A person ties their shoe laces and gets ready to run.
Proper hydration and the right nutrition can improve your performance and help you avoid injury. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Whether you’re just getting into running or you’ve been training for runs most of your life, nutrition will play an important part in your success.

Most people are willing to try anything for an advantage in workouts, but they often miss the mark when it comes to understanding the basics of proper nutrition.

This can lead to poor run times, low energy, harder recovery and increased risk of injury.

You can build a solid foundation for exercise nutrition by avoiding these top pitfalls:

1. Not eating enough daily calories

You use up a lot of energy when you’re running long miles, especially when training for marathons. You’re trying to sustain exercise and your daily routine, too.

Frequently, your hunger cues won’t line up with the amount of energy (calories) you’re burning—so you then go under-fueled.

Most people would assume that if they’re not eating enough calories, they would see weight loss. Often, however, athletes will experience increased fatigue and poor training.

This can lead to increased risk for injury and stress fractures. This is your body’s way of compensating for not having enough fuel. The longer you remain under-fueled, the greater your risk of injury.

2. Avoiding carbs—especially during exercise

With so many fad diets out there, carbs have gained a bad reputation. While there are certain carbs that are best to avoid—processed white flours and added sugars—there are plenty of whole-food carbs that are essential for athletes. (Think whole grains, fruit and sweet potatoes.)

Carbs provide the primary fuel for exercise. When we run out of fuel or we aren’t getting enough, we often hit a wall and experience low energy during workouts.

Just like with calories, we need more carbs when training for runs. And because we can only store a limited amount of carbs in our muscle and liver, in some cases we need to provide energy in the moment.

If any training session goes longer than 60 minutes, you should be adding in 30 to 60 grams of carbs per hour during your training and races. This can be done through sports drinks, Gu’s, chews, fruits or other light-carb snacks.

3. Skipping recovery snack

After exercise, our bodies are dealing with increased stress and inflammation, breakdown of muscle and used-up energy. It’s important to give our body the nutrients it needs to repair and refuel. This helps get you ready for the next training session, as well as repair and build muscle to benefit from all the work put in.

Look for a recovery snack or meal within 60 to 90 minutes of training. This should include 20 grams of protein with half your body weight in carbs.

4. Not drinking enough fluids

Fluid intake can present some challenges.

Some runners find it inconvenient to carry water during their runs. It can also be time-consuming to map out possible water stops beforehand. Meanwhile, people get so busy throughout the work day, they forget to consume an adequate amount of fluid.

Not drinking enough water can lead to fatigue and increased work during training. You might also experience cramping, headaches and poor concentration.

Since we don’t usually feel thirsty until we’re dehydrated, a bit of planning ahead of time will ensure you’re drinking enough before, during and after training.

Be sure to stay hydrated throughout the day and shoot for 16 ounces of water a few hours before training. Then drink 4 ounces every 15 to 20 minutes during training and 16 to 24 ounces for each pound of weight lost after training.

5. Not planning for race day

There is nothing worse than putting in hours of hard training just to fall short on race day with poor planning. Have a plan for hydration and fuel up your carb stores about one to two days before the race.

Some people will try to add in sports nutrition products on race day only, completely failing to try it out beforehand during their training. Always try your new foods or sports products during training, to ensure your body responds well and is capable of processing the new item.

The key to any exercise training plan is to create a good foundation with nutrition.

You don’t have to look for expensive nutritional supplements to give you the edge—just focus on a good nutrition plan.