After having a lot of fun researching exercise nutrition for the previous two posts in this series, those on pre-workout nutrition and recovery drinks, I figured the “during the run” post would be a breeze. After all, everyone drinks (or eats) something during his or her run; only those who take fitness more seriously bother to think about the before and after.
To my surprise, this was the hardest of the bunch. But that turns out to be good news: The guidelines for during-the-run fuel are few and simple, allowing you to tweak whatever works for your specific body to meet the requirements.
Please note that this list is the result of my own research, fusing bits of information from books like Chris Carmichael’s Food for Fitness, Thrive, Core Performance Endurance, and The Paleo Diet for Athletes. With endurance running comes the risk of dehydration, bonking, and hyponatremia, which are not things to f around with. So don’t blindly follow my advice without doing some research of your own.
Without further delay, I present to you…
How to Eat and Drink During a Run
1. Get off the commercial drinks and gels. Or at least, check them out to make sure they don’t contain artificial colors and sweeteners. While some sports drinks are truly designed for athletes, many of the more popular ones must also cater to the masses of non-athletes who buy them as soda alternatives. Much better to make your own natural sports drink and raw energy gel, both courtesy of pro vegan triathlete Brendan Brazier, in his book Thrive.
2. Consume mostly liquid or easily-digesting food like gel. Solid food takes more energy and blood to digest than liquid, leaving you with less for hauling ass. And it’s more likely to cause intestinal distress, which can ruin a race. Except for the longest events, skip the solids.
3. For all workouts, take in 4 to 6 ounces of water every 10 to 20 minutes. Your goal is to replace most of what you lose in weight, so if you want to get precise, you can figure out what you lose during a standard workout and drink the exact amount you need to replace it. Or just chill out and just follow a rule of thumb like this one.
4. Get 500 milligrams of sodium with every 16 ounces you drink. When you sweat, you lose electrolytes, and that puts you at risk for hyponatremia if you hydrate without replacing them. For those of you making your own drinks and gels, 500 milligrams is a little less than the amount in a quarter teaspoon of salt.
5. For workouts and races lasting over an hour (and up to 4 or 5 hours), you need 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour. 30-60 grams is a commonly-cited figure, but it’s a big range. More useful might be to divide your body weight in pounds by 4 to get a minimum hourly carbohydrate requirement, in grams. Accomplish this with a sports drink or a combination of energy gel and water. Some claim a little bit of protein, in a 4:1 carb-to-protein ratio, helps minimize muscle damage.
6. For anything lasting much more than 5 hours, the nutrition focus shifts to fat, with a smaller amount of carbohydrate. For details, go find an ultrarunner who has run more than a single 50K!
Coincidentally (ok, not really all that coincidentally), Megan and I just published a joint post about this very topic on our True/Slant blog Running Shorts. That post is about our own habits; doing this research has made me realize that I need to change mine! (Especially with regard to shorter workouts.)
For more posts and recipes on natural sports nutrition, check out my Running Fuel page.