When you ask ‘What is the best energy drink to have before running‘ or indeed ‘What is the best recovery drink for after running?‘, you may not be surprised to find out that the answer is very much, ‘it depends’.
Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it) we are all different.
Yes, I know you are probably thinking ‘Oh, thanks for that genius observation Andy‘, but seriously it is amazing how many people forget the fact.
Like with T-Shirts, the idea of one size fits all, is just never going to work.
I was listening to a great running Podcast the other day and they were talking about how we all sweat differently and how this will affect our hydration requirements.
And even then it is not just about how much we sweat!
We also have to consider how salty our sweat is.
You might not have considered this before, but some of us lose much more salt than other ‘sweaters’.
(If you find you have salty tide marks on skin and running gear, you probably need to be upping your sodium/potassium input pre and post runs)
However, what I will try to do is give you some general guidelines from the research and studies done in this area…
…and also give you what I use before and after going out running.
Before Running Drinks
Of course when we are looking at the drinks for prior to running, we can break it down into two areas.
There is general hydration…
Are we hydrated enough for the body to work in the way it should?
And then there is what can we drink to give us the extra energy to increase our running performance.
In reality, many of the specialist drinks will provide a combination of both.
Required Levels of General Hydration
Even forgetting running, getting the right level of hydration is hugely important for our health and well being.
Amongst other things, it regulates body temperature, cushions joints, and helps energy production in cells.
In addition it also helps you stay fit by avoiding injuries and aiding your post exercise recovery.
Looking at it from an alternative view point, if you are dehydrated it is bad news.
You will tire easily, your heart rate is increased and this is a greater chance of suffering from cramps.
So yes, if you want to run well it is a VERY good idea to keep hydrated.
Consider how much you sweat when you are out for a run (especially a longer run and/or one done when it is hot – continue reading to find a simple way for calculating how much you have sweated) and you can see how easy it is to become dehydrated.
We only need to lose between two or three percent of our body weight to become dehydrated.
Fortunately, you don’t need anything special to stay hydrated.
Good old water, whether it be tap or bottled will do the trick.
In addition, contrary to popular belief, tea and coffee are almost as good as water for hydration.
Although caffeine IS a diuretic, i.e. it makes us pee, our bodies are designed to quickly compensate.
So yes, even your daily cuppa counts towards your hydration, even if it is caffeinated.
Whatever you drink, try to drink little and often, rather than have glug fest.
If you drink too much, too quickly, the body is just going to get rid of most of it…
…meaning you will be spending the next few hours up and down to the loo.
And talking of the loo, one way to get an indication of how well you are hydrated is to check out the colour of your wee.
You are looking for a light straw colour, anything darker than this indicates you probably need a drink.
Beware though a number of things can affect this rule of thumb, so the best time to do this check is first thing in the morning.
It should be added that you can OVER hydrate, which is equally bad (if not worse) than under hydrating.
Under normal circumstances, The Institute of Medicine suggests that a healthy adult should be drinking in the region of 4 to 5 pints a day in total.
(Remember though this is WITHOUT exercising).
Hydration Specifically for Your Run
If you are properly hydrated (see previous section), the drink you have prior to a run is probably going to be more about increasing performance.
There are several highly studied drinks you can take prior to running that have been shown to improve your running in one way or another.
OK drinking more water isn’t going to improve your run…
…but as you have seen, being dehydrated can negatively affect your run.
So really this is a reminder you should be making sure you are correctly hydrated prior to setting off.
If you are planning to be running for less than 30 minutes, and you are just taking it easy, water is going to be fine.
Under these circumstances your body is most likely going to have more than enough energy reserves for what you need.
OK, before you continue, it is that time when I let you know again that when you purchase through my links I will most likely earn a small commission. This comes from the vendor and it does not effect the price you pay.
It helps me fund the site.
Right now that’s out of the way, let’s get on with the good stuff 🙂
This is not the first time I have written about the benefits of beetroot juice.
(Checkout Supplements to Improve Running Endurance)
And the reason is that it is a high studied and highly effective performance aid for athletes.
But why is it so good?
Although there are several reasons, the main one is the Nitrate content.
Ultimately once our body has finished with the nitrate in the beetroot juice it results in improved blood flow and lung capacity…
Pretty key running performance factors, I’m sure you’d agree.
Studies have shown improvements of up to 16%, which when you think about it, is huge.
I know from personal experience if I’m ever doing speed work I will be quicker for longer having drank beetroot juice prior to the session.
So with this and the fact you are dealing with something that is 100% natural, it is well worth investigating.
That’s the good stuff, but before you rush out and purchase cartons of the juice though, be aware that you would have to gulp down the best part of half a pint (500ml) to get the required effect.
There are two major drawbacks to this.
Firstly, most people think it tastes disgusting (I am definitely one of those people)!
Secondly, unless you down the juice a good few hours before your run, you’ll have the liquid sloshing around while you run.
Fortunately, there is a way around this.
The concentrated version of the juice.
Beet It is a UK company that provide Nitrate400.
70cl concentrated shots of the juice.
This equates to the optimal pre-run quantity of nitrate.
