Some very basic nutrition advice for runners.
General Nutrition Guidelines
First and foremost like everyone you need to start with eating a healthy balanced diet. Canada’s Food Guide has some good basic information for healthy everyday eating habits. Runners who don’t want to lose weight may need more calories but unless you are training regularly at a fairly high intensity the type of food you should be eating does not really change.
- If you are training up to 1 hour a day (on average) at 70% intensity: 50% of your calories should be coming from Carbohydrates (this is the recommendation for the general population)
- If you train an average of one hour a day at 70%: (Some of you may fall into this category) Men require 6-7 grams of carbohydrates per kg of body weight/day. Women require 6 grams per kg
- If you train two to three hours a day at 70%: Men require 8-10 grams per kg and women require 8 grams per kg
There has been a lot written lately about the need for additional protein, you may need slightly more protein but most North Americans get plenty of protein in their regular diets.
What should I eat and drink before I go for a run?
Don’t eat a heavy meal before you go for a run. The human body adapts to the situation. If you are running your body will use resources to make your arms and legs move, it will not use precious resources to digest food that it can deal with later. So that steak you had for dinner does not help you run 30 minutes later. It will just make your run more challenging.
A light snack 30 minutes before your run such as half a bagel, some fruit or yoghurt is perfect.
Staying well hydrated throughout the day will help to keep you hydrated on the run. Drinking a glass of water 30 minutes before you run works well.
What about drinking during my run?
For an easy run of less than 30 minutes you can probably get away without carrying water unless it’s a particularly hot day.
For longer or more strenuous runs water is a must. The basic problem with running with water is that water is heavy and hard to carry. There are several different options available on the market for solving this problem each has advantages and disadvantages so you need to find a system that works for you. Alternatively you can plan your run so that you pass the same point a few times and stash a water bottle under a tree. Unfortunately water fountains are few and far between in many cities. A solution for this may be to carry a small empty water bottle when you run. You can fill it anywhere you can find a tap which turns every fast food place, coffee shop and gas station in the city into a water stop.
For runs of more than an hour many studies have shown that drinking sports drinks has a significant positive effect on performance.
How much should I drink on the run?
This is currently a hot topic of conversation in the scientific and running community. When Marathons first became popular no one was drinking on the run. Then we were all told that we should drink, drink, and drink even if we were not thirsty. A new theory is gaining popularity and I think it has a lot of merit. Drink if and when you are thirsty.
Everyone is different so the best way to determine how much you need to drink is to test your own sweat rate:
- Weigh yourself naked before a run
- Measure the amount of water you drink on the run
- Weigh yourself naked after the run
- One pound of weight loss is 16oz of water loss
Keep in mind that your individual sweat rate will also be affected by the weather.
What about Sports drinks and gels?
Sports drinks are useful and even necessary once you start running longer distances but if you are training for your first 5 k you don’t need them. Sports drinks provide runners with water, energy in the form of carbohydrates (the first ingredient in Gatorade mix is sugar and the second is dextrose which is also a sugar) and electrolytes (Sodium and Potassium) and gels provide everything except the water (gels MUST be taken with water).
If you are running to loose weight keep in mind that one cup of Gatorade contains 65 calories. A very basic rule of thumb for running is that one mile (1.6 km) burns 100 calories (this is a VERY rough calculation) so if you drink a 750ml bottle of Gatorade before your run the first 3 km will be used to burn off the Gatorade!
If you are running marathon and half marathon distances you will need something more than water on race day and on your long runs. Long runs should be a practice for race day so you should be using what you will use on race day. Your first choice should be whatever is going to be provided on race day because you do not need to carry that with you. Most marathon race websites will tell you where the water stops are and what is being served at each one.
Most races in the US use Gatorade. Ottawa Race Weekend uses NUUN supplemented with NUUN plus. The ratio of carbohydrates to electrolytes in this mixture is significantly different than Gatorade: you get more electrolytes and less carbohydrates. NUUN is being used in more and more Canadian races and some of them are NOT adding NUUN plus which means there are NO carbohydrates. No carbohydrates=no calories and no source of energy replacement.
Other choices include sports chews, small candies, and dried fruit…if it has carbs and electrolytes and it works for you use it! If you plan to race with it TRAIN with it!
What about Post Run?
Start by drinking a big glass of water when you get home. A light post run snack is a good idea if you are up to it: something high in carbs with a little protein (I am partial to chocolate milk )
Once you have recovered eat a healthy balance meal.