Running is becoming one of the most popular sports across the world. For many, it seems to be the starting point of their fitness journey. However, several people are unaware of the much-needed nutrition when it comes to endurance-based activities.
Regular practice combined with the right nutrition will reap the best benefits. So what exactly does your body need? Let’s run through!
The Importance Of Right Nutrition
Running helps your body break down fat and build muscles. While this happens, your body requires the right nutrition for better performance and recovery.
The nutritional needs of each runner are different depending on the distance or hours they spend in this activity. Further, it also depends on the athlete’s body weight, finishing timing, age, gender and training strategy. For optimum performance when running, a runner’s nutrition is more important than you think.
The Food Your Body Needs When You Run
Lack of awareness and absence of proper guidance from a nutrition professional, nutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins and healthy fats take centre stage while the micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants are severely ignored. Though the requirements of these nutrients are in a very little amount, their functions are important to improve performance and avoid fatigue and dehydration during the event.
Intake of carbohydrates is necessary as they become the primary source of body fuel. They provide your body energy for
- Physical activities of all intensities
- Securing glycogen stores
- Assuring muscle recovery
- Proper functioning of the central nervous system
- Maintaining blood glucose between meals
Since the energy needs are higher for a runner, their body should be supplied with high-energy whole-grain cereals and starchy vegetables.
While you are at it, try to avoid refined carbohydrates since they can cause inflammation and lower your performance and recovery. On average, 45 to 65 percent of total calorie intake must be in the form of carbohydrates. Fruit juice concentrates, syrups and raw sugar must contribute to less than 25 percent of the daily carbohydrate intake.
Fats are a great source of energy for athletes who require more than 4000 kcal per day – especially endurance athletes who have an increased ability to utilize fat. However, high fat and low carbohydrate diet or overindulgence in deep-fried foods can lower performance and increase chances of cardiovascular diseases. So remember, fats must not exceed 30% of the total energy consumption.
As an athlete, you can include food items that are healthier sources of fats containing omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, proteins, vitamins, magnesium, fiber, and antioxidants.
We cannot stress this enough! Proteins are especially important for an athlete because of their higher lean mass per unit. Upon digestion of proteins, we’re left with amino acids that help maintain tissues and repair muscles.
A diet with balanced amounts of carbs and protein will help the athlete gain energy and strength keeping the body active throughout the day.
Plant sources of proteins are loaded with antioxidants, phytochemicals, fiber, minerals, and vitamins. Essential amino acids are vital to maintain tissues and for recovery and thus should be added in your daily diet using a variety of plant-based protein sources.
Remember, including high fiber or proteins foods, which can take a lot of time to digest are not recommended 4-24 hours before an event.
Pro tip: Sprouting improves legumes’ nutritional value and digestibility enough for them to be consumed raw.
Animal sources of proteins can be recommended since they have high biological value (a measure of the proportion of absorbed protein from a food by a person). Among all animal sources, lean protein is the better choice.
Organ meats (liver, kidney, brain, heart), processed meats (sausages, salami, bacon, ham) and red meats (mutton, pork, beef, ready-to-eat marinated meats) tend to be high on cholesterol and sodium and thus should be consumed in restricted amounts.
Adequate intake of micronutrients is particularly essential to health and performance. Micro-nutrients act as a catalyst in our body’s chemical reactions and aid in digestion, absorption and metabolism thereby helping the body to function at an optimal level.
|Micronutrient & its benefits||Good sources|
|Thiamine or Vitamin B1
It helps maintain the nervous system and boosts energy metabolism (a process that converts glucose to ATP molecules or energy). It’s deficiency causes fatigue, headache, confusion and weakness.
|Sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, unpolished rice, legumes.|
|Riboflavin or Vitamin B2
Important component for the growth and development of cells in your body. Further, it helps the food you consume turn into energy.
|Milk and milk products, eggs|
|Niacin or Vitamin B3
It helps lower cholesterol, boost brain function, ease arthritis and produce energy.
|Seeds, legumes, unpolished rice|
Regulates sleep cycles, maintains hormonal balance and helps your body cope with stress.
|Chickpeas, bananas, tofu, salmon, nuts, spinach, breakfast cereals|
To help build strong bones, regulate muscle contraction, and maintain heart muscles.
|Dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, collard greens and unhulled sesame seeds.|
Maintains the health of red blood cells delivering oxygen-rich blood to hard-working extremities maximizing athletic performance.
|Curry leaves, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, leafy greens.|
Helps to rid the body of free radicals which reduce cell life span and in turn cause premature cell degeneration.
|Fruits and vegetables (Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium and Carotenoids).|
Athlete or not, hydration is extremely important in the regeneration process. A hydrated body has proper blood consistency and enables the body to function efficiently. A hydrated body aids the growth of muscle tissues and speeds up recovery.
Hydration doesn’t necessarily mean just drinking large amounts of water. You can also consume fruits and vegetables that are filled with water.
One day before the competition, athletes should drink 400-500 ml of water every 3-4 hours till an hour before the event. In long events, there may be a need to refuel and rehydrate “on the run”. You can consider sports drinks as they provide a good balance of fluid, electrolytes and simple carbohydrates to meet both goals.
How To Plan Your Food Pre and Post run
Before an event or a practice session the body needs energy to perform well. The food you consume should be easily digestible and high on energy. Food items like apples, bananas or simple fruits or nuts and seeds can be taken 30-60 minutes before the event.
Proteins take a longer time to digest so they should be consumed 1-4 hours before the event. Proteins also provide better satiety value and prevent the athlete from feeling hungry during the event. You should also drink 400-700 ml of water 60-90 minutes prior to the event.
A combination of proteins and carbohydrates in your post-workout meal are proven to aid better recovery.
Fluid intake depends on the performed activity. In 1-3 hours immediately after an event, the athlete should be drinking 1.25-1.5 liters for every 1 kg of body weight lost. Recommended post-workout meals include sprouts salad, fruits, nuts, smoothies etc.
The Concept of Carbohydrate Loading
Athletes who compete intensely for more than 90 minutes benefit from “carbohydrate loading” for a few days. This type of diet consists of consuming high-carbohydrate foods just a few days prior to the event as it provides prolonged energy during the run. Carbohydrates store large amounts of energy and are used to help refill and load muscle glycogen content (glycogen is formed upon carbohydrate breakdown). This acts as a fuel to the muscles and boosts efficiency.
You are what you eat and to be the best athlete, you must add vital ingredients in your everyday dietary plan. From consuming the right amount of carbohydrates to vitamins, proteins, minerals and not to forget, micronutrients, a balanced diet is key.
If this seems like a tricky task, we can help you out! You can book a nutritionist consultation on the cure.fit app and get assistance from professionals.