What to eat and drink before and after a run, according to an Olympian who now coaches runners

Shutterstock/Dean Drobot
  • Being properly hydrated and fed is essential if you want to run regularly and get the maximum health benefits from running, according to coach Roberto Mandje, who competed in the 2004 Olympics.
  • To hydrate properly, you may need to drink more throughout the day, and added electrolytes may help in some circumstances.
  • The right meals before and after runs are essential. You’ll want to eat some carbs, though you don’t need to overdo it and carb-load.

You can’t run without fuel.

If you’re trying to develop a running habit, plenty of things are useful when you’re getting started, including the right shoes, a training plan, and an awareness of how to avoid injuries.

But if you are going to run regularly, it’s essential to learn how to eat and hydrate properly, too. Before each run, it’s important to eat right to make sure you have enough energy. And after running, the right meal will help your muscles recover and get stronger, improving your strength and endurance for the next time you hit the road.

Roberto Mandje is a former professional runner who competed in the 2004 Olympics and is now the head coach at New York Road Runners (NYRR), the nonprofit that organizes the New York Marathon. Here are his tips about what to eat and drink before and after a run.

Hydrate properly

When it comes to hydration, be conscious about drinking plenty of water throughout the day instead of trying to chug water before a run, Mandje told Business Insider.

“Be more aware of your hydrating practices,” he said.

For most of us, the general day-to-day rule for hydration should be to just drink enough that we don’t feel thirsty. But if you are running regularly, you may need to drink a bit more than that, even if you aren’t feeling thirsty. Mandje said that trying to regularly drink water is especially important if you normally fuel workdays with just coffee.

When a planned run approaches, try to drink about 8-16 oz of fluid an hour before heading out, and perhaps another 4 oz right before getting started, the NYRR training website suggests. Keep hydrating throughout a long run as well. If you are planning to run in the morning, make sure you drink water the night before.

If you aren’t running long distances, you don’t need to worry too much about extra electrolytes. For those training for a marathon during hot summer weather, Mandje said it can help to have an occasional sports drink or drop electrolyte tablets in your water.

Also remember to start re-hydrating immediately after getting back from a run, Mandje said – you can lose more fluid than you think, especially in the heat.

RunningSimon Bruty/Getty Images

Eating to run

While there are a variety of ways to fuel athletic performance, a diet that balances carbs, protein, and fat and includes plenty of fruits and vegetables is generally recommended for runners.

Some runners, like ultramarathoner Zach Bitter, have found success with a high-fat, low-carb keto regimen. But for most people, sports scientists have found that complex carbs are important exercise fuel.

Mandje agrees. Before a long run, he says it’s helpful to eat something like brown rice or spaghetti – perhaps the night before a morning run or at lunch before an evening run.

You don’t need to “carb-load” like you might right before a race, he said – just eat a normal portion. Once you burn through that fuel, you’ll be a little drained and your body will need to start burning fat for fuel. Building up that ability is important if you are getting ready for a race.

“That way, your body gets used to it and gets stronger, so when you call on it to push further and harder, you’re accustomed to doing a little bit more on less,” Mandje said.

Run running runner jogging jog race marathonsportpoint/Shutterstock

By learning to burn fat after running out of readily available carbs, “you’re going to be in a better position for race day,” he added.

Sometimes it’s also important to eat a bit during your run. If it lasts between one and three hours, you should take in about 30-60 grams of carbs per hour – you’ll need more if you’re running longer than that.

Then as soon as you get back from a run, seek out protein.

“You have about a 30-minute window where your body is best prepared to accept protein to repair muscle damage,” Mandje said. If you are arriving back at your home, you can have a meal ready to go. If you’ve gone somewhere to train, try to have something like a protein bar available for post-run, he said – you can eat more when you get home.

“When you’re out there training, you’re breaking down muscles,” he said. “It’s in recovery that the gains are made.”

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