I am super excited to have commenced my nutrition talks for beginner athletes at the Running Room this past week. I have compiled some basic information for sports enthusiasts regarding fuel and hydration, for your reading pleasure! Enjoy!
Runners have very particular nutritional requirements.
To ensure the very best performance, endurance and recovery, you will need to concentrate on these three things: what when & how much you eat. As a rule, runners need to consume more calories than the non-runner as you will be burning approximately an extra 100 calories for every 1.5 km you run. Once you start running longer distances, you will notice your metabolism speed increasing, which will be great for those trying to shed a few extra pounds. If you’re not trying to lose weight, then you will have to eat more.
Nutritional snacks such as fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grain sandwiches, smoothies, nuts, seeds, and protein bars will provide sufficient energy to get you through your daily activities as well as curb your hunger. Healthy snacks will also ensure that your muscles and liver are always ready for further exercise.
Food can be broken down into 3 main food groups, or “macro-nutrients”:
Carbohydrates (which break down into sugars, provide the most convenient source of energy for the body) is THE most important component in a runner’s fuel.
There are two types of Carbohydrates, Complex carbohydrates, which provide slow and steady fuel, like whole grains, unrefined pastas, leafy and root vegetables. These foods will not produce the sharp blood sugar spikes and lows, which can leave you feeling depleted before the end of your run. The second type of Carbohydrate is Simple Carbohydrates which are absorbed more readily for instant energy. Sports drinks, gels, refined sugars are all examples of Simple Carbohydrates.
Moving on to Protein: Protein is essential for both tendon and muscle repair. The more often you run and the further distance you cover, the more repair work there will be for your muscles. Protein is not something you have to worry about as it exists in most foods, however, it still has an important role in a runner’s nutrition.
And lastly, Fats: – Fats are NOT the enemy! They are imperative for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A D E K), as well as provides energy when carbohydrate stores are low.
Monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, flax seed oil, and avocados are the healthiest fats to consume but should still be eaten in moderation. It is healthier for a runner to obtain their fat calories from these sorts of plant fats and oils than from unhealthy options such as lard or deep-fried foods.
Balanced Meals for Runners:
Your overall diet should consist of roughly 20 percent fats, 60 percent complex carbohydrates and 20 percent proteins. You can also use this “My Plate” rule to ensure you are consuming the proper ration of macronutrients:
1/4 protein (beans, legumes, tofu, lean meats, good quality eggs)
1/4 whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat noodles)
When To Eat & How Much:
Not enough fuel and you will crash, too much fuel, and you may experience fatigue and or cramping. NEVER run on an empty stomach.
2-3 hours before your run: 2 cups of water, and eat a meal rich in complex carbohydrates.
Use the My Plate rule to ensure appropriate ratio of macronutrients.
1 – 1.5 hours before your run: 1 cup of water, and a high carbohydrate snack & a small amount of protein: 1 piece of toast with nut butter and a piece of fruit, small bowl of cereal with almond milk, granola with yogurt etc.
30 – 45 minutes before your run: 1 cup of water as well as a smaller meal: 1 piece of toast with nut butter, 1/2 a banana, a few crackers with nut butter. For morning runs, if you don’t have time and you simply cannot stomach eating first thing in the morning, and plan on a run, drink a cup of 100% juice.
(you may want to have a full meal 3 hours prior & a snack 30-60 min prior as well)
DURING RUN: Once you start running longer distances, 10 KM (60 minutes +), you will need to start thinking about re-fueling. This is where your Simple Carbohydrates come into play. & a good place to incorporate your sports gels and drinks. You can replenish your energy levels with Complex Carbohydrates as well (gels made from whole foods, fresh or dried fruit, chia) however, the absorption rate is slower, and will need to be consumed BEFORE you start to run out of steam. If choose to snack on foods, do so during your 1 minute walks to avoid choking.
AFTER 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. When consumed in the first 15 minutes after finishing your run will be best absorbed for muscles seeking fuel sources. The 15-minute time frame is important, as this is when your muscles can utilize it best.
Eating a balanced meal within the first two hours after your run will assist with muscle and tendon repair.
Sports Drinks: Yes sports drinks have electrolytes, however, they all use High Fructose Corn Syrup as a sweetener. This activates the high-crash phenomenon we should try to avoid. A healthier way to restore electrolyte balance would be things like coconut water, watermelon juice and vitamin-infused water. OR, you can do what I do, and make your own electrolyte mixture:
Make your own sports drink!
3 cups water
1 cup lemon, grapefruit or orange juice (vitamin C helps prevents oxidation, thus combats build up of lactic acid)
1/2 cup maple or coconut syrup, raw agave
1 tbsp ACV (optional)
1/3 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
Last But Not Least: Hydration
A good rule of thumb is to aim for at least two liters, or eight cups, per day. Herbal teas, sports drinks, and fruit juices, can be counted as fluids, but be warned that caffeine and alcohol do not, as these will dehydrate you. Water should be consumed evenly throughout the day to keep fluid levels up and your body evenly hydrated. Does anyone know a clear indication of dehydration? Check your urine. If it’s unusually dark, be sure get some water in you . . . stat!