Nutrition for Runners
Having a healthy and balanced diet is an integral part of any athletes program if they are serious about what they do. Runners, in particular, need a nutrient rich diet to ensure that their body’s have the energy and stamina to run long distances as well as the materials needed to build and repair muscle. This means they need about 50% more protein in their diet than non-runners might need.
Running burns high amounts of calories (about 100 calories to each mile, depending on your build), so if you are a runner you know how important it is to ensure that you are getting enough calories in your diet. Unless you are aiming to lose weight, you need to be ingesting more calories than you are burning. However it is still important to make sure you are not overeating and that the calories you are gaining come from the right food sources.
Though energy and protein bars are a fantastic way of cramming in extra nutrients before (and after) a long run, it is important to remember that the best way of receiving nutrients is as nature intended.
Tips on what to eat:
- Foods such as brown rice, oats and whole grain breads and pastas are the best source of carbohydrates, and provide a variety of other nutrients.
- When choosing vegetables, aim for a variety of colour because different colours mean different nutrients.
- Try to eat fruits and vegetables with their skin on as it is here that a large portion of the nutrients, including fibre, are stored.
- When choosing meats and dairy, aim for lean cuts or low fat products.
- Natural Greek yoghurt, chicken breast and fish are all high in protein, and a fantastic source of other nutrients vital in a runners diet.
Preparing for a run:
Any experienced runner will know that some foods work better before a run and some just don’t, but the basic rules to follow are:
- Avoid fatty foods or foods that feel heavy in your stomach, as these are more likely to make you feel lethargic or nauseated.
- Stick to foods you are used to eating.
- Drink plenty of water.
- The morning of a big run you want to prepare a nutritious breakfast that is moderate in amount (about 400-600 calories).
If you are going on a short run of 30-40 minutes and you haven’t eaten in a few hours, then eating a banana or drinking some orange juice will ensure your muscles have the glycogen levels they need to power on.
If you have a big run coming up then it is important to be nutritionally prepared days in advance. Storing energy is important so for the three days leading up to your run carbohydrates should be playing an important role in your diet. Complex carbs are the best as these will give you the long lasting energy you need and are packed with extra nutrients. Aim for about 70% carbs, to 20% fats and 10% protein (remembering that most vegetables are high in carbohydrates too!)
It is not uncommon to experience runner’s trots (diarrhoea) after a long run, and if this is something you experience it might be a good idea to have a look at what you are eating in the 24 hours that lead up to that run. Even though whole grain foods are a great source of carbohydrates (and should be apart of your diet), they are very high in fibre and can be a part of what causes this condition. This also includes other high fibre foods such as some vegetables, fruits and legumes. So if runner’s trot is something you experience, then consider swapping out these nutrient rich foods for some refined carbs and low fibre fruits and vegetables for the 24 hours before your long run, and see if this helps.
Refueling post run:
After a short run (anything less that 40 minutes) your body won’t necessarily need refueling, however it is important to ensure that you keep yourself hydrated.
If you have been speed running or running long distance then your body has been burning up all your energy stores and will need to be replenished soon after so that you have the energy needed to recover. The main guidelines to follow are:
- Have a snack or small meal (about 300-400 calories) within half an hour of your run that is high in protein and carbohydrates, so that your muscles have the fuel needed to repair and rebuild (this will also help prevent injury).
- Aim for a ratio of about 4:1 carbohydrates to protein.
- After a long distance run it will take more that 400 calories to replenish your stores, but you don’t need to overload your body with them all in one go, so continue to snack and remember to have your next meal within a couple of hours.