As runners, we often expect a lot from our bodies. We head out for extended periods of time on the roads or the trails for our long runs. We push hard during intense speed sessions. We work hard in the weight room (hopefully!).

Some days, our body responds well to this stimulus, others days it can be quite a struggle. We are often unable to pinpoint the reason for those tougher days, and that can be very frustrating.

There are many different variables that can account for these difficult runs, but I’d like to briefly discuss nutrition and hydration. What we put into our bodies in the days leading up to a run can have a tremendous impact on our performance. If we are eating processed foods and not paying attention to the nutrients our bodies need, we can negatively impact our performance. If we aren’t drinking enough water, or are drinking alcohol, this can dehydrate us and also have a very negative impact on our performance.

I’m not saying you need to eat “clean” every meal, every day or that you can’t enjoy a glass of wine or a beer, not at all. I think enjoying foods we love and an occasional drink or two for some people is perfectly fine. My point is that it’s important to realize that by eating a diet full of vegetables and rich in nutrients can be very beneficial to us. Staying hydrated by drinking enough water and being aware of our alcohol consumption will also help us realize our full potential and improve, recover, and achieve our goals much better than if we aren’t aware of these things.

I’ll use myself and recent experience as an example. I recently took a short trip to Austin, TX. I normally eat a very healthy diet. I’d say it falls in the 90/10 category. 90% of what I put in my body is very intentional and healthy and the other 10% is food that I really enjoy and choose to consume in small quantities and moderation. I rarely drink alcohol and usually drink plenty of water each day. On our trip to Austin, I made the intentional decision to eat whatever I wanted for a few days and to enjoy drinks if I wanted them. I did a long run and a longer tempo run while on the trip. I’m a very data driven person, so I’m quite familiar with my heart rate metrics as compared to pace and perceived effort. My long run was definitely more of an effort than it had been in weeks past and my tempo run was a much slower pace at the same heart rate as the week prior. I felt sluggish and had a lack of energy and a lack of “pop” in my legs. I could tell my body was not running as efficiently as it normally does. I wasn’t surprised or disappointed by this, as I knew this would be the outcome of my nutrition and alcohol consumption decision.

So, take some time to look at what you are eating and drinking and how it might be affecting your running performance. For some of us, cleaning up our diet and keeping our body properly hydrated could be the game changer in crushing that goal we have for improving our running this year!