Run Well: How to fuel (and refuel) for intense training, endurance events

Making our community a healthier place is a goal shared by the Tucson Medical Center and the Southern Arizona Roadrunners. TMC is excited to partner with SAR to bring you regular features and wellness tips designed to make your running the best it can be.

Join us as we sponsor – and host! – the TMC BE Tucson Women’s 5k and Men’s Mile on the TMC campus on Feb. 19. The race will start and finish at the newly christened Joel M. Childers, M.D., Women’s Center.

tmc-shares-how-to-fuel-and-refuel-for-training-and-race-eventsWhile a varied and healthy diet helps maintain optimal health and performance on a daily basis, high intensity training and endurance events demand more attention to the timing and content of fueling.

Race day isn’t the time to try something new. Fueling for a strong race day starts back in training. Read on for more tips:

During Training

  • Try new methods of fueling and hydrating one at a time, so you can tell how each change affects you.
  • Experiment with energy and recovery drinks. How does your body feel with each one? How do they affect your hydration status?
  • As your training grows more intense, notice your energy levels during and after your workouts. Do you feel energetic or exhausted? If you are completely spent, then you need to eat more easily-digestible food either before or during your workout.
  • In general, you’re aiming for 60-70 percent of calories from carbohydrates during endurance training, with protein recommendations of about 1.2- 1.4 g/kg of body weight.
  • Once you have a regimen that works, stick with it! Use this same fueling pattern when you perform in an event.

Before an Endurance Event

  • Up to two hours before the big event, sip on a carb-containing sports beverage or nibble high-carb, low-fiber food with water. Too much carbohydrate can cause GI distress or reactive hypoglycemia, while too much fiber, protein or fat can slow digestion and possibly cause GI problems later.
  • About two hours prior to an event, drink 16 ounces of fluid. Limit caffeine and alcoholic beverages, because they act as a diuretic.
  • Immediately prior, drink 4-8 oz fluid, or sip fluid during the hour before the event

During an Endurance Event

  • Drink as frequently and as much volume as tolerated to prevent dehydration. Aim for 4-8 ounces every 10-20 minutes.
  • Avoid plain water if the event lasts longer than 60 minutes. Aim for 6-8 percent carbohydrate solution, and 100-200mg sodium per cup.
  • Avoid fructose-only or lactose-containing beverages, as they may cause GI distress.

After an Endurance Event

  • Along with rest and recovery, your body needs to begin replacing water loss immediately and replenish lost sodium and potassium, at a rate of about 1 cup of fluid every 15 minutes over the next three hours. You may drink more if tolerated and needed.
  • Eat a larger meal within two hours of an event to assure energy storage replacement. You’re looking for a 4:1 carb-to-protein ratio, with at least 25g of protein to help repair muscle fibers.
  • Fat is not an immediate need and may cause GI distress.

For personalized nutrition recommendations, contact

Mary Atkinson, a registered dietitian and the Director of Wellness at Tucson Medical Center, has been with TMC for 17 years.  After working in the clinical setting for many years, she found a passion for helping people prevent disease before they are in acute distress.

Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461