Choosing your food as fuel is just as important as how you train when it comes to reaching your athletic goals. Getting the right nutrients can help improve your performance, prevent injuries, and allow you to get the most from your training. However, fueling for performance doesn’t mean that you have to eat only “clean” foods and cut out all of the foods you enjoy. Finding a balance that allows you to provide your body with the fuel it needs. Performance and recovery while still enjoying the foods you love.
Carbohydrates are stored in the body as glycogen. This is the main source of fuel during running. There are two types of carbohydrates to focus on:
- Complex carbohydrates contain fiber, which is important for gut health. These digest slower, so include whole-wheat breads and pastas; oats; brown rice; quinoa; and non-starchy veggies like broccoli, peppers, and leafy greens after runs to help with recovery.
- Simple carbohydrates are easily digested and broken down into quick fuel. Including white bread or pasta, white rice, fruits, and white potatoes. Before a run, this provide an immediate source of energy without causing stomach issues.
Topping off fuel stores before workouts and races with simple carbohydrates will help boost your endurance. Allow you to perform at your best. After workouts and races, replenishing your energy stores with high-quality complex carbohydrates will help you recover faster from hard sessions. Although desserts absolutely can fit into your nutrition for running, an excess of sugar will increase inflammation. It’s best to limit your sugar intake when you’re recovering from an injury or preparing for a race.
Your body uses protein to build and repair muscles and strengthen your immune system. It’s important to get enough protein from meals and snacks so you can see training adaptations (getting stronger and faster) and reduce risk for injury and illness.
Prioritizing protein, especially post-workout, will help improve recovery and allow you to build and maintain lean muscle mass. Your body can absorb only so much protein at once, so it’s best to spread it out throughout the day between meals and snacks.
Focus on lean sources of protein. Eggs; chicken breast; fish; turkey; lean ground beef or bison; low-fat dairy, like Greek yogurt or cottage cheese; nuts and seeds; and legumes, like beans and lentils, are all good choices.
Fat tends to get a bad rap for being high in calories. Finding the right nutrition for running requires understanding energy expenditure as part of a runner’s diet. It provides slow-burning fuel for those lower-intensity runs and is also fundamental for hormone regulation.
Athletes whose diets are too low in fat can experience hormone disturbances and fatigue.
When you’re training hard or recovering from an injury, the amount of inflammation in your body increases. Eating a diet high in anti-inflammatory foods can help reduce post-exercise muscle damage caused by excess inflammation in the body, as well as, improve healing and recovery. Anti-inflammatory foods include those high in omega-3 fatty acids, like tuna, salmon, olive oil, and nuts and seeds, as well as foods high in antioxidants, like fresh fruit and vegetables.
Choose high-quality fats to ensure you get other important nutrients, such as fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin D. Some good sources of dietary fat include nuts and seeds, nut butter, avocado, olive oil, fatty fish like salmon and tuna, and even whole-fat dairy.
Staying hydrated is key for performance. It allows your blood to flow more easily to working muscles, which helps them get the oxygen they need faster. Although water is the preferred source of fluid, it’s important to also include electrolyte drinks. Electrolytes include sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and chloride.
Electrolytes play an important role in muscle contraction, so if you’re not getting enough, you’re more likely to experience cramping. Drinking electrolytes before runs can help your body better maintain your core temperature, preventing muscle cramps, and even help you maintain a lower heart rate during runs. Use electrolyte drinks during longer runs and workouts as well as post-workout to help replenish what you lost in your sweat.
FOOD PHILOSOPHY IN NUTRITION FOR RUNNING
Food is what makes running fun. Being well-fueled can make running feel powerful when you give your body the nutrition it needs to perform. You are rewarded with strength and speed. Unfortunately, runners often fall victim to false advertising about food. There are a lot of messages out there about what nutrition for running should and should not eat. Runners often hear these common myths:
- We must only eat “clean” to excel.
- We must stay away from any food that has sugar.
- We must limit our carbs to stay lean.
- We have to restrict our calories even when in heavy training.
These myths can lead to chronic fatigue, injury, illness, and anemia. In women, can contribute to amenorrhea (lack of menstruation). Finally, decreased bone density.
FIND A BALANCE
No food is off-limits. No food should be considered “dirty” or “bad.” There are foods that are healthy and good for you. Opposingly, there are foods that might not be as good for you. As long as the majority of the calories we consume come from the former, it is okay co to have some from the latter. If we are too intense, too strict, it becomes unsustainable. For me, it is all about balance.
Balance is important for training, too. Some days should be challenging. Others days should be easy and run at a recovery pace. If we push ourselves too hard every day, we won’t be able to sustain it. We need balance and need consistency, too.
FUELING NUTRITION FOR RUNNING TRAINING
My food reflects my training needs. If it is the off-season, I might eat less. If I am in full training, I eat more. When I’m in full training, I’m running 80 to 85 miles per week, lifting weights three times per week, and doing three intense workout sessions. My body needs fuel. It needs carbs and protein and fats and sugar. When I’m training less or in the off-season, I’m not as hungry and my body doesn’t need quite as much fuel as it does when I’m in full training.
There aren’t any recipes in this book that are “bad.” There are some that are more indulgent, but just know that I eat everything in this book, year-round. The quantities or frequency might change depending on my training intensity, but nothing is off-limits. Eating one Marshmallow Fruity Pebble Chocolate Chip Cookie isn’t going to make you a worse runner. Cut yourself some slack. Eat well, eat mostly healthy fuel, and let yourself have some more indulgent foods, too. Every body is different. People have different allergies, different tastes, and different genetics. It is so important to listen to what is right for YOUR body and not compare yourself with others. It is important to listen to your body’s needs. Not be too restrictive. Giving your body good fuel.