As we start to run more, we need more calories and better calories (we need better calories all the time). Eating healthy while running really does make a difference. Processed, sugary foods aren’t healthy regardless if we are runners or not, and they won’t help you while training. I guarantee you’ll notice a difference when you cut back on sugar and processed foods, and eat more whole, organic (when you can) foods. You think Ryan Hall, Kara Goucher, and Shalane Flanagan eat tons of junk when they are training?? It’s a given they DON’T!!
Here are some rules to stick to while training (or all the time works too).
- Avoid sugar and processed junk food. I know we all have setbacks, and we can’t avoid sugar all the time, but it shouldn’t be a daily habit. Our diet should consist of whole foods, not junk foods. Sugar is like poison to our bones, and don’t get me started on diet soda.
- Eat more carbs. Carbohydrates are more easily broken down by are bodies to glycogen, which is fuel to our workouts. The more glycogen you have stored, the longer you can maintain your workout without feeling fatigued. Once glycogen supply is used, our body taps into other sources of fuel, which take longer to break down; hence the reason Marathoners hit the wall. That’s why it’s important to refuel when running over an hour.
- Eat 60% carbs, 20% fat, and 20% protein. Or close to this. Everybody is different, but runners do need more carbs compared to protein and fat. Some may thrive with 15% protein and 25 % fat, or maybe 25% protein and 15% fat. Sports nutritionist say between a 4:1 and 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein. Fat and protein are important to runners as well. Fats are great when we consume the right fats, because they help deal with inflammation produced in our bodies, and help with stamina as well. Protein helps to rebuild muscle, diminish effects of cortisol (stress hormone that breaks down muscle), and spends up the ability to replenish glycogen stores (when consumed with carbs).
- Drink beet juice. It’s been known to give a performance boost among Olympic athletes. Beets are full of nitrates, which help athletes by quickly bringing oxygen to muscles. (can be drank before or after) Beware it turns your pee red!!
- Drink tart cherry juice. Helps to reduce muscle pain and weakness after strenuous exercise. It also is high in potassium as well, and replenishes electrolytes. Try to buy organic, because cherries are contaminated with toxins (great for after, not right before a run or during).
- Drink Tomato juice. High sodium content is helpful for replenishing sodium lost while running.
- Fuel with Nuun & coconut water. Great source of electrolytes, without the unhealthy sugar. I am not a fan of sports drinks, so I use Nuun and coconut water during long runs and after runs. Great source of potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous (electrolytes).
- Eat protein after running workouts. We all probably know that protein is needed after running. As stated in # 3 it helps to rebuild muscle. It’s best to eat 30 minutes after you run, because your muscles are most receptive to protein then. You need 10-20 grams of protein after your run; higher end after those long marathon training runs. This could be from a smoothie w/ PB and protein powder, or protein bar (making it yourself is better), eggs, almonds, PB w/ banana, yogurt and chia seeds or granola, oatmeal, & protein packed pancakes.
- Include more veggies and fruits in your diet. Veggies and fruits are filled with important vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that are essential to everyday health and to our running. Antioxidants help to fight any oxidative damage in our body caused by running and high intensity training. Runners need more iron and potassium, and fruits & veggies are a great source. Bananas are rich in potassium; spinach rich in iron. Iron is need to help make the important blood proteins hemoglobin and myoglobin, that carry oxygen in the body. Vitamin C (in oranges, kiwi, grapefruits, strawberries, bell peppers, raspberry’s) helps repair muscle damage, maintain cartilage and bone tissues, and build’s protein for skin and tendons, scar tissues, and blood vessels.
- Hydrate. I think it’s obvious water is a must when running. We should drink half our body weight in ounces (so if you are 140 lbs, that’s 70 ounces of water), and more if we are physically active, and even more if running in the heat. Dehydration can lead to serious problems and hospitalizations (believe me I know).
Remember as you run more your burning more calories, and unless you want to loss weight, you need to replenish those calories with nutrient dense calories, not cheap calories in processed, sugary junk. Not all calories are EQUAL!! Also, it’s important to not think you can eat everything and as much as you want. Running can make you hungrier, and sometimes that’s annoying, but don’t sabotage your diet with unhealthy, fat laden foods.
Depending on your body weight, you burn roughly around 80-100 calories per mile, this can help you figure out how much more you need to consume to keep your glycogen stores full, and your fat and protein at optimal levels for tissue and muscle repair.