The 411 On Hydration And Nutrition For Runners
By Caitlin Burman
Owner, SPARK Running
If youre like most runners, you want as much information on the sport as possible. Questions that often plague runners are What should I eat?, How often should I eat when Im running?, or What about hydration? The simple answer is to listen to your body. But, if you dont know what your body is trying to tell you, it can be difficult to determine your nutrition needs.
As a general rule of thumb, if you are going to be running longer than about 40 minutes, you probably need some sort of nutrition. This is because when you go for short runs, the majority of your energy comes from stored muscle glycogen. As we start running longer (and longer means different things for different athletes), your glycogen stores get depleted. The easiest way to replace these glycogen stores is through consumption of simple carbohydrates.
The easiest way for runners to do this is with energy bars or energy gels. The gels digest quickly, giving you the rapid energy boost you need to keep from what many runners describe as hitting the wall. This wall or bonk occurs when an athlete is not properly fueled, and generally causes the athlete to feel weak, fatigued, heavy legged and/or dizzy. The way to avoid this is by making sure you are eating often enough.
A general rule of thumb is to eat some real food about an hour and a half before your run, and then consume about 100 calories every 40 to 45 minutes throughout your workout. This will of course vary with athletes of different levels and different sizes. While carbohydrates are the most important source of energy for endurance athletes, protein is important too. Research has shown that a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio is most effective for training.
The other important factor pertaining to nutrition is hydration. If not properly hydrated, extremities can swell, and you may experience muscle cramping or become dizzy. It is important to stay on top of this. If you wait until you are actually thirsty, youve waited too long.
The next question runners usually ask is How much should I drink? A general rule of thumb is to take in four to six ounces of fluid every 20 minutes during your runs. The other part athletes need to be cognizant of is electrolyte replacement. As we sweat, we lose sodium and other electrolytes. A sport drink helps replace these, as well as hydrates, and helps with calorie consumption. There are of course different qualities of sports drinks on the market. Try and avoid one that contains lots of unnecessary added sugars, and stick with one that is formulated more specifically for endurance athletes, such as Heed or Accelerade.
There are no hard and fast rules for runners nutrition and hydration. The important things to remember are to make sure you are eating and drinking something, and make sure you experiment with your nutrition before race day. No one wants gastric distress on race day.