Posted by: Duke Raleigh Hospital | September 14, 2012

Running Down a Dream

Running down a dream, without running down yourself!

By Lindsay Kovacic, RD, LDN

Whether you have just started running your neighborhood, signed up for a 5k, or set your sights on completing a half or full marathon; I’ve got nutrition news for you.

Some people may not realize it, but nutrition is a large part of the equation when it comes to performance, especially in run races. I have been able to work with a variety of runners, tweaking their nutrition habits; and the majority of them see vast improvements in race times extremely quickly (no pun intended)!  Their performance, of course, is a combination of their training, what they eat to fuel themselves and of course, hydration!

Lesson 1: Hydration

I always stress hydration before, during and after workouts. A lot of runners and exercise fanatics forget about hydrating and don’t realize it can have a significant effect on your run. Often times, water is just not enough…carbohydrates and sodium (electrolytes) are needed as well. When you are training for months, carbohydrates are important to maintain high levels of muscle glycogen (energy). Adequate hydration and sodium will also help you to avoid muscle cramping!

Here are some tips on great water and carbohydrate combos to rehydrate with
(these are comparable to your sport drinks like Gatorade):

  • 1 pct of GU plus 8 oz water: providing 8 oz water 100 kcal, 25 gm carb, 40 mg sodium, 35 mg potassium
  • 1 large orange: providing 5 oz water, 86 kcal, 22 gm carb, 0 mg sodium, 333 mg potassium
  • 7- to 8-in banana plus 8 oz of water: providing 8 oz water, 105 kcal, 27 gm carb, 5 mg sodium, 422 mg potassium
  • Sports drinks are a good choice too if you’d rather have that, look for one with 6% carbohydrates on the label

*More than two hours of continuous exercise typically marks the transition when the use of fluids that contain sodium and carbohydrate (G2) becomes appropriate (start to experiment during training to see what works best for you).

So, how much water is enough? The daily recommendation for fluids is 8-8 ounce glasses of caffeine free liquids. This would of course, increase if you are exercising frequently.

General rule of thumb: For every pound [of sweat] lost during your workouts you must have an additional 2 cups of water. Factors that may increase your fluid intake: hot climate, humidity or altitude.

Other hydration thoughts:

  • Each morning, athletes should evaluate 3 signs of inadequate hydration:
  1. Are you thirsty?
  2. Is your urine a dark yellow color?
  3. Is your body weight noticeably lower than the previous morning ?

If you experience one of the above, you know you did not hydrate adequately post-workout.

  • Pre-exercise fluid consumption should begin at least 4 hours prior to training or performance.

Lesson 2: Food for Fuel

Maintaining a healthy diet, practicing mindful eating and ensuring your muscles have adequate energy to fuel you in your run is half the battle. [My usual breakfast before a long run? Natural peanut butter on whole wheat bread with or without a banana; I have found this is what works for me!]

What works for you? During your weeks of training, use this time to try different fuel products (GU, gel shots, bloks, bars) and pre-run meals.

Tip: Make sure you don’t eat something that will hurt your stomach or cause GI distress.


Are you working out mid-morning or early evening and not ready to refuel immediately with one of your main meals? Drinking a glass of fat-free milk preferably flavored, provides essential vitamins and minerals to help repair and rebuild your muscles after a crucial sweat session. If you don’t like milk try soy milk or another fat-free dairy product like yogurt. Dairy is high in naturally occurring muscle building protein, calcium, vitamin D and manganese; all great vitamins and minerals to replenish yourself post-workout! My personal favorite: light chocolate soy milk!

Finding out what hydration and nutrition regimen works best for you, will take experimenting. After all, everyone is different, and our bodies all respond to nutrients differently. Of course, isn’t that the beauty of it?



Want more healthful and helpful information? Visit Duke Raleigh Hospital’s blog!


  1. YOU GO GIRL! How have you been?

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