.
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Fueling your training and races properly won’t just make your run better – it will make those runs easier on your body and more enjoyable. If you need a break from running, take it. It’s not about pushing yourself beyond all conceivable limits – it’s about staying healthy and achieving certain goals without sacrificing more than is reasonable.
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Author bio – Caitlin Evans is a bookworm and a writer particularly interested in science, health, and wellbeing-related topics. When she is not trying to find the meaning of life and the Universe, Caitlin is researching and writing. She is happily addicted to art in all its forms, grilled tofu, and caffeine.