4 nutrition tips for runners

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As the weather warms, you’re likely anxious to ditch the treadmill and head outside for your workouts. If you are like me, exercising outdoors is a much better experience and a great chance to bump up your workouts while getting some fresh air and vitamin D (sun!).  

A great way to motivate your spring training is to sign up for an outdoor race like a 5K, half marathon or full marathon. A summer or fall race means you should start your training now!

What you eat plays a huge role in your training plan. If you are fueling properly, you will feel energized during your runs and gradually get stronger and faster. However, failing to do so can have an equally negative impact on your training. Here are a few great nutrition tips to help you gain the most benefits from your spring training plan.   

  1. Carbohydrates are key  
    If you are training for an endurance event (at least 10 miles), you do not want to be following a carbohydrate-controlled diet. Very few people can perform well on a low-carb diet during an endurance event. One thing to remember about carbs is that they are our body’s main fuel source. There is a reason that endurance athletes consume high-carb meals, like pasta, leading up to an endurance event and that is to maximize their glycogen (or carbohydrate) reserves. One of the first things that will make you “hit a wall” during a long run is depleted glycogen. The key is to eat carbs throughout the day so that your glycogen levels are high. As your mileage increases, you may want increase your carbohydrate intake.

  2. Drink up!
    The other factor that will lead to hitting a wall quickly is dehydration. If you have as little as a 2-percent decrease in body weight from water loss during exercise then you can experience a decrease in performance. You can easily estimate how much fluid you lose during a run. Simply weigh yourself before and after a long training run. Make sure to add in any fluids consumed during the run to that number. 

    Make sure to consume fluids throughout the entire day of the event. If you are running for 45 minutes or more, drink fluids during your run. Be sure to drink 16 to 32 ounces of fluids per pound loss during your run to adequately rehydrate. I also recommend a drink with some added electrolytes, like a sports drink, to replace those lost through sweat.

  3. Consider some fuel during your long run
    Another great way to preserve your glycogen levels is to consume an easily digested carbohydrate like a sports drink, sports gel or sports beans during your run. Sport gel are carbohydrates that can be quickly absorbed into the blood supply and provide you with a burst of calories and nutrients. 

  4. Don’t forget your recovery meal
    After a long run, make sure to have a good recovery meal. Within an hour of your run, aim to eat a meal containing a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein. Protein repairs and rebuilds muscle after your intense workout. And don’t forget those fluids and electrolytes. Chocolate milk is a great post-run drink, as it contains a high-quality protein, some extra carbohydrates to replace your glycogen and fluid to replace fluid loss and electrolytes. If you are going the chocolate milk route, aim for at least 16 ounces. If you are not a chocolate milk fan or do not tolerate dairy, a well-rounded meal with adequate fluids will do the trick as well.

Kacie Vavrek, MS, RD, CSSD, is an outpatient dietitian for Ohio State Jameson Crane Sports Medicine Institute, Nutrition Services Clinic. She is board certified in nutrition, exercise science and sports dietetics.


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