Whether you're running a 5K, a marathon, or a multi-day race, a lot of preparation goes into ensuring that your body is capable of finishing what you started. This could entail weeks or months of training and cross-training to develop physical endurance and mental fortitude.
Also important is staying hydrated and energized while you're running, and this requires you to think about what you're eating and drinking when you run, as well as how much. The average days' worth of food and water isn't going to cut it when you're burning thousands of extra calories and sweating like a stuck pig.
How do you know what and how much to eat and drink when you're running? Here are a few essential tips to set you on the right track.
If you get hungry during a race, you might slow down and lose energy, but chances are you can push through (depending on the length of the race). Our bodies can go for a while without food.
Hydration is another matter. If you fail to consume enough fluid when running you could suffer both discomfort and more serious issues. Dehydration could cause dizziness, headache, nausea, and other side effects that make it difficult to continue running.
If it's bad enough, however, it can also become a medical emergency, leading to low blood pressure, delirium, and even unconsciousness in severe cases. By paying attention and making sure to hydrate appropriately before, during, and after your run, you should be able to avoid all of these problems.
Carrying water when you run can be inconvenient, but having adequate water on hand is a necessity. Luckily, most races, and especially longer ones, provide water stations at intervals along the course.
You should always stop to grab some water, even if you don't feel thirsty yet. If you start to feel thirsty, you're already becoming dehydrated and you're probably going to suffer some side effects as a result.
Don't forget, there are also plenty of water-carrying products specifically designed for runners. You can try backpacks, belts, and even handsets that strap to your wrist so you don't have to hold your water in-hand to keep it on you.
Sports drinks can be helpful when used correctly. They not only provide you with water, but many also replenish electrolytes lost through sweat. Unfortunately, they also tend to have a lot of sugar.
This isn't the worst thing in the world, especially if you don't like to eat during a race. Sugar in sports drinks can give you a boost of energy when you're flagging.
However, you need to be careful not to drink too much or you can start feeling sick to your stomach. Your best bet is to alternate sports drinks with plenty of water and work out a system ahead of time so there are no surprises during the race.
Like sports drinks, gels and bars can provide runners with energy as they burn off calories. (my personal favorite is the Vanilla Powerbar Gel) They also tend to have some sugar, so be careful about eating too many or pairing them with sports drinks. The last thing you want is to suffer cramps, or worse, diarrhea during a race.
You don't want to eat too much right before a long run, but neither do you want to run out of energy halfway through. The simple solution is to load up on carbs the night before a run.
This doesn't mean bingeing until you burst. Simply add some extra carbs to your average meal and eat as much as you need to be comfortably full. This will help to give you the energy you need the next day without leaving you bloated or feeling sick while you run.
This tip cannot be stressed enough. If you want to try adding sports drinks or gels to your routine, try them well in advance. Your hydration and nutrition regimen should be locked down by race day.
Before any race, you not only need to have a good idea of how often you need to eat and drink during a run, but you should also prepare by scouting the course and checking the weather. If a course is hilly and you're used to flat, you may need extra food or water.
If the day will be hot, extra hydration is almost certainly in order. Proper planning can help you to not only complete a race, but achieve optimal results and feel great throughout.