Knowing what and when to eat before, during, and after training can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be! I have broken this idea down into specific categories to make it easier to explain the “why” behind nutrition. I have also included fueling options that are currently available at Skinny Raven if you need anything!
Carbohydrates are the primary fuel for activity. It is essential to plan to eat at least an hour before a run, even if it is something small. Every person has a window of time that they need to digest food before running, but eating one to two hours before seems to be a standard metric. Depending on the time of day that you are training, your fuel may look different. If you roll out of bed to run, you may not be able to sit and eat an entire meal. A protein bar or banana may be enough to get through the workout. If you train towards the end of the day, you may not eat much between lunch and leaving work. It may take a little bit of trial and error before figuring out what works best for you and your body. The goal is to make sure that you have enough energy to complete the workout.
Honey Stinger may be most famous for its waffle cookies. These are perfect fuel to prepare for a training session. It is the ideal amount of light carbohydrates sweetened with honey. They come in different flavors, including gluten-free options, and taste wonderful with coffee. CLIF bars have been around for a long time, and they are still a go-to before exercising for many. They have a great fat-to-carbohydrate ratio and come in too many flavors to count. Some of them are caffeinated for an extra boost, but they are still great without. Pro Bar sells a meal bar that is super awesome to have before those more prolonged efforts. While they are a little more calorically dense than the other options, they are made from all-natural ingredients and are easy to digest.
It may not be necessary to take in calories or fluids while training. However, if you are moving for a longer period of time, it is important to remember that your body will need fuel to continue moving at a consistent rate. Taking nutrition in the middle of a workout can be weird, but there are many kinds of easily-digestible products that make it much more comfortable. If you are training for more than an hour at a time, it may be a good idea to check out some products to keep those energy stores up!
GU packets are an excellent option for someone who may not want something to chew. They come in tons of flavors, including some that are caffeinated. GU’s ROCTANE energy line packs amino acids, carbohydrates, and caffeine into tiny, easy-to-eat packets. These are a convenient option for those who don’t want to slow down to eat something. HUMA gels are similar to GU’s in form, but their ingredients look a little different. HUMA uses chia seeds and fruit puree to produce a gel-like substance that is easy on the stomach while still providing the carbs you need. Some of the gels are also full of electrolytes like sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium to keep you feeling your best for as long as possible! CLIF not only makes gels but also a popular line of BLOKS. These gummies come in packets and are perfect for those who like the idea of actually eating something instead of a gel or liquid option. Similar to the CLIF BLOKS are Honey Stinger energy chews. These chews use honey as a natural sweetener and are full of Vitamin C.
One of the most important and proclaimed post-run rules is to make sure to eat something within 30 to 60 minutes of ending exercise. Ideally, this snack or drink will contain carbs and proteins. The carbs will help replenish what was used during training, and the protein will aid in muscle recovery and resupplying the essential amino acids. While there are athletes who do not feel hungry immediately after a workout, it is important to eat something anyways. There are so many different drinks that can also restock the nutrients that were lost if eating a snack does not sound appealing.
Protein bars may not be everyone’s recovery food of choice, but Pro Bar makes the best bar I’ve ever had. These bars are gluten-free, boast 20g of plant protein, and come in a variety of flavors. This is a great option for optimizing the post-workout recovery window! Tailwind Nutrition also makes a great recovery drink for those who find a liquid easier to consume post-exercise. Even though there is only 10g of protein in this mix, it is full of carbohydrates to restore energy and electrolytes to keep you in balance.
Most people have a hard time knowing if they are hydrated enough before or after working out. In a recent Runner’s World article, researchers concluded that you should try to drink one liter of water for every 1,000 calories you burn. This is a simple guideline. If you tend to sweat more or if it is the peak of the summer, you may need to be drinking more. For runs less than an hour, replenishing fluids with just water is sufficient. If you are training more than an hour, it is a good idea to not only drink water but some form of electrolytes as well. Often, it is easy to drink a lot of water post-exercise or if you know you have a big workout or race coming up. While drinking water is usually never a bad thing, it can flush out other minerals that your body needs like sodium and other electrolytes. If you are unsure if you should take electrolytes at the end of a run, it is best to take them to err on the side of caution.
Nuun tablets are a great way to hydrate before or after a run while still getting the electrolytes you need. They come in a variety of flavors, and some are also caffeinated. Whether you want something for pre-workout or to boost immunity, Nuun has something for you! Saltstick makes salt tabs that can be a valuable addition to your hydration plan. These tabs contain sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. If you know you need a little more electrolytes, these are an effective way to make sure you get what you need.
Dietary Supplements: do I need them?
For the most part, people can get the vitamins and minerals they need through the food they consume. However, there are a few that are recommended for athletes beyond many of the common supplements.
Iron is one of the most essential vitamins a runner can take. Iron is responsible for the transportation of oxygen in the blood, which then circulates through the muscular system. If you do not have enough iron, you may notice symptoms of fatigue, which could be an indicator of anemia. Luckily, iron can be found in red meats and greens like spinach. Consulting a doctor about iron is strongly recommended for anyone who is training regularly.
In Alaska, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we lack more sunlight than most places, especially in the winter. Sunlight is crucial for the adsorption of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is vital for helping reduce inflammation, which can, in turn, support injury prevention. It is essential to maintain a stable Vitamin D level throughout the year, even through the darkest months of the winter. This will allow you to maintain fitness and keep energy levels consistent going into the spring. Vitamin D can be found in salmon but is commonly taken as a pill.
I had a coach in college tell me once that magnesium was one of, if not, the most important vitamin for an athlete to take. Magnesium’s leading role is to regulate muscle function throughout the body. Magnesium supports the heart in maintaining a healthy rhythm while also regulating blood pressure and steadying metabolism. Magnesium can be found in pumpkin seeds, Swiss chard, and beans. Magnesium powder dissolved into drinks has become popular as well.