6 most important fuel rules for runners

7 October 2015 by
First published: 15 May 2015

Make sure to rehydrate and provide your body with carbohydrates and protein in a 3:1 ratio for optimum recovery

Running is a fantastic way to get fit, feel great and have some fun, but if you really want to get the most out of your workout and smash your goals, follow our 6 most important fuel rules for runners. After all, what you eat is what keeps you pounding the miles, and what helps your body recover afterwards!

1. Test your fuelling strategy
When you’re clocking up long miles you’re going to need some fuel to get you through, and energy gels are a great solution when you feel a little depleted. However, they can take a little getting used to, and no one wants an upset tummy on race day! ‘Practise race nutrition during training to ensure your body can tolerate gels,’ suggests nutritionist Tess Capper. To get the most out of your race-day nutrition it’s important that you take the right amount at the right time: Tess suggests ‘fuelling your body with around 60g of carbohydrates per hour on runs lasting more than 90 minutes’ for optimal performance.

2. Hydration, hydration, hydration
Never underestimate the importance of staying hydrated. ‘It is so important for effective training,’ says Francesca Liparoti, nutritionist at Wellness International Reebok Sports Club. ‘Start the day with a good 500ml of water with the juice of half a lemon, then follow that with a glass of water every two hours,’ she says. ‘You’re aiming for about two litres per day but more on training days.’ If you’re not a fan of water, try herbal or green teas, but avoid too much caffeine as it’s dehydrating. It’s also important to think about hydration during your run. ‘Never go into a run dehydrated,’ adds Tess, ‘and if you’re running for more than 90 minutes, take some water. It isn’t absolutely necessary to sip water during a shorter run, but it does reduce perceived exertion so may benefit less experienced runners.’ So don’t forget to grab that water bottle before you leave the house!

3. Feed your muscles
We don’t need to tell you that your body is put through its paces when you run! ‘Running is hard on your muscles,’ says Tess. ‘They need protein to be able to recover and repair, so have a bit with every meal and snack, especially post-run to help any damage heal more quickly.’ Tess explains that when it comes to protein, ‘animal sources are the most readily available to your body, but quinoa forms a complete plant protein’ so you’ve got lots of options when it comes to feeding your muscles.

4. Fuel your recovery
Recovery starts as soon as you stop running. ‘Make sure to rehydrate and provide your body with carbohydrates and protein in a 3:1 ratio for optimum recovery,’ advises Tess. Want a quick and easy post-run nutritional hit? Tess suggests chocolate milk as one of the best recovery drinks, and we can’t think of a better motivation to get through those last tough miles!

5. Protect your immune system
Most runners go through pretty intense periods of training, particularly in the lead-up to races. While training hard can help you reach your fitness goals, Tess warns that it can put you at greater risk of upper respiratory tract infections. To avoid catching a bug, Tess suggests eating ‘a diet rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to keep the immune system healthy’. Francesca adds, ‘Supplement daily with a good-quality multi-vitamin and -mineral product as well as extra magnesium (preferably in glycerinate form), as this has a positive effect on muscle function.’

6. Maximise energy

Want to keep going for miles and miles? ‘Choose low GI [glycaemic index] foods or complex carbohydrates as the basis of your diet,’ suggests Tess. ‘These are not only better for overall health, but will provide a more sustained energy source for your body.’ For optimal nutrition, try to ‘ensure each meal and snack provides protein and good fats’ as well as carbohydrates, adds Francesca. ‘This will ensure you’re giving your body the macronutrients it needs at every meal, as well as keeping your blood sugar and energy levels stable.’