5 Special Nutrition Considerations for Runners

By: Alexandra Raymond, University of Maryland Health Center, Dietetic Intern

Running is one of my favorite activities. It’s not only how I relieve stress, but it’s also a great way to keep active and spend time with friends who also run.

Along with the great benefits of running, also come a few specific nutritional considerations. You are putting your body under a lot of stress when you run, especially if you run long distances.

It’s important to focus on getting enough nutrients from a variety of foods to replenish what’s lost during a run.

running nutrtion

Consideration #1: Avoid Iron-Deficiency

Reversing iron depletion is important because iron binds to oxygen and carries it through the blood to supply your muscles and organs with oxygen. Without iron, iron-deficiency anemia can develop, leading to feelings of fatigue and tiredness.

Runners, especially female runners, must make sure they are consuming enough iron-rich foods, like spinach and other leafy greens, red meat, chicken, and enriched grains. Try the healthy grain options at the pasta station at South Campus Diner and add a side spinach salad. Cheerios cereal also has iron and is a great choice for breakfast, especially with some almonds and banana slices.

Consideration #2: Hydrate

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! It can’t be stressed enough that drinking plentiful amounts of water is important for runners. You lose a lot of water through sweat, and losing just 2% of your body weight from water can decrease performance.

Make sure you are drinking enough throughout the day before, after, and possibly even during a workout. We need about 32 ounces of water for every hour of intense activity, so if your run lasts about an hour, you can probably make up for the losses afterwards. If your run lasts for more than an hour, it’s important to make sure you are drinking during your run.

The ERC and most other buildings around campus have water bottle filling stations – a great way to stay hydrated and go green!

Consideration #3: Replenish Electrolytes

Electrolytes go hand-in-hand with water because we also lose electrolytes (sodium, potassium, and chloride to name a few…) through our sweat. It’s important for athletes to be aware of this because electrolytes help our bodies maintain balance, regulate heart and blood pressure and keep our cells functioning properly.

Usually getting enough of these electrolytes isn’t so tough. However, when you’re running long distances, like training for a half or full marathon, you may want to consider consuming a sports drink fortified with electrolytes.

A general rule of thumb is to only consume a sports drink if you have been doing intense activity for over an hour. Otherwise, there are lots of better energy drink alternatives.

Bananas, sweet potatoes, and leafy greens are also good sources of potassium and can all be found at the North Campus and South Campus Diner.

Consideration #4: Consume Enough Calories

For some runners, eating enough food can be a challenge. Consuming enough calories is so important because they are the fuel that keeps our bodies going. Especially during a long race, a runner will “hit a wall” if they don’t have enough fuel for his or her body.

It is important to listen to your body’s signals and eat when you are hungry. Runners should strive for 60-75% of their calories to come from carbohydrates—the body’s first choice of fuel.

Consideration $5: Be Aware of The Female Athlete Triad

Many female athletes are at risk for the Female Athlete Triad, a syndrome of three interrelated conditions that exist on a continuum of severity, including bone loss, menstrual dysfunction, and inadequate energy consumption/disordered eating. Be sure to speak to a registered dietitian if you have any questions or concerns.

Have sports nutrition questions? You can make an appointment for an individual nutrition consultation, or sign up for a free diet analysis session with a Dietetic Student Intern.

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