Running fuel: Tips on how to run and recover
Do you know your best running fuel? Trying to get an idea of the correct kinds of food to eat before and after a run or workout can be a minefield.
Speaking personally, this is an area I have been known to fall down on. It’s also one I hardly ever plan for, as I’m usually more concerned with just getting going, than mulling over what I should be eating afterwards in order to maximise the benefits.
With this in mind, SFJ asked fitness trainer and author Julia Buckley for her tips on running fuel – pre and post-run.
As you do more running you will need to eat more to maintain your weight. But think about the quality as well as the quantity of food you eat. Don’t just add in extra sugary snacks or fast food. Natural, unprocessed foods are best for your running performance and best for your health.
Don’t be afraid to experiment
Different people do best on different foods so it’s best to experiment a bit. Find out what kinds of foods are going to help your running performance and recovery the most.
… but not too heavy
Generally, before running you should eat something easy to digest that won’t be heavy on your stomach. You might want to avoid eating high-fat and high-protein foods right before your run.
An empty stomach for shorter runs
If you find that all foods cause digestive discomfort if eaten before running, it’s totally fine to do short runs of less than about an hour on an empty stomach so long as you’re eating well the rest of the time.
Don’t overdo the supplements
A lot of runners overuse energy supplements (drinks, gels, bars, etc) thinking they need them to be able to run. If your diet is generally good you should be able to run for up to an hour without needing extra fuel during your run.
Be wary of sugar
I don’t recommend sugary foods or sports drinks before running. This can cause a blood sugar spike and leave you feeling like you have less energy later. They can help fuel your runs, but have them once you’ve been running for a while – your body will process them better at that time.
Plan and prepare your running fuel
Running stimulates the appetite and for most people the more you run the hungrier you feel. Some people get ravenous right after (or even during) a long run, other people get the munchies hours later. Notice what happens for you and plan ahead so you have healthy foods at hand when hunger strikes.
If you’re training for a race, plan what you eat the night before the race and on the morning of the race – as well as what you’ll consume during the race. Experiment with different foods in the weeks leading up to the race to find what works best for you. Don’t try anything new on race day.
Take your time
Some people seem to have cast iron stomachs and can eat whatever they like before running, without any ill effects. But most people need at least an hour to digest their food before being able to run comfortably.
After you run you’ll need some carbohydrates to replace the lost energy and protein to help the muscles recover and get stronger for your next run. Fruits and vegetables are a great natural sources of carbohydrate and meat, fish and eggs are the best sources of protein.
… and remember
It’s far from uncommon for people to gain weight after starting running because they feel like the exercise means they’ve earned some extra junk-food treats. It’s very easy to over-estimate the amount of energy you expend through running and under-estimate the calories in food. So be aware that running doesn’t buy you a free pass to eat everything in sight!
Julia’s book, The Fat Burn Revolution, can be purchased at her website.