Before you ask, yes it still tastes disgusting (probably even worse than the non-concentrate!).
But as there is such a small amount, a couple of gulps see it finished off.
(My top tip is also to have a glass of water and a biscuit on hand to have as soon as you have downed the shot)
I have been using the Beet It Nitrate400 for almost a year now, and find it has a real impact on my running.
Again, this was something else I wrote about in my post about supplements that can help running endurance.
The reason I am including it here is not only because it is something I use, it is more importantly something that has been included in a high number of studies that have concluded that caffeine, really can help improve performance.
(The fact professional athletes swear by it also helps 🙂 )
To hugely paraphrase the studies, caffeine works to make your brain think that running (or any exercise for that matter) is easier than you would ordinarily find it.
This has the effect of allowing you to run quicker and/or longer.
The minimum effective dose has been found to be 3mg of caffeine for every kg of body weight.
So, for a 63.5 kg (10 stone) runner like me, you would be looking at around 200mg.
You could of course get this via your daily coffee, but it is difficult to measure exactly how much caffeine you are receiving with each cup.
Therefore another more practical alternative is to get your required caffeine fix via a specially created energy drink designed for exercise.
One of the most popular caffeine pre-workout drinks on Amazon is the NCCO BCAA drink.
The benefit of this drink is that it contains much more than just the caffeine.
Also included are, what are known as, Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA).
To summarise what BCAAs do, they not only help you to run harder for longer, they have also been shown to help with recovery.
Meaning the drink will not only help with your upcoming run, they will help you get ready for the next one.
Now to be completely transparent, I personally take my caffeine and amino acids in tablet/powder form.
However, I do know many people find it easier to use the readymade drinks.
Finally it should be mentioned that caffeine will cancel out the effects of beetroot juice.
So you should be choosing one or other of these pre-run drinks and not both.
I tend to use the beetroot juice for my speed sessions and caffeine for my longer runs.
It is pretty obvious that when you are out for a run, you are going to lose water and various other minerals by sweating.
And the amount varies based on a number of different factors.
The length of run, the intensity of the run, and the temperature during the run are all going to have an impact.
Also as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the way our body sweats will also have a big impact.
Therefore post run hydration is very important.
Working Out How Much Liquid You Need To Replace
To get an idea of how much liquid you have lost during a run, you can do a pre and post run weigh in.
Simply step on the scales just before you go out for your run…
…and then get back on them soon after getting back from your run.
Take the second measurement away from the initial weight and you have the mass of the liquid lost during your run.
As the density of water is 1, and your sweat is predominantly water, you can calculate what the volume of liquid very easily.
Weight loss (in kgs) x 1 = litres of sweat lost
If you are someone who still works in old school imperial measurements, a kg is as near as damn it to two lbs.
And a litre equates to roughly 1.8 pints.
So very roughly…
Weight loss (in lbs) x 1 = pints of sweat lost
Once you have this information you have a starting point for the liquid to replace.
One to 1.5 litres to for every kg lost
One to 1.5 pints for every lb lost
My Two Favourite Drinks For After a Run
But of course, drinking after a run is not JUST about replacing water.
If you have been out running for around an hour or more, you’ll be looking at carbohydrates to refuel.
You’ll also be looking to replace lost minerals lost through the sweating.
And you should also be looking to take onboard protein to help the muscles recover and strengthen.
With those things in mind, here are what I consider to be the best post run drinks I have tried.
Incredible as it might seem, there have been various studies done recently that have highlighted chocolate milk as a great recovery drink.
One of these studies compared chocolate milk, to an isotonic drink and a carbohydrate replacement drink.
The idea was to measure their effect on recovery.
To cut to the chase, the chocolate milk was shown to outperform the specialist sports recovery drinks.
It seems that the reason for this success was down to the ratio of protein and carbohydrates within the chocolate milk.
The carb:protein ratio (around 3:1 – 4:1) just happens to hit the sweet spot when it comes to refueling and recovery of muscles.
Of course the other handy benefit is you get to drink chocolate milk 🙂
Clear Whey Isolate
One of the issues I find with with a chocolate milk recovery shake is that you don’t always want a milky drink after a run.
Oftan I know, I want something a little ‘lighter’.
Therefore a favourite post-run recovery drink for me is Myprotein’s Clear Whey Isolate.
(For completeness, specifically Mango flavour)
It creates a drink that is more like a cordial or juice than a milkshake.
But it still contains all the ingredients that are going to maximise recovery.
You get the protein your muscles need to repair themselves…
…and unlike the chocolate milk it also includes BCAA’s to further aid recovery.
All you need to do is add 300-400ml of water to one scoop and you are good to go.
I did find one or two of the flavour choices a bit sweet for my tastes, and also the bitter lemon a bit…well…bitter 🙂
But for me the mango was the ‘Goldilocks’ choice (just right, not too sweet and not too bitter).
So there you go, whether you were looking for the best energy drink before you go out running…
…or what I would recommend as a recovery drink for after you get back from running, hopefully I have given you some ideas here.
Please let me know what you favourite pre and post run drinks are