Proper Fueling & Hydration Strategy for Long Runs
Training for distance running involves so many components in order to achieve results. To make it through the grueling months of endless miles, runners must incorporate strength training to help prevent injuries, rest days to prepare the body for more hard work, and lots of mental exercises as well to be able to stay focused and positive the entire time. One component that gets overlooked at times and is not well understood for most runners is nutrition. The daily diet is important, as runners must incorporate quality foods for the most part to keep their energy levels high and organs as healthy as possible. The part that is poorly understood, though, is the fueling and hydration required before, during, and after runs.
Counting calories and grams of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats may be time-consuming for most people, but it may be helpful in the initial weeks of changing your diet. Once you get an understanding of the number of nutrients you are consuming with regular meals, you will get the hang of staying within your daily recommendations. Runners especially should keep track of their carbohydrate intake when training. All of the macronutrients play a role in muscle response during training, and most importantly in recovery.
This macronutrient is the most important one for distance runners, as it is the one that supplies muscles with fuel. They are broken down to release the energy we need in order to perform. When running for longer than an hour and a half, having limited carbohydrates in the body can greatly impact pace and endurance. For half and full marathons, runners must pay attention to their carb intake before, during, and after long runs and races.
4 hours prior to start: 2-3 grams per kg of bodyweight
1 hour prior to start: 1 gram per kg of bodyweight
A 150 lb. person, for example, will need around 170 grams of carbohydrates several hours before the race. A sample of this would be a bowl of oatmeal, bagel, banana, and juice. One hour before race time, a sports bar such as Clif, along with a sports drink with electrolytes would meet the requirements. This may sound like a load of food, so it especially important to slowly increase carb intake before runs to make sure your body responds well to it. If you normally just have a bar before long runs and then eat all of this food on race morning, you may find yourself with an upset stomach during the race, which will have a negative impact on your performance that day.
Carbohydrate ingestion during runs will vary depending on the length of the run. It is ideal to refuel with carbs before fatigue strikes, which is a mistake made by some athletes. Many times, once your body begins to feel fatigued, it may be too late to get energy levels high again. The ideal method for fueling would be to begin within 30 to 60 minutes of the race and then continue every 20 to 25 minutes. An easy way to plan and practice this method is to fuel at every 5k of the race. Sports gels and chews are a great way to get in the right amount of carbs. Aim for 100 to 250 grams per hour, depending on your size. This method should keep energy levels at a peak throughout the entire race.
You have probably read articles about the importance of keeping hydrated during outdoor activities. Dehydration can greatly affect performance as well as damage the kidneys, so paying attention to hydration before and during long runs and races should be a priority. A good rule of thumb is to aim for 16 ounces every hour. Take a couple of sips at every aid station or get in your hydration while you fuel at every 5k point of the race. Some runners will go by level of thirst, but if you begin to feel any symptoms of dehydration such as weakness, lightheadedness, or a headache, it may be too late. It is also important to not consume too many fluids as this can cause a condition called hyponatremia, which is when sodium levels drop dramatically from drinking too much water.
Proper fueling and hydration are often ignored when training for races but actually impacts performance greatly. Research shows that improperly fueling during runs can impact performance by up to 40%. In order for our muscles to push through the miles, they require enough glycogen from the foods we eat. The carb-loading leading up to race day is important, but pre-race and mid-race fuel are just as important. Runners must focus on fast-acting carbohydrate sources with a low amount of fiber to make sure everything they consume is easily digested and limits gastrointestinal issues. All nutrition and hydration strategies you plan on using on race day should be practiced throughout training to find what method works best for your body.