13 Tips for Fuel and Hydration While Running, According to Experts

woman on a run drinking from a water bottle

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Whether you are a beginner or have been running for years, you may have experienced a time where you didn’t hydrate or fuel properly and suffered during or after your run. Having a good understanding about how to stay hydrated and fueled for a run is important for a positive experience. 

"You will notice a big difference in the way you feel during a run if you are properly fueled and hydrated,” says Lisa Landrum, a USATF and NFSA certified running coach with Forward Motion CLT and head coach for Around the Crown 10K.

In fact, the combination of hydration and nutrition can either result in you feeling amazing or awful during a run. Read on to learn how to keep your body hydrated and fueled before, during, and after a run.

Drink to Thirst

Drinking enough water is key to staying hydrated. Some people apply the idea that you drink when your body alerts you that you’re thirsty. The concept of drinking to thirst is simple—you drink when you feel thirsty. And when physically active, you drink enough water before and during exercise.

“For me, this means staying hydrated throughout the day, but intentionally drinking something like 4 to 8 ounces of water 1 hour before a run, then drinking an additional 4 to 8 ounces for every hour or so of running,” says Randy Accetta, PhD, director of coaching education, Road Runners Club of America

Make Sure to Prehydrate

Staying hydrated while running is key. But drinking plenty of fluid before you go for a run is equally important to keep your body running smoothly. Research shows that about 32% to 56% of athletes may be dehydrated before exercising.

Prehydration starts the night before. Consume 500 milliliters of water or sports drink the night before. Upon waking, you should drink another 500 milliliters or water or sports drink. Then, drink another 400 to 600 milliliters of water or sports drink 20 to 30 minutes before you exercise.

“Prehydration prior to activity is extremely important for preventing dehydration, regulating body temperature, lubricating joints, carrying nutrients and oxygen to cells, and keeping our organs properly functioning,” explains Stephanie Hnatiuk, performance dietitian, personal trainer, running coach, and owner of Stephanie Hnatiuk Performance Nutrition.

This concept is especially important for longer runs, she adds. Your sweat loss rate will be higher than what you can reasonably drink while running.

Carry Water

Carrying a bottle of water with you on your run is a good idea and also serves as a reminder to take sips. In fact, taking sips while running is preferable to drinking large amounts all at once, says Hnatiuk. Not only will this help keep you hydrated, but it is also easier on your gastrointestinal system.

”For most individuals and conditions, it’s a good idea to carry 12 to 16 ounces of water for runs that last 60 to 90 minutes, and then add potential fuel or hydration that contains some electrolytes (mainly salt), and a little carbohydrates for runs that last longer than 90 minutes,” says Rebecca Fallihee, LDN, CNS, a licensed dietitian Nutritionist and board-certified clinical nutritionist specializing in endurance sports nutrition and primarily running, as well as digestive health. 

Drink at Consistent Intervals

When you’re focused on running, forgetting to drink water can happen. There are strategies for ensuring that you don’t get side tracked on your water intake.

If you are planning to run longer than 60 to 90 minutes, then you need to add electrolytes and carbohydrates to your run to optimize hydration status. For instance, consume 30 to 60 grams of carbs in a 6% to 8% carbohydrate-electrolyte solution (6 to 12 fluid ounces) even 10 to 15 minutes throughout the entire run. Every hour, you should be consuming 300 to 600 milligrams of sodium or 1.7 to 2.9 grams of salt.

"Set a timer to ensure you are drinking every 15 minutes, or use your mileage as a queue— every mile, take a sip," suggests Landrum.

One study found when participants created a hydration plan, they were more likely to stick to it. They also tended to drink more than participants who didn’t create a plan.

Maintain Hydration Throughout the Day

A key way to ensure you stay hydrated is drinking plenty of water throughout the day and prior to your run. 

“One of the best ways to stay hydrated during a run is to be hydrated in the days and hours leading up to the run,” says Fallihee. “This is less stressful on the body and leads to better performance.”

Like with most things, hydration is highly individual. If you’re not sure just how much water is best for you, consider doing a test for a more accurate idea.

“Performing a sweat test on training runs of different durations, intensities, and weather patterns will allow an athlete to know how much fluid they are losing, how much they are hydrating during the run, and how much hydration they should do after the run to make up the difference,” says Fallihee. 

Utilize Beverages With Electrolytes and Sodium

Drinking water is essential to stay hydrated as well as beverages with electrolytes.

“One of the most important tips is to make sure the runner is hydrated and has adequate electrolytes both before, during, and after a run,” says Kimberly Gomer, MS,RD,LD/N, a registered dietitian and director of nutrition.

This is because when a person sweats, fluids and electrolytes are lost so it’s important to replace them.  If a runner is not hydrated or if they are heavily sweating and are hydrating but don't have enough electrolytes (sodium, potassium, and magnesium that are lost from sweating) they can experience cramping, nausea, dizziness, and fatigue, she says.

The weather and the length of the run also influence the need to consume more electrolytes. For runs longer than 90 minutes, especially on hotter and more humid days, drink hydrating beverages that add electrolytes and sodium, suggests Accetta.

Time Your Eating

Just like it’s important to find strategies for hydration, it’s equally important to ensure you take in sufficient fuel.

“Stay ahead of the feeling of hunger—by then it is too late,” explains Landrum. “A good idea is to go by time—every 30 minutes, take in 100 calories of a simple carbohydrate or energy source that works for you." 

