The Top Ten Nutrition & Hydration Guidelines for Runners

By Sarah Koszyk, MA, RDN, December 22, 2017

As a runner, you ask a lot of your body. What you eat and drink impacts your energy, performance levels, and recovery.

When you eat consistent meals full of fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals, you will have the energy you need to stay active, recover quickly, and perform at a high level.

Here are my key tips to maintain a daily, well-balanced diet for health, wellness, strength, and stamina.

Start the day off right.

Breakfast is often characterized as the most important meal of the day. For this most important meal of the day, aim for a high-fiber, protein-packed breakfast.

  • Example: Greek yogurt with berries, granola, and chia seeds
  • Example: Egg scramble with sweet potatoes and fruit on the side

Eat fruits and/or vegetables at each meal.

Fruits and vegetables provide an abundance of vitamins and minerals, which you need as a runner. Additionally, they contain lots of fiber, which helps maintain a healthy gut. Lastly, many fruits and vegetables have high water content and thusly, can help you hydrate.

  • Pro-tip-Ideally, half your plate should be full of fruits and/or vegetables. Aim for a variety of multi-colored fruits and/or vegetables.

Focus on whole grains for additional fiber.

Fruits and vegetables provide fiber. But, whole grains provide additional fiber. Why is Fiber important? Fiber fills us up and keeps us feeling full longer. Fiber also helps regulate bowel movements and blood sugars. 

  • Examples: quinoa, barley, brown rice, oatmeal

Consume at least one serving of lean protein sources at each meal.

Getting in quality protein regularly is important, especially for runners. FYI, a serving size is about the size of your palm.

  • Examples: turkey, fish, quinoa, eggs, chicken.

Eat every three to four hours to control hunger levels.

Eating every three to four hours can help control hunger levels and prevent crashes from low energy.

  • Pro-tip-Have some healthy combination food snacks (apples, hard boiled eggs, carrots, almonds, etc) readily available at your desk when you’re working. An ideal snack should have at least 2 food groups in it.

Always have an afternoon snack (ideally with protein).

Afternoon snacks help prevent sugar cravings and caffeine-cravings, can better control hunger levels, can reduce portion sizes at dinner, and can reduce the risk of making poor food choices at dinner. 

  • Examples: An apple with almond butter, a hardboiled egg with some almonds, a cup of yogurt and a banana

Be consistent with your eating habits.

Being consistent with your training is a big part of what gets you to the starting (and finish) line. Being consistent with your eating habits pays dividends as well. Consistency will result in better-controlled hunger levels, reduced sugar & caffeine cravings, and bolster your immune system.

  • Pro-tip-Set an alarm in your calendar to remind yourself when to eat breakfast, when to eat your afternoon snack, etc.

Your meals should contain the same number of calories.

Make your meals as even as possible. This means your breakfast, lunch, and dinner should contain roughly the same amount of calories. In particular, avoid making dinner the biggest meal of the day. 

  • Pro-tip-Aim to make your dinner the same size as breakfast and lunch.

Drink about 8-10 glasses of water per day (64-80 ounces).

In order to perform optimally as a runner, you need to be well hydrated. One of the easiest ways to stay hydrated is to consume 8-10 glasses (64-80 ounces) of water daily.

  • Pro-tip-Have a water bottle readily available at your desk, bed, etc. BTW, if your urine is clear and copious, you are well hydrated. If it’s a dark yellow/amber color, you are dehydrated.

Timing is Everything.

It's not just about 'what' you eat, but 'when' you eat. Timing tips for Fueling:

  • Pro-Tip-Before a run: Ideally give yourself at least 30 minutes to digest your food. The amount of food depends on your weight and length of the run. The longer you run, the more you will need to pre-fuel.
  • Pro-Tip-During a run of 90 minutes or more: Aim to consume something every 45-60 minutes. The amount depends on your weight. The choices of food, gels, gu’s, gummies, bars, carbohydrate/electrolyte drinks, etc, depends on your personal preference and what works for your gut.
  • Pro-Tip-After a run: Aim to consume both carbohydrates and protein within 15-30 minutes. The amount of carbohydrates depends on your weight (0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight). Ideally, you ingest about 20-25 grams of protein. Also make sure to rehydrate.

When working out, increase your fluid intake to accommodate sweat losses.

Drink to thirst and/or every 15-20 minutes. Aim for a combination of water and electrolytes while running. When you sweat, you’re not just losing fluids. You’re losing key electrolytes (sodium, chloride, magnesium, potassium, calcium).

  • Pro-tip-You can make your own sports drink by following this recipe- Mix 1 quart of liquid (options: green tea, herbal teas, coconut water, plain water, etc.), 1/8-1/4 tsp high quality salt (or more if needed), 1 tsp calcium magnesium powder, and 1/4 cup or more of juice (optional- use grape, apple, lemon, lime, pineapple, etc).

Sarah Koszyk, MA, RDN, is a Bay Area-based Registered Dietitian specializing in sports nutrition and weight management. Sarah has helped hundreds of endurance athletes properly fuel for their events from ultrarunning, ironman, triathlons, and more. She is the nutrition columnist for UltraRunning Magazine, Swimmer Magazine, and other publications including author of 365 Snacks for Every Day of the Year. Connect with her at SarahKoszyk.com.

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