Runner’s Nutrition: Back to Basics
Enhance your nutrition for faster running times and stronger performance.
Some runners run to eat, while others eat to run. In this article we highlight pro nutrition tips for runners. As you probably know, the nutrition needed for a runner and the nutrition needed for someone who works at a PC all day will be completely different. If you are intending to take on a whole bunch of physical challenges like running and cycling (as cross training) in the near future, it’s important to consider the concept of food as fuel and understand your body’s nutritional requirements moving forward.
Protein, Fat, and Carbohydrates
Your body needs specific nutrients to sustain everyday biological processes, especially hard workouts. Protein, fat, and carbohydrates are macronutrients that provide calories, but they also have other functions. For example, the main purpose of fiber in your digestive system is to keep your bowels moving and help you have regular bowel movements.
- Carbs are the primary energy source throughout your system. You need to take 45 to 55 percent of your daily calories from carbs. They provide 4.1 calories per gram.
- Fat is the structural component of cells and blood vessels, with key roles in hormones and enzymes. Take 20 to 35 percent of your daily calories from fat. Fat provides 9.1 calories per gram.
- Protein is well-known for its role in adding to lean muscle mass, but it also provides structure to all cells and gives energy when fat and carbs are not available. Take 15 to 20 percent of your daily calories from protein. It provides 4.1 calories per gram.
PRO TIP: alcohol provides 7 calories per gram but have no nutritional value.
Fueling for training is vital for optimal performance – both endurance and speed – and there are some very important micronutrients that we all need to function properly. If you want to become a better, more efficient runner, you will need a regular intake of the following nutrients:
- Iron – this fights fatigue and keeps you strong and healthy
- Calcium – Makes the bones stronger and more durable, an absolute must for runners
- Vitamin E – Protects against the negative effects of oxidants and toxins
- Potassium – Regulates body water lost through sweat and controls muscle contractions – helps recovery time
- Magnesium – Re-mineralizes the bones, keeps the body strong and helps to store energy. Also useful in muscle contractions.
- In general, runners benefit from an increased intake of protein, fiber and various minerals!
Nutrition might seem complex and challenging, but here are some simple steps to help:
Planning Your Diet
Plan your diet to suit your lifestyle. Complete a quick analysis of what you eat. Start a weekly food diary to get a better understanding of what your dietary requirements are currently.
Change It Up
After looking at your diet and working out what you need, you can then see what your nutritional intake looks like. See what kind of adjustments are needed to plug any gaps in your nutrition and start packing the body full of what it needs to perform well.
PRO TIP: Stock up your house with real, healthy food. The term “real food” means minimally processed with as few ingredients as possible. Think:
- High-quality meat (organic, grass-fed)
Not everyone is into the fruit and veg diet and if you can’t get all of your nutrients and vitamins from real food, supplements can help. Supplements are a good option to ensure that you get the nutrients you are missing out on, just don’t become reliant on them. Remember, they are no substitute for a good, healthy meal. Only use them for the foods that you simply do not have the ability to eat. For example, use whey protein for extra protein intake, use vitamins when you don’t have fruits & vegetables, use magnesium & calcium in long runs.
Boost Fluid Intake
Fluids are vital for runners to ensure that you have the energy needed to finish a workout. Drinking more water is so important for a healthy body.
PRO TIP: Drink a pint of water an hour before you go on a run/cycle/jog and also a half a pint for every half an hour that you run. This means that days when you run should have you consuming up to 5l on a rest day.
The most important thing that you can do is eat. All of these nutrients and vitamins need to come from somewhere and you need to eat to get them in there. Don’t skip main meals in the day – breakfast, lunch and dinner are vital. Go for foods like brown rice, baked and sweet potatoes, beans and quinoa. All of these are loaded with what you need, and pasta can be the perfect dish to have it all with – especially when planning a long run. This gives your body something that we haven’t discussed yet, but is as important as planning nutrition – energy!
Healthy snacks can be the perfect addition to your diet as you can start to get over those hunger pangs without relying on sweet or sugary treats. Stick to healthy snacks between those bigger meals and choose things like fruit or something with plenty of protein and carbs – almonds, nuts, bananas do the trick. Also, protein bars, plain popcorn and natural yogurt are all delicious and effective.
Eat after each workout
When you need nutrition and vitamins in your body, you’ll feel it. This is never truer after a run and when you feel like this you need to take in some protein and carbohydrates right away. This will give your body the glycogen it needs to repair muscles and reduce that stress and damage that we all feel the day after a run. The first three hours post-exercise is vital as your body, so it has to be re-stocked with what has lost during the workout.
Look after your liver – this key organ handles all the food intake, and a healthy liver is the perfect ally. The liver is always working hard, storing energy and converting glucose, to give your body the vitamins it needs. It also regulates energy and ensures you are not using it all up immediately. Think of your liver as the first line of defense. It acts like a filter for your body, so avoid alcohol at all costs if you want to improve running performance. A liver that is busy processing alcohol will be less efficient at regulating energy and giving your body the vitamins it needs.
These simple nutrition tips for runners should help you start restructuring your nutrition plans for a healthy body and improved running performance. What nutrition tips do you live by? Share your nutrition tips with other runners below.