6 Common Sports Nutrition Mistakes and How to Solve Them

Proper nutrition and hydration is critical to a runner's health and performance. Some runners underestimate just how much what they eat and drink before, during and after your workouts and races can affect them.

Here are some common nutrition mistakes that runners make and advice on how to solve them.


Mistake: Not Drinking Enough

Many runners underestimate how much fluid they lose during runs and don't drink enough while they're running and after they're finished. As a result, they suffer from dehydration, which can be detrimental to their performance and dangerous to their health.

Solution: Runners need to pay attention to what and how much they're drinking before, during and after exercise. Even if the weather is cold, you still need it make sure you stay hydrated. Here are some simple rules for drinking and running:

  • An hour before you start your run, try to drink 16 to 24 ounces of water or other non-caffeinated fluid. Stop drinking at that point, so you can prevent having to stop to go to the bathroom during your run. To make sure you're hydrated before you start running, you can drink another 4 to 8 ounces right before you start.
  • You should take in 6 to 8 ounces of fluid every 20 minutes during your runs. During longer workouts (90 minutes or more), some of your fluid intake should include a sports drink (like Gatorade) to replace lost sodium and other minerals (electrolytes)
  • Don't forget to rehydrate with water or a sports drink after your run. You should drink 20 to 24 fl oz. of water for every pound lost. If your urine is dark yellow after your run, you need to keep rehydrating. It should be a light lemonade color.

Mistake: Not Consuming Enough Protein

Many runners focus so much on consuming their carbs that they don't pay enough attention to their protein. Protein is used for some energy and to repair tissue damaged during training. Protein should make up about 15% of your daily intake.

Solution: Runners, especially those training for long distances such as marathons, should consume .5 to .75 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Good sources of protein are fish, lean meat, poultry, beans, nuts, whole grains, egg whites, low-fat milk, low-fat cheese and some vegetables. If you're not sure how much protein you should be getting, meet with a sports dietitian for advice on how to get the right amount of protein in your diet.


Mistake: Not Eating Properly Before a Workout

Bagel for breakfast
Eric Futran/Chefshots

Some runners don't like to eat before a run because they're worried about getting cramps.

Solution: Although you don't want to eat immediately before starting a run, you should try to eat a light snack or meal about 1 1/2 to 2 hours before a run. Doing so will make sure that you have enough fuel for your run. As long as you give yourself enough time to digest the food, you don't have to worry about cramps. (Most side stitches are actually caused by not warming up properly.)

What should you eat? Choose something high in carbohydrates and lower in fat, fiber, and protein. Some examples of good pre-workout fuel include: a bagel with peanut butter; a banana and an energy bar; or a bowl of cold cereal with a cup of milk. Stay away from rich, high-fiber, and high-fat foods, as they may cause gastrointestinal issues.


Mistake: Not Getting Enough Iron

Shrimp salad
Annabelle Breakey

Iron-deficiency anemia is fairly common, particularly in female athletes who have heavy periods. Anemia causes fatigue and reduced performance.

Solution: If you frequently feel tired without an explanation, get your iron levels checked with a blood test. To help prevent anemia, make sure your diet includes red meat, or iron-rich alternatives (dark-meat chicken or turkey, salmon, tuna, shrimp) and an iron-fortified cereal. It's also important to include vitamin C in your diet because it helps with iron absorption. So try to include vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables, such as oranges, tomatoes, berries, and broccoli, at every meal.


Mistake: Not Taking in Calories During Long Runs and Races

Some runners think they're not running long enough to need more fuel during their runs. As a result, their performance suffers and they may even hit the wall during long races such as half or full marathon.

Solution: When you run for under 90 minutes, most of your energy comes from stored muscle glycogen. But if you're running for longer than 90 minutes, the sugar in your blood and liver glycogen become more important because your stored muscle glycogen gets depleted.

Fueling with carbs during your marathon will prevent you from running out of energy and hitting the wall, while also boosting your performance. How much do you need to eat on the run? A basic rule of thumb is that you should be taking in about 100 calories after about an hour of running and then another 100 calories every 40 to 45 minutes after that. You may need more depending on your size and speed, so make sure you carry an extra one or two gels (or other food). If you feel hungry or low on energy, you can definitely consume calories "off-schedule".

Don't let, "I have no place to carry nutrition" be an excuse for why you're not eating on the run. There are plenty of running belts on the market that make it easy to stash your gels or other food when running. Some runners also use hydration belts or water bottles with pouches to store their nutrition.


Mistake: Not Fueling Properly After a Workout

Chocolate milk
Don Farrall/Getty Images

Some runners don't replenish their energy after their runs, which can have a negative effect on their recovery.

Solution: After running, especially a long run, you want to replenish energy as quickly as possible. Studies have shown that muscles are most receptive to rebuilding glycogen (stored glucose) stores within the first 30 minutes after exercise. If you eat soon after your workout, you can minimize muscle stiffness and soreness.

You'll want to consume primarily carbs, but don't ignore protein. A good rule of thumb for post-run food is a ratio of 1 gram of protein to 3 grams of carbs. Nutrition bars, such as Clif bars or Power bars, are healthy options. Other examples would be a bagel with peanut butter or a smoothie made with fruit and yogurt.

If you feel like you can't stomach solid food immediately after a run, try drinking some chocolate milk. Chocolate milk provides plenty of protein, carbohydrates and B vitamins -- making it a great recovery drink. And cold chocolate milk tastes pretty refreshing after a run.

Making sure you eat within 30 minutes of finishing your run may require some planning. Try to think ahead and make sure you have recovery foods available when you end your run.

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