The Runner's Guide to Nutrition

Posted by Anna Lavender on 01/09/2017

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Running is one of the most popular forms of exercise, and for good reason! Running doesn't require lots of special gear, coordination, and can be done almost anywhere. However, avid runners know that good nutrition and running go hand in hand. Making sure you are fueling your body correctly is essential to get the most out of your runs, prevent injury, and aid in recovery. Whether you are new to running or have been racking up miles for years, here is a quick reference guide to the ins and outs of running nutrition.

Pre-Run: Exercise requires energy and water. Having a small snack 30-60 minutes before your run ensures that you have the energy you need to complete your miles and really push your muscles. Aim for a snack with a mix of carbohydrates (15-20 grams) and protein (7-10 grams) such has an apple and cheese stick or graham crackers and peanut butter [1]. Also, make sure you are drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Nothing makes the miles seem longer than being dehydrated.

During Run: 
Snacks: You may think that only marathon runners need to worry about nutrition during runs, but that simply isn't the case. Any time a run exceeds 60 minutes you need to start thinking about snacking during your run. After approximately 30 minutes your body will be running low on energy stores and electrolytes which can lead to fatigue, reduced performance, and increased risk of injury. Mid run snacks are all about easy to digest carbohydrates. While some people prefer to use special prepackaged supplements, it's easy to get the energy you need from simple foods like dried fruit, pretzels or other light crackers, or bananas. You can have one big snack per hour, or snack all along the way. Whatever snack you choose it's best to aim for 30-60 grams of carbohydrate for every hour you run. 
Hydration: It is essential that you maintain proper hydration during runs, even during the winter. Sipping on water, sports drinks, or coconut water throughout your run helps keep you hydrated and electrolytes in balance better than just chugging water before and after your run. Aim for three to six ounces of water every 15-20 minutes while running. Running water belts, water backpacks, or even hiding water bottles along your route are great ways to make sure you have what you need to stay hydrated [2]. Be sure to follow any snacks and/or energy supplements with plenty of water as well. 

Post Run: Providing your body with the nutrition it needs to replenish and rebuild your muscles is critical to recovery and improving future runs. Post run snacks should be a mix of carbohydrates and protein to rebuild muscle and energy stores within the muscle. Aim for 12-15 grams of protein and 35-50 grams of carbohydrates [1]. Low-fat chocolate milk makes a great post-run snack with a great balance of carbs, protein, and electrolytes. Other great post run snacks can include fruit and yogurt, pb&j sandwich, or a hummus wrap. Try to eat within 15-45 minutes of completing your run.

Running for Weight Loss: Running is an excellent way to improve cardiovascular health, reduce stress, reduce the risk of osteoporosis, and reduce the risk of Type II Diabetes [3]. Running can also be an excellent addition to a weight loss program if you keep these key things in mind:

~Running makes you hungry: Running is a high intensity sport that burns a high number of calories compared to other exercises. Also, as we've mentioned in this article, you need to fuel correctly to make the most of your runs. In order to reach your weight loss goals you have to pay attention to total daily calories. Be sure to include all your pre/post/ and mid run snacks in your daily meal plan. In addition, make sure that you aren't eating too few calories. If you are decreasing daily calories in addition to running you may be eating too little and setting yourself up for failure.
~You may actually gain a little weight at first: When you first start running you may experience a slight weight gain. Running, like all exercise, breaks down muscles in order to rebuild them stronger. However, this initial breaking down process can cause the muscle to retain fluids and thus increase the scale slightly. As you continue to run this process begins to even out. In addition, the large muscles in your legs involved in running burn more calories sitting still than fat does. So the more you build these muscles, the more calories you will be burning on a daily basis, increasing your ability to lose weight. 
~Muscle weighs more than fat: As you build more muscle your weight may go up or stay the same even as you lose inches and improve your body shape. Muscle weighs less than fat but takes up much less space. Therefore, make sure that you have multiple measurements to track your progress and don't focus solely on the scale.

Working with a Registered Dietitian is a great way to ensure you are able to maximize your weight loss efforts while still meeting all of your nutritional needs. 
Running is awesome for the mind and the body; but the next time you lace-up make sure you are maximize your results by pairing your runs with awesome nutrition! 

References: 
3. Warburton DE, Nicol CW, Bredin SS. Health benefits of physical activity: The evidence. CMAJ. March 14, 2006; Vol 174: 6.  
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