Side stitch. Stomachache. Diarrhea. Failed PR attempt. When runners have a poor diet, the effects come fast and furious. Running nutrition doesn’t end when you kick off your sweaty shoes; you’ll benefit most from specific types of food before, during, and after your runs.
But don’t take our word for it — here are some nuggets of wisdom about running-friendly foods from Seattle dietician, former University of Washington steeple chaser, and Oiselle runner Laura Hunter.
Prior to a run, Hunter says to aim for a meal high in carbohydrates and low in fiber with some protein, such as a breakfast burrito and a side of fruit. If you aren’t keen on eating that much before a run, at least take in a snack with some protein, like a banana with peanut butter or half of a turkey sandwich or peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Some people try to get away with skipping breakfast or simply eating a banana, but if you’re going more than a couple miles at an easy pace, you’ll get fatigued without the added protein and carbohydrates. Set yourself up for success and never skip breakfast on a run day – or any day, really.
If you’re running more than an hour, it’s vital to include a source of nutrition during your run. Hunter recommends foods or drinks high in carbohydrates and low in fat in order to maximize your body’s uptake of carbohydrates. Some of Hunter’s go-to running snacks include fruit and graham crackers, and gels and sports drinks.
“This depends on intensity,” Hunter said, “Hiking, you could easily have a sandwich, [but on a] tempo run, most people can tolerate drinks only.”
The key is to replenish your body within half an hour of completing a run, because your cells are most ready to absorb protein and carbohydrates during that small window. For many people, food is unappealing following an intense workout, but the good news is that you don’t need to eat an entire meal. One of the most recommended nutritional sources for recovery is a simple glass of chocolate milk. Hunter explains that the ideal recovery ratio is 3–4 grams of carbohydrates to 1 gram of protein.
“I’m also big fan of drinkable yogurt [such as Keifer] mixed with juice if chocolate milk isn’t available,” Hunter said. Plus, “Since so many people are lactose intolerant, the keifer is a great alternative, as most people can handle yogurt.”
Hunter named some of her other favorites: pasta or quinoa with sauce, yogurt, cereal, or a quesadilla. Have your food already prepared before you run, or at least have the ingredients primed and ready to go so you can ensure you’ll be eating soon enough after your run.
Hunter added, “I’m a huge fan of whole foods rather than sports products whenever possible, because they carry more nutrients and antioxidants than synthetic products. Luckily, there are some great companies out there making sports nutrition products with real food like, Picky Bars, Zing Bars and Clif products.”
By using real food, runners also have more of an opportunity to mix and match, creating a broader flavor profile and fending off boredom with their meals. There are a lot of roads and trails to conquer out there, but remember that an important part of the battle is fought by the foods you put in your body–give it the attention and nutrition it deserves.