Six Tips to Help You Run the Distance

I began running ten years ago to explore a new city I had just moved to and to stay healthy while embarking on a new chapter of my life. Running came easy to me because all I had to do was lace up my shoes and walk out the front door, but I never knew how long or how fast I would go. I just went. Fast forward a few years and I have much more control on my runs because I put more thought into my nutrition and rest. I have learned how bad it feels to run 20 miles without a sip of water and how helpful a mere 30 grams of carbohydrates is when it feels like I cannot take one more step during a race. Four marathons later, including Boston this past year, I want to share some tips with any members who may be runners too.

  1.  Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate! No other nutrition intervention has a greater impact on performance than adequate hydration. Exercising while dehydrated means your muscles won’t get the blood and oxygen they need to perform at their best. In fact, a water deficit of 2-4% can decrease your aerobic power by as much as 48%. To ensure you are well-hydrated, evaluate your hydration status prior to exercising. If your urine is clear and odorless, you are likely well hydrated. Then, stay hydrated by drinking 12-24oz of fluids for every hour you run. For continuous running that lasts more than an hour, drink smaller amounts more frequently to meet your total fluid needs.
  2. Food Fuel Matters…. A Lot! Do you struggle with feeling tired after exercising? It could be due to an irregular meal pattern or eating too many low nutrient processed foods. If you tend to eat the same foods from only one or two of the five food groups, you may not be getting all your necessary nutrients. A balanced diet that includes foods from all five food groups spaced throughout the day in multiple small meals and snacks should help you maintain good energy levels. If you are currently eating lots of processed foods, fried foods and foods high in sugar, work on replacing them with fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, low fat dairy products, and healthy unsaturated fats.
  3. Time it Right! Inadequate fuel prior to endurance exercise negatively impacts the carbohydrate stores in your muscles and increases the chance of impaired performance. Eating too much right before exercising can also ruin a workout. Plan to eat a light, easily digested meal, like a banana with peanut butter, 1-2 hours before exercise; or have a more substantial meal, like oatmeal with walnuts, berries, and a yogurt, 3-4 hours before exercise. If you are an early morning runner and don’t like to eat before you run, include wholesome carbohydrates, like whole grains or starchy vegetables, with your dinner the night before your run.
  4. You Can Only Store So Much! Your muscles and liver store carbohydrates that you use during exercise, but at some point, those stores run out if you are not replacing them. If you plan to run for more than an hour, fuel with 30-60 grams carbohydrates for each additional hour you continue to exercise. To avoid stomach upset during intense exercise, eat small amounts of easy to digest carbohydrates. Well tolerated options to try include an energy gel, 13 gummy bears, 3-6 energy chews, or a 12oz sports drink.
  5. The Key to Recovery! Go ahead and drink your celebration beer…AFTER you drink a water. To replace sweat losses, weigh yourself pre and post exercise. For every pound lost, consume 16-24oz of hydrating fluids. Fluids with electrolytes including sodium can be helpful after strenuous endurance exercise. If you have exercised for more than 90 minutes, it’s important to also replace carbohydrates stored in the muscles. To do this, consume carbohydrates within 30 minutes of exercise to optimize stores for your next workout. A balance of fluid, carbohydrate, and 10-20g protein within 30 minutes of exercise is recommended to optimize recovery.
  6. Practice What You Eat Before You Compete! Don’t ruin race day by trying something new. Everyone’s body is different, so practice your fueling strategy when you are training. You may find that a sports drink works best for you while a gel may work best for your running partner. Whatever it is that works, stick with it and be consistent with your training.

Whether you are running a 5k or a marathon, I know from experience that hydration levels and food choices impact training, race day performance, recovery, and the overall experience. I encourage you to put some thought into what you eat and drink so each run keeps you lacing up your shoes. I hope to run into you at the next race!By: Callie Yakubisin, RD, CNSC

American Family Fitness Registered Dietitian


To schedule a nutrition consultation, contact Callie at

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