Running, like any sport, is greatly affected by what is put into your body’s engine. You will be burning an extra 100 calories roughly for each mile that you run. That means you should be eating extra calories, but you need to eat the right ones. To make sure you get the best possible performance I have put together some top tips for you.
Complex carbohydrates provide slow and steady fuel. Foods such as wholegrains, whole breads and unrefined pastas, vegetables and potatoes will not produce the sharp sugar spikes and lows, providing you with fuel for your entire run. In contrast, eating refined carbohydrates will make you feel amazing for the first mile or two of your run but this will soon end. Refined carbohydrates could also make you stomach upsets as your body will want to get rid of them as quick as possible.
Protein is essential for tendon and muscle repair, as well as regulating hormones. The more often you run and the further you run, the more repair work there will be for your muscles. If you are training for a long distance run you will need up to 1.5 grams of protein for every kilogram that you weigh. So if you weigh 64kg, you will need about 96g of protein daily. Your protein should be high quality and preferably lean, such as chicken, tofu, eggs, nuts, or fish.
While everyone deserves a treat once in a while, try to avoid fatty foods like whole milk, red meat, ice cream, mayonnaise, egg yolks, chocolate, butter and cheese. Some fats, however, can actually do you some good. These are the unsaturated fats, particularly monounsaturated fats like those in olive oil, peanut oil and avocado oil. Unsaturated fats can actually reduce blood cholesterol.
Vitamins and minerals will play an important factor in your running performance and endurance. Your extra energy requirements will also mean that you will need extra vitamins and minerals. Ideally, these should be provided from a healthy and well balanced diet of fresh and whole foods. Bottled supplements will never replace a healthy and varied diet, and should only ever be considered as an extra, not a necessity.
Water consumption is essential for everyone, but even more so for the runner who will sweat more than average. A good rule of thumb is to aim for at least two to three litres per day, but be warned that caffeine and alcohol do not count to your daily total, as these will dehydrate you. Water should be consumed evenly throughout the day to keep fluid levels up and your body evenly hydrated.
Commercial protein drinks, carb drinks and sports drinks can all be useful ways to stock up on fuel before a run. These are especially useful for the early morning runner who doesn't have time to eat breakfast and then wait to run. Drinking meals is also easier on some runner's digestions than a big meal right before a run around the park.
Balanced meals for runners should comprise roughly 20% fats, 60% complex carbohydrates and 20% proteins. Ensure that you consume plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Smaller meals more often will also keep your blood sugar levels more steady and your metabolism running high. Aim for three smaller meals, and two to three snacks throughout the course of the day.
Nutritional snacks such as fresh fruits, vegetables, wholegrain sandwiches, nuts, eggs, yogurts, and protein or health-food bars can all help to alleviate the dreaded energy slump. Healthy snacks will also ensure that your muscles and liver are always ready for further exercise, and additionally, you will have sufficient energy to get through day-to-day activities.
The timing of your meals will be crucial to the success of your running performance. Not enough fuel and the engine will run out. Too much fuel, too soon can be just as disastrous as not enough. The ideal formula for peak performance is to eat a meal high in complex carbohydrates two to three hours prior to your run. After finishing your session it is a great idea to have a glucose drink within 15 minutes to replenish tired muscles looking for fuel. Also eating a meal rich in protein and complex carbohydrates in the first two hours after your run will assist with muscle repair.
As I said earlier the average person could burn about 100 calories for every mile they run. If you are unsure about how many calories you are burning you can always use a calorie burning counter to figure it out. These counters use factors such as your body weight, age, fitness level, and gender, to approximately determine the calories you are burning up.
As a general rule, about one to two hours before your run you should aim for one to two glasses of water plus 25 to 50 grams of carbs. Great choices are a banana, porridge, bagel, wholegrain toast or an energy bar. Alternatively, combine the water with carb powder to make a drink.
Be sure to also check out our Nutrition Hub which is full of useful nutritional advice and tips to aid training and assist a healthy lifestyle.