Runners need two specific things from their diet – firstly, to help fuel up for the run and second, foods to help in quick, efficient recovery.
There are also different objectives sought from meals at different times of the day.
For instance, for long-distance runners, a pre-run meal a couple of hours before a run should be able to power the run and maintain optimum levels of blood glucose to keep the runner from feeling tired and hungry.
This meal would have to be made largely of carbs, some protein, and little to no fat.
For short distances, having a pre-run meal isn’t as important.
For both long and short distance runners, a pre-run snack can be had such as an energy bar or a piece of fruit (bananas, for example). It’s also vital to hydrate properly before any run.
During a run, a short distance runner need not think of anything else, except staying hydrated. If you’re running for longer or the weather is extra humid, any drink with electrolytes may be enough. For very long runs (>90 minutes), it has been suggested to have 20 of carbohydrates after every 30-45 minutes, depending on your body (think sports drinks which have carbs and electrolytes).
Post run, the priority shifts to muscle recovery and restoring glycogen stores in the muscles to keep them ready (these glycogen reserves are the go-to energy source while you’re running). A good post-run meal should leave you feeling stronger and ready for your next run so it’s important to get in the right amount of protein as well as more carbs. Experts recommend a ratio of 3:1 for carbs and protein. There should also be a focus on foods which reduce the inflammatory state your body is going to be in post your run. A great example of a post run meal would be simple white toast with peanut butter and a portion of fresh berries.
Here are some examples of good foods to have pre, during and post your next run.
- Potatoes and sweet potatoes
During your run
- Sports drinks (with some carbs for longer runs)
- Coconut water (better suited for shorter runs) or Lemonade (with sugar)
- Peanut butter
- Broccoli and spinach
- Whole grain bread/pasta
- Dark chocolate
- Walnuts, Almonds and other nuts
- Seeds such as flax, chia and pumpkin
- Yoghurt for probiotics
Importantly, remember to stay hydrated during all three stages – pre, during and post-run.