I had never thought running would become as popular as it has in the last five years. We owe it to the marathons that have taken the country by storm or to the sudden realization that running is the easiest, least expensive route to preventive health. Whatever the reason that makes you put on those sneakers and head out, pay some attention to what you eat before that run. Your pre-and post-run food, and the timing of the meal, can substantially improve your speed and time, and leave you less sore after the run.

Energy boosters: Complex, slow-release carbs like vegetables improve glycogen stores in muscles

Over the years there have been many variations of this system, but in essence, to improve performance, delay lactic acid production and reduce recovery time, your body relies on the fastest and quickest energy fuel it knows: carbohydrates.

For runs that last less than 90 minutes, an average healthy diet of protein, carbohydrates and fats is all you need. But for longer distances and durations, you do need to overload on carbs. Ideally, for regular runs you need 7g carbs for every kilogram of body weight. For runs that last longer than 90 minutes, you need 8-10g of carbs per kilogram of body weight, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

The sources of carbohydrates are important; they should come from complex, slow-release carbs like fruits, wholegrain cereals and vegetables to give you a sustained release of energy through the day. If you run first thing in the morning after an 8- to 10-hour fast, then a carbohydrate snack of about 1g per kilogram of body weight should be consumed 15-20 minutes before the run with a variable amount of protein. A peanut butter sandwich or oats with raisins and milk are good examples. Athletes who train on low glycogen stores often expose themselves to increased risk of injury. It takes the body almost 24 hours to replace all the lost muscle glycogen stores, hence the post-workout snack and meals that follow cannot be ignored.

Hydration is equally important, as sweat depletes the body of essential salts and electrolytes, low levels of which can cause extreme dehydration, muscle cramps, and dizziness. An average person needs 600-800ml of fluid per hour of exercise. This should not just be limited to water but should include sports drinks as well.

Protein too cannot be ignored. An average athlete or recreational runner who trains for about 1-1 1/2 hours needs 1.2-1.5g of protein per kilogram of body weight, according to ACSM. Muscles go through a lot of wear and tear during a training session, and protein helps in repairing and rebuilding them. A whey protein shake consumed within an hour of a workout is ideal.

To make things easier there are various sports drinks and gels that can be had during a run and are not heavy on the gut. They contain fast-release sugars that top up glycogen stores. They are specially formulated recovery drinks that contain carbohydrates, electrolytes, salts and some amount of protein. These should be consumed during a run or within 30 minutes of a training session.

This is the second in a three-part series on the diet requirements for specific sports. Sumaya Dalmia is a wellness consultant, fitness expert and owner of SD ACTIVE, a personal training studio in New Delhi.

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