How to Maximize Your Training Through Nutrition For Runners

Proper nutrition and eating the right food at the right times can make a huge difference in your training and provide you with the energy to achieve your goals.

Although “proper nutrition” is a personal thing, there are some concepts most people should include in their training.

Macronutrients

Macronutrients are the three main categories of food. These are proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Do not be afraid of the words fat and carbohydrates. Your body requires all three macronutrients in order to function properly.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates provide the body with its main energy source. There are many types of carbohydrate and each one can fuel your body in a different way. These carbs are found in processed foods, but also in fruits and are often high in sugar. Complex carbohydrates take longer for our bodies to breakdown, such as starches, pasta, grains and starchy vegetables. Complex carbs are high in fiber and are better fuel sources for training because they take longer to digest. They can also provide more energy and make you feel fuller. Important to remember that processed carbs such as white bread, pasta, and rice are stripped of some nutrients, so they act like simple carbohydrates.

Protein

People often associate protein with body builders. However, it is important that everyone eats enough protein, especially runners. Our bodies need protein to grow, repair, and rebuild tissues, as well as protect our lean body mass. There are many protein sources, including meat, poultry and fish, eggs, milk, cheese and other plant sources such as soy beans, lentils, nuts and others.

Fat

Every day, another low-fat or non-fat diet product is introduced to the grocery stores. This can lead you to believe that you should avoid fat altogether. Fat is essential for energy storage, hormone production, fat-soluble vitamins absorption, and cell membrane integrity.

Different types of fat interact with the body in different ways, just like carbs.

  1. Saturated Fat: High amounts of saturated fat are known to raise cholesterol and increase the risk of developing heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends that 5-6% of your daily calories come from saturated fat.
  2. Unsaturated Fats – These healthier fats can lower your risk of developing heart disease. You should eat mainly unsaturated fats.
  3. Trans Fat – Trans Fat can be found most often in processed foods such as junk food. These fats should not be eaten as often as possible as they can lower “good” cholesterol as well as raise “bad” LDL, which can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

When is it appropriate to consume certain macronutrients

All people need all three macronutrients for their daily functioning, but runners may be able to benefit from certain macronutrients when they are available.

Before Training

A full meal with carbs, protein and fat should be consumed at least 3-4 hours before running.

Examples:

  • One medium-sized bagels with two slices each of deli turkey and grapes
  • Oatmeal with peanut butter and berries

You should eat a snack between 30 and 60 minutes before you start your run if you are unable to prepare a complete meal within the three to four hours. This is a common practice for early-morning runners. This snack should be mainly carbs, with some fat and protein.

Examples:

  • 1 slice whole-grain toast with 1-2 TBS peanut butter and a banana
  • Half a cup of low-fat greek yogurt with 1/2 a cup of fruit
  • 1 piece fruit and a few nuts
  • Protein shake with milk and fruit.

Avoiding these foods:

Avoid foods that could upset your stomach before you run. You should avoid foods that you don’t normally eat. High-fat foods such as creams and foods with lots of butter or oil can also upset your stomach.

Training

You don’t have to eat anything if you are running for less than 60 mins. You should aim to consume between 100 and 300 calories of carbs per hour if your run is longer than 60 minutes.

Examples:

  • Gatorade
  • Sports chews, gummies
  • Granola bars
  • Fruit (not as convenient)
After Training

You will feel sore in your muscles and depleted energy, so it is important to concentrate on recovery. You should consume carbs (to replenish glycogen) as well as protein (to repair your muscles) within 30 minutes.

Examples:

  • 1/2 Cup low-fat yogurt with 1/2 cup fruit
  • Protein shake with milk, fruit, & protein powder if desired.

You should consume a complete meal, with carbs and protein, within two hours after you train.

Hydration

Hydration is important as well, since training can lead to dehydration, particularly in hot and humid climates.

Drinking water before, during, and after exercise is important. It is a good idea to drink at most half of your body weight per day in ounces of fluid. For example, if you are 150 pounds you should drink 75 ounces daily. One glass is approximately 8 ounces depending on its size. Water intake from food can vary depending on what we eat.

Don’t wait until you feel thirsty to drink. If you feel thirsty, it’s likely that you are already dehydrated. Consistent drinking throughout the day will ensure that you are properly hydrated. Although it is possible to over-hydrate, it is very rare. CBS reported that up to 75% of Americans were suffering from chronic dehydration in 2013.

Water should be sufficient if you are training for less than 60 mins. You should drink water as well as opt for sports drinks if you train for longer than 60 minutes or in hot, humid conditions.

Supplements

Supplements such as vitamins, minerals and protein powders can help to boost your nutrition. A convenient way to get protein pre- or after a race is to use protein powder.

Vitamins and minerals don’t contain any calories, so they aren’t a source of energy. However, they can be used to unlock calories from food that can be used as energy.

While healthy eating habits provide enough vitamins and minerals, supplements may be required for certain nutrients. These include sodium and electrolytes like Iron, Calcium, B vitamins, and Calcium.

Everyone’s nutritional needs will vary depending on many factors such as genetics, weight and training intensity. These general nutrition tips can help runners feel strong and energized during training and race day.

AUTHOR

Dr. Ben Bagge

Pro+Kinetix Physical Therapy & Performance

"We Help Active Adults & Athletes Get Back To Workouts and Sports They Enjoy without surgery, stopping activities they love, or relying on pain medicine."
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