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5 Common Questions Runners Have About Nutrition

Fill your plate with the finest foods to fuel your run. Here are 5 common nutrition questions and our answers!

Is it bad to drink coffee before a morning run?

Worried that your cup of joe will zap moisture pre-run? Don’t be. “It’s a myth that coffee and tea are dehydrating,” says sports dietician Lauren Antonucci, owner of Nutrition Energy in New York City. Because coffee is liquid, it still hydrates you regardless of a mild diuretic effect. Antonucci adds that, in fact, caffeine is a proven performance enhancer: “Athletes use it all the time. It’s not just a placebo.” If it doesn’t bother your tummy, go ahead and enjoy your brew to add a little pep to your early-morning workout.

Why do runners eat so many bananas?

The average American eats 27 bananas each year—but the average runner definitely has her beat. During the 2013 Marine Corps Marathon alone, participants noshed on nearly 50,000. The tropical fruit is a popular food for a reason: Bananas are readily available year-round, portable, easy to digest and packed with carbohydrates, fiber, vitamin B6 and potassium, which is good for your muscles to prevent cramping.

How do I eat gluten-free and still have enough energy for running?

Gluten-free (GF) girls may not be able to dig into the traditional pre-race pasta dinner—but there are plenty of other ways to load up on quality carbs. Prudence Levy Athearn, nutritionist at Vineyard Nutrition in Massachusetts, recommends her GF clients eat quinoa, rice, millet, beans, oats, fruits, potatoes and squash. The one caveat? You might need to nosh a little earlier than gluten eaters. She explains, “Most people find that eating the above foods about an hour before they might otherwise fuel with their bagel or cereal helps with energy during the run. The reason is that most naturally GF foods are slower-releasing carbohydrates.”

Is over-hydrating a real thing?

Yes! If you take in more H2O than you excrete, your normal sodium level becomes dangerously diluted. Hyponatremia (also called water intoxication) depletes essential minerals from the body, causing disorientation, illness and sometimes death. This condition is relatively rare but can occur in races when runners think they need to gulp down multiple cups of water at every mile mark. Stay safe by mixing in sports drinks and gels that have salt in them—and rely on your body to tell you when it’s thirsty rather than forcing the issue.

How do I know how many calories to eat?

To get an accurate number, it’s best to use a formula that takes into account your weight, height, age and activity level. But why do the math yourself when there’s an app for that? Calculators like MyFitnessPal track your diet and exercise to tell you exactly how much energy you need to support your training. If you want to slim down, most experts recommend losing roughly one pound per week. About 3,500 calories equals one pound of body weight, so that averages out to 500 calories less per day.