Top Nutrition Tips for Runners
As runners, we put additional stresses on our bodies and as a result, require a unique set of nutritional needs. Therefore, it is important to pay extra attention to your nutrition in order to remain healthy and active. The following is the ultimate guide to proper running nutrition from Dr. Jordana Aziz, Naturopathic Physician at Impulse Sport Therapeutics.
How much water do I need?
Weight (lbs) / 16 = # cups daily
|Weight (lbs)||Daily Water Intake (cups/250mL)|
Your water requirements will be increased if you are physically active. You should also add 1 cup of water for each caffeinated and alcoholic beverage that you consume.
Tip: You can assess hydration by looking at the colour of your urine. It should be clear to pale yellow. If it is dark yellow, you are likely dehydrated (unless you are taking certain vitamins and medications)
Tip: Mark your water bottle and fuel belt bottles in 250mL increments in order to be able to accurately track fluid intake.
Is it possible to drink too much water?
Yes! There is a danger of drinking too much water, especially if you are exercising in intense heat as you can deplete your electrolytes (including sodium). Low sodium (hyponatremia) can cause muscle weakness, confusion, nausea, vomiting, and even death.
What should I be drinking?
- Main source of hydration should be pure, filtered water.
Coffee: maximum of 24 oz or 240mg of caffeine daily. Avoid adding cream and sugar. Try milk, unsweetened almond, rice, or coconut milk and stevia or honey (natural sweeteners).
- Avoid juice and soda due to their high sugar content.
- Alcohol: maximum of 1 drink daily for women and 2 drinks daily for men.
- Water: rehydrates the body
- Carbohydrates: replenish glycogen stores
- Electrolytes: speed up rehydration
Electrolyte Replacement Beverages
Most commercial brands contain artificial colours and/or sweeteners, which can have negative health effects. Look for products that are naturally sweetened with glucose, fructose, sucrose and don’t contain artificial colours. Be aware that stevia and artificial sweeteners don’t raise blood sugar and therefore should not be used as a source of glucose. When possible, also stick with more natural options. Coconut water a refreshing source of naturally occurring electrolytes.
- Saccharin (Sweet’N Low)
- Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal)
- Acesulfame potassium (Sunett)
- Sucralose (Splenda)
Homemade Electrolyte Drink
- 1 litre of water
- Juice of one citrus fruit (lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit)
- 3 Tbsp honey or agave nectar
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
General Nutrition Guidelines
- Runners have more nutrition demands and therefore runners NEED to eat more, especially during peak training. Otherwise, they can risk decreased training capacity and increased risk of injury.
- Eat REAL FOOD. Choose high-quality foods, which are nutrient-dense: fresh fruits and vegetables, non-refined whole grains, lean meats and poultry, beans, healthy fats. Sports bars, shakes, and drinks can be convenient, but they should not make up a large portion of your diet.
- Aim to eat a meal or snack every 3-4 hours to keep blood sugars stable.
- Diet should vary depending on type of training:
- Long slow runs: body uses more carbohydrate energy = increase your dietary carb intake
- Speed/hills/fartlek (intense runs): body uses more fat energy = increase your dietary fat intake
Nutrition & Food Groups
- Main source of energy for the body
- Contain sugar, starch (sugars linked together), and fiber
- Should make up 55-60% of your daily calories
- Sources of carbs: whole grains (oats, rye, quinoa), fruit, starchy vegetables
- Provides some energy and helps to repair tissues damaged during exercise
- Should make up 15-25% of your daily calories
- Protein requirements for amateur athletes: 1 gram protein/KG body weight/day
- Good sources of protein: eggs, poultry, fish, beans/legumes, low-fat dairy products
- Major storage form of energy in the body
- Should make up 20-25% of your daily calories
- Avoid fat-free processed foods which are almost always high in sugar or artificial sweeteners
- Sources of fat: olive oil, coconut oil, olives, nuts/seeds, nut butters, avocado
Timing of Meals
3-4 Hours Before Run/Race
- Have a smaller meal that contains about equal amounts of protein and carbs
- Whole grain bread with tuna, chicken, turkey breast, or hummus + water
1-2 Hours Before Run/Race
- Fruit and nuts/hardboiled egg/turkey breast; yogurt with nuts; or sports bar + 300-500mL water
- Limit fat intake before exercise because it’s slow to digest!
- Stick to water
- Less than 60 minutes: have only water
- More than 60 minutes: take in carbs every 20 minutes for a total of 60 grams of carbohydrate per hour of intense exercise
- Choose a sports drink that is 6-8% carbohydrates (glucose and fructose or sucrose) and have 3-6 ounces every 15-20 minutes.
- If your run is less than an hour, stick to water.
Here are more tips on fuelling for the long run!
- After short run (less than 60 minutes): within 15 minutes of run, eat a small snack of 4:1 ratio or carbs to protein.
- After long run (60+ minutes): within 15 minutes of run, eat a small snack of 4:1 ratio or carbs to protein. Then eat a meal within 2 hours.
Important Nutrients for Runners
- Important for bone health and muscle contraction
- Requirements: adults under 50 (1000mg); adults over 50 (1200mg)
- Sources of calcium: low fat dairy products or dairy alternatives, tofu, sesame seeds, collard greens, spinach, turnip greens
- Important for muscle relaxation, natural pain reliever
- Requirements: 380mg for females, 420mg for males
- Sources of magnesium: pumpkin seeds, spinach, Swiss chard, soybeans, sesame seeds, halibut, black beans, sunflower seeds, cashews, almonds
- Important for delivering oxygen to your cells
- Requirements: 8mg (men); 18mg (women)
- Poultry, red meat, soybeans, lentils, spinach, tofu, venison, sesame seeds, garbanzo beans, lima beans, olives
- Iron is best absorbed when taken with vitamin C and taken away from calcium, dairy products, tea and coffee which reduce absorption.
- Ideal iron stores (ferritin) should be at least 40-50 ng/mL
Antioxidant Vitamins and Minerals (A, C, E, S)
Help to prevent damage in the body from free radicals produced during exercise.
- Sources of vitamin A: Sweet potato, spinach, carrots, kale, collard greens, turnip greens, Swiss chard, winter squash, mustard greens, romaine lettuce
- Sources of vitamin C: Papaya, bell peppers, strawberries, broccoli, pineapple, brussels sprouts, kiwi, oranges, cantaloupe, kale
- Sources of vitamin E: Sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, Swiss chard, turnip greens, papaya, mustard greens, collard greens, asparagus, bell peppers
- Selenium: Brazil nuts, button mushrooms, cod, shrimp, tuna, halibut, salmon, and mustard seeds.
- Curcumin (Turmeric): A potent natural anti-inflammatory. Try adding 1 tsp to the water next time you cook grains (e.g. rice), sprinkle it onto veggies or add to homemade salad dressing.
- Tart Cherry Juice: Reduces muscle soreness, potent anti-oxidant.
Check out Impulse’s Functional Strength Training for Trail Runners.
Dr. Jordana Aziz is a Naturopathic Physician at Impulse Sport Therapeutics in West Vancouver, practicing Nutritional Counselling, Constitutional Acupuncture, Energetic Medicine, Emotional Release Counselling, Hormone Balancing and generally empowering you to get back into wellness. Dr. Aziz will often be found running the seawall in Kitsilano and Jericho.
To book an appointment, visit www.impulsesport.ca
To find a local run clinic, visit Kintec’s Run Clinic page.