What should distance runners eat every day?

A Good Diet, in Liquid Form

If you plan to run longer than an hour, substitute a sports drink for the water
If you plan to run longer than an hour, substitute a sports drink for the water

As a runner, you need to be hydrated long before you lace up your shoes. Sip water while going about the business of your day. And, we'll let you in on a little tip: If you add a bit of salt to your glass, you can make your water "wetter" -- or at least help your tissues absorb the liquid and retain more of it, longer [source: Pfitzinger].

Before you take a training run, however, ramp your intake up a notch. Sixty to 90 minutes before your run, drink 16 ounces of water. If you're going the distance, drink about 12 ounces of water for every 20 minutes of your run. If you plan to run longer than an hour, substitute a sports drink for the water [source: Brant]. Why a sports drink? It contains the sodium and potassium your body needs to prevent cramps and vomiting, which can begin when your body's stores get depleted. Plus, these electrolytes help regulate nerve and muscle function.

Most sports drinks contain about 7 percent carbohydrates, an optimum level that your body can absorb quickly; it's just enough to give your body a boost of energy [source: Brant]. Better still is a sports drink that lists protein in its ingredients. According to a 2006 study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, sports drinks that contain protein, in addition to carbohydrates and electrolytes, have a more than 10 percent higher absorption rate when compared to conventional sports drinks [source: Seifert].

During training runs, don't forget to practice one other thing: downing liquid on the go. If you've ever swallowed a gulp of water that went down the wrong pipe and left you sputtering and winded, then you'll know why it's important to include "drinking while running" in your regimen. First, learn how to grasp a cup -- while still running -- without spilling most of what's inside. (It can be done, it just takes practice.) Then, ingest the liquid in slow, metered swallows [source: Higdon]. Tempted to gulp? Refer to previous comment about sputtering.

The evening before the big race, keep the electrolyte drinks coming. By morning, however, you'll want to change your strategy, taking your last big gulp about two hours before the race (this helps eliminate ill-timed bathroom breaks) [source: Galloway].

Measured, well-timed food and drink, when part of an overall training regimen, help lay the groundwork for success. Nutritional strategy and a tough mental attitude is a powerful training ally than can help you go the distance.

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