I always tell my clients that nutrition is different for everyone, especially athletes. Sports nutrition is a whole field of study that takes into account the different nutritional needs of runners, as compared to the everyday person. That means that some nutrition rules, like these five, are exclusive to runners.
1. Eat Less Fiber (Before A Run)
Fiber is considered the “holy grail” of nutrition. It fills you up, contributes to a healthy heart and is present in most nutritious foods, like fruits, veggies, beans and whole grains. Plus, fiber aids in digestion and helps you stay regular. But that’s the part about fiber that makes it problematic for runners: too much pre-run fiber can cause a rumbling tummy or runner’s trots. However, it’s still important to have enough fiber in your diet, so we recommend that you eat foods that are high in fiber at least three or four hours before a run. (That should give you plenty of time to digest.)
2. Eat More Salt (Sometimes)
“Runners often have higher sodium needs when the weather is hot and humid, due to excessive sweat losses,” says Cara Harbstreet, MS RD LD of Street Smart Nutrition.
“Although I still don’t recommend turning to highly processed foods in order to add sodium to your diet, I do let my clients know that it’s okay to be a little more liberal when salting foods during the hot summer months,” she adds. When the temperatures soar, feel free to eat some extra pretzels or pickles, or add an extra dash or two of salt to your meal. If you don’t replace salt losses, it could lead to dehydration and impact your running performance–and no one wants that!
3. Drink Your Calories (During A Run)
The enemy of anyone trying to lose weight is sugar-sweetened beverages. The first thing I tell people is to reduce soda, sugary coffee drinks, sweetened ice teas…the list goes on. But the interesting thing about runners is that drinking your calories is not only acceptable: it’s encouraged. I always remind people that sports drinks were formulated for athletes to get fuel and fluid into their systems quickly. Since sports drinks provide a unique mixture of energy, electrolytes and fluid, they are the perfect fuel to keep you going during a long run.
Related: How To Fuel Long Runs With Real Food
4. Don’t Worry About Sugar (In Moderation)
Eating too much sugar is the culprit of many health conditions, like obesity. Because of that, “many runners are afraid of using things like gels, shot blocks and sports drinks because ‘they’re so high in sugar,’” says Chrissy Carroll, RD and USA Triathlon coach. “But that sugar is useful during long runs to provide quick, digestible energy for fueling that movement.” For most non-runners, it’s advisable to eat sugar with protein or fat to avoid blood sugar spikes. However, “runners often need instant energy before or during a long run, so eating refined sugar by itself can be beneficial,” says Sarah Schlichter, MPH, RDN. “Plus, many sports nutrition products are engineered with ideal blends of different types of sugars (i.e. a proper glucose to fructose ratio) to ensure optimal absorption,” adds Carroll.
5. Don’t Try Any New Foods (On Race Day)
As dietitians, we want people to try new food–especially new fruits and veggies! But for runners, experimenting with new food too close to race day can be problematic. “If you haven’t tried gels, chews, drinks, coffee, etcetera in your training, don’t try them for the first time on performance day,” says Tori Schmitt, MS, RDN, LD. In other words, you need to practice with new food throughout your training. “I counsel runners to experiment with pre-run meals, snacks and timing, since everyone is different,” says Linzy Ziegelbaum, MS, RD, CDN.