The length of your run also will influence just how much you should consume to keep your body sustained with energy. For instance, Fallihee suggests consuming 30 grams of carbohydrate per hour for runs less than 2 hours in duration. If you are running more than 2 hours, 60 to 90 grams of carbohydrates per hour (or more), will help you recover sooner.

Know Your Body on How to Fuel

Each person’s body is different. And, the way you have trained will be a guide on what types of food are best for you to eat.

“Depending on how the athlete has trained, they may be more adapted and efficient at using either fat or carbohydrates,” says Fallihee.

Foods that help a person run longer will vary and are based on the individual. How an athlete is fueling before, during, and after their run will also play a role, she says.

Eat Based on Intensity 

The intensity of a workout or run influences how your body responds to food  and what type of food to eat. Knowing the length of the run and intensity level will serve as a guide if you need to focus on carbohydrates or fat.

“As running intensity increases, the body’s need for simple carbohydrates is increased, as carbohydrates become the primary source of energy,” Fallihee. “For long or high intensity workouts, it is recommended to consume a meal containing 2 to 3 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram body weight in the 3 to 4 hours prior."

If you are exercising 2 to 3 hours per day five to six times per week, consume 5 to 8 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight per day or 250 to 1,000 grams of carbohydrates per day for a 50 to 150 kilogram weight athlete. This would need to increase to 8 to 10 grams of carbs per kilogram of weight per day if your workout is 3 to 6 hours per day for 5 to 6 times per week.

For longer events at lower intensity, fat is the main form of fuel that is used by the body, she says. Meanwhile, runs that are done at moderate and higher intensities, will require carbohydrates as the main form of fuel.

"Depending on how the athlete has trained, they may be more adapted and efficient at using either fat or carbohydrates," Fallihee says. 

Eat Before Your Run

Each person is different regarding diet and how their body reacts to eating before a run.

“Eating before a run will provide your working muscles with the fuel they need to perform better,” says Hnatiuk. “However, you want to ensure you consume easily-digestible carbohydrates and give yourself enough time to digest to avoid GI issues during your run.” 

There are some foods that are easier to digest that can be eaten before you run. A few examples are toast with jam, fruit, or a bowl of cereal, says Hnatiuk.

Fuel With Carbs and Protein After a Run

Refueling after a run is an important part of optimizing your recovery, says Hnatiuk. But what you eat will depend on the intensity and length of the run.

“For most individuals, consuming food after a short, easy run is less important, while eating a good meal containing 1 to 1.5 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram body weight in the hour after a run is recommended for after workouts or longer duration runs,” says Fallihee.

Generally speaking, the foods you eat are crucial for replacing the nutrients that were expended. Both protein and carbohydrates should be included to give your body the nutrients it needs to start replenishing muscle glycogen and repairing damaged muscle tissue, explains Hnatiuk. For instance, along with your carbs, you should be consuming at least 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of weight and up to 2.4 grams of protein per kilogram of weight depending on your goals.

“A few examples are Greek yogurt with fruit, a protein and fruit smoothie, a turkey sandwich, or a plate of chicken, rice, and vegetables," says Hnatiuk

Have a Nutrition Plan

The amount of food you eat is as important as the type of foods you eat before and after you run. If you don’t get sufficient nutrients and eat less than your body needs, you can experience uncomfortable consequences.

“Under-fueling can affect both your running performance and overall health/well being,” says Hnatiuk.

Some signs that you may not be taking in enough calories (or fuel) are being sick or injured often, having poor quality sleep, being unable to focus, and feeling moody and irritable, says Hnatiuk. You may also notice changes in your body.

“From a body composition perspective, muscle and strength loss is also a sign of under-fueling,” Hnatiuk.

Avoid the “Dreaded Bonk”

When the body is overexerted or doesn’t receive sufficient fuel for the amount of energy the body is expanding, the body may hit a wall. This phenomenon is also referred to as bonking.

“Essentially [bonking occurs] when your body is depleted of carbohydrate stores that were being used to fuel the activity,” says Fallihee. "Commonly this looks like a gradual decrease in running ability, an increase in perceived exertion, and/or an increase in recovery time from the effort. But it can also yield more dramatic effects, and increased gastrointestinal symptoms.”

Basically, your body needs fuel to perform and function properly, says Hnatiuk. Therefore, it is important to take in enough energy as well as the right kind of energy,

A Word From Verywell

Staying hydrated and fueling your body are essential to feeling good when you run. When and what you drink and how frequently should be considered before, during, and after your run to ensure that your body receives enough fluids and nutrients.

Ensuring that your body is properly fueled is equally important. Speaking to a healthcare professional regarding your running plans is recommended for figuring out what your diet and nutrition needs may be.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you hydrate while running?

    Drinking sufficient water is important to stay hydrated while running. The length of your run as well as the weather conditions, will influence your need to replace the electrolytes lost through sweating. Some running coaches recommend drinking every 15 minutes or every mile as a reminder to drink.

  • What can happen if you do not fuel your body properly?

    When a person doesn’t receive enough fuel, their body may react in different ways. Some side effects of not having enough fuel can include difficulty focusing, fatigue, poor sleep quality, feeling moody or feeling sick. 

  • What foods help you run longer?

    Each person’s body reacts differently to food. And the intensity as well as the length of the workout or run will serve as a guide on whether consuming more carbohydrates or fat is what your body needs. 

6 Sources
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