Fill ’er Up: Fueling your Body Pre- and Post-run

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By Dr. Tamara Wilkerson Dias

Years ago, when I trained for my first 10K race, there was no better way to celebrate a 5-mile weekend run than to find the nearest fast-food restaurant. My idea of post-run fuel was usually a double cheeseburger, fries and a large soda. It took me a long time to grasp the concept of food as fuel for my body. It sounded so simple, yet I didn’t realize how this was manifesting in both my life and my running journey. 

When I began to train for my first half marathon two months later, I realized I was doing things wrong. As I tried to add more mileage onto my weekly run, my poor diet, high in processed foods and sugar, began to impact my training. I was not properly fueling my body for running. Those double cheeseburgers manifested heavily and on my runs, I often felt sluggish, not progressing in pace or speed as I’d hoped I would. I knew that I needed to make a change and eat to fuel myself to be an efficient runner. 

The key is to have healthy, replenishing options available, so that you don’t just reach for the closest junk food.

I now understand that my goal is to be as efficient as possible. I want to ensure my body has the energy it needs to complete the various training programs I undertake and that I can recover properly. Nowadays, I still enjoy my cheeseburgers and cupcakes occasionally, but I’ve shifted to a more plant-based lifestyle full of fruits and vegetables. I make sure to drink half of my body weight in ounces of water and stay away from the drive-thru as much as I can. I’ve also paid special attention to preparing my body before my workouts and replenishing nutrients after my workout. 

It’s also important to note: there’s nothing wrong with a cheat meal or rewarding yourself with a calorie-dense treat after a big race or another long run. What we’re focusing on here is fueling yourself for success as you consistently put in your training runs leading up to the big day. It’s about making proper fueling the norm around your runs.

So, what exactly should you eat before and after a run? I’m happy to share what has worked best for me. I run 3-4 miles a few days each week and these runs are all under an hour. Generally, I’ll have a banana and a piece of whole-grain toast to get me going. Some other pre-run options are: 

Choose foods that will properly fuel your run with long-lasting carbs and healthy fats.

Choose foods that will properly fuel your run with long-lasting carbs and healthy fats.

  • Turkey and cheese on whole-wheat bread

  • Oatmeal with berries 

  • A banana and an energy bar 

  • A bowl of cold cereal with a cup of milk

After running, re-hydrating is key for me, even if I had plenty of water before the run. I’ll begin to tackle my 24-ounce water bottle so that I’m replenishing the fluids I lost during my run. I also aim to get in some protein, so I love to have a plant-based protein recovery shake, made with almond milk. The key is to have healthy, replenishing options available, so that you don’t just reach for the closest junk food. 

You can also try:

  • Greek yogurt with a piece of fruit

  • Cottage cheese with fruit 

  • Avocado with whole-grain toast and egg

Remember that these suggestions aren’t set in stone, and you should always listen to your body. If you feel like you need more food, try adding in one tablespoon of nut butter with your toast (or straight off the spoon!). If I’ve had a big meal a couple of hours before, I might just eat a piece of fruit. 

The key is to pay attention to what your body is telling you so that you can respond with the most beneficial food choices for you!

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Dr. Tamara Wilkerson dias

Contributor

Dr. Tamara Wilkerson Dias leads with the mindset that self-care isn’t selfish, but instead the foundation of a healthy lifestyle. In her role as a nonprofit executive director, Dr. Dias works to eliminate the large racial disparity in public education. She leads an organization that supports the recruitment, retention, development, and support of African-American teachers. She has dedicated herself to the mission of supporting public servants in their own self-care journeys. As the founder and CEO of TWD Coaching & Consulting, she also works to support women in living their healthiest lives. A three-time half-marathoner, she believes that putting yourself first allows you to ensure that your cup is full, so you remain at your best for others. When she is not running, or working on long grant applications, she is usually curled up with a good book.

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