It is all very well having the perfect training plan, but what you eat before, during, and after you run can make or break your training. Eat too little and you’ll run out of energy to finish. Too much and you’ll find yourself running to the bathroom. Mid-run fuel—from sports drinks, gels, gummy bears, etc.—helps you sustain energy to finish the effort.
Before You Run
To sustain energy, you need to eat something before any run lasting more than 60 minutes. Ideally, you should have a high-carb, low-fibre meal three to four hours before you plan to run. That time frame gives your body a chance to fully digest and reduces risk of mid-run stomach issues. However, if you’re running in the morning, it’s not always possible to leave that much time between your meal and your run. If you have at least an hour before your workout, eat about 50 grams of carbs. If you're planning a really long run, consider adding in a little protein, which will help sustain your energy levels. A tuna sandwich or a hard-boiled egg is a good choice.
During Your Run
Taking in fuel of mostly carbohydrates will help keep your blood sugar even and your energy levels high. You should consume about 30 to 60 grams of carbs per hour of exercise (it’s best to spread that out over time intervals that work for you, such as every 20 minutes). You can get the right amount of carbs from sports one to two energy gels, or energy chews. Real foods, like a quarter cup of raisins or two tablespoons of honey, also provide the right amount of easily digested carbs that will energise your run. Everyone’s tolerance for fuel is different, however, so the key is to find out what works for you during your training so you know what to take in on race day.
After Your Run
Eating a mix of carbs and protein within 30 to 60 minutes post-run is crucial because it helps speed your body’s recovery. Carbs help restock spent glycogen (or energy) stores, while protein helps repair damage to muscle tissue. If you ran easy for less than 60 minutes, plan to have a small snack or whatever your next meal is, such as eating a breakfast of porridge with raisins, nuts, and a splash of milk after a morning run. If you ran hard or for longer than 60 minutes, you need something more substantial. Good post-run recovery meals include an omelette with veg and feta cheese, plus two slices whole-wheat toast and a fruit smoothie. For lunch, a turkey sandwich topped with extra veg on a whole-grain roll along with a bowl of lentil soup will fit the bill. Or for dinner, try grilled salmon steak along with a sweet potato, sautéed spinach, and fresh berries for dessert.
What to Drink
You need to drink enough before, during, and after your run to perform your best. Did you know that just two percent dehydration can slow you down? It’s especially important to stay on top of hydration during warmer days when you sweat more. Before you run, you should have six to eight ounces of water, sports drink, or even coffee. While you are running, you should aim to take in three to six ounces every 15 to 20 minutes. Water is usually fine for runs in the 30- to 60-minute range. After runs longer than that, and you should consider a sports drink with carbs and electrolytes to replenish sodium.