Getting our nutrition right can have a huge impact on our running – both our training and our race performance.
Many of us may have questions such as ‘What’s the best pre-run breakfast?’ or ‘What’s the best thing to eat for recovery?’ and these are good questions, but tweaking very specific parts of our diet to boost our running performance should be seen as the icing on the cake. The foundation of our running nutrition is what we eat in our day to day diet – if we get that right, then the rest falls into place more easily.
So what’s the healthiest diet for a runner? This is not a ‘one size fits all’ answer, as we are all individuals with different athletic goals, however there are some fundamentals that we can put into place that will support our overall health and, therefore, our running. Here are 5 tips to get you started:
-- Carbs are our body’s primary source of energy, so as runners we need to include them in our diet. Wholegrain carbs are best for our health as they provide a steadier release of energy than refined (white) carbs, plus essential nutrients such as B vitamins, iron and magnesium which are lost in the milling process.
Most of us are probably good at getting our 5 portions a day, but can we go one better and eat 5 varieties and/or colours a day? Fruit and veg are a fantastic source of carbohydrates which support our running, but they are also packed with vitamins and minerals as well as antioxidants which can lessen the immune and inflammatory stress associated with intense exercise. The more variety we eat, the more antioxidants we will get in our diet!
-- Hydration is key to good health and just like cramming for a test, drinking loads of water the morning of a long run (especially after a few too many drinks the night before) won’t hydrate you properly. Aim to drink between 2-3 litres of fluids each day to stay well hydrated – unsweetened and uncaffeinated drinks are the best choices.
-- Protein is essential for growth and repair of the body and maintenance of good health. We can get protein from a variety of sources and, just as with fruit and veg, that variety is good for us. Processed and red meats tend to be higher in saturated fat so most of us can benefit from reducing our intake, whilst oily fish is rich in omega 3 fats which protects cells and reduces inflammation. Meat free sources of protein such as beans and tofu are high in fibre
-- Sugar can be useful for runners - long runs would be more or less impossible without gels and energy sweets to fuel us when our glycogen stores are depleted. But too much sugar in our daily diet can lead to energy spikes and dips (the dreaded afternoon energy crash!), increase inflammation in the body and, if consumed in excess over time, contribute to weight gain and increase risk of conditions such as type 2 diabetes. For these reasons, added sugar should be kept to a minimum whenever possible and swapped for healthier alternatives.
Watch this space as I will be talking more about pre-race and training food, along with recovery food soon! Cameron Harris- Head Coach