Eat Right

Some athletes run to eat, while others eat to run. There's a close relationship between food (fuel) and energy (performance), and no matter which type of runner (or eater) you are, what you put into your body affects everything from your mood to your motivation to your ability to keep running strong.

You probably already know that carbohydrates provide your muscles with the energy they need to run, that fruits and vegetables contain important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants—and that staying hydrated is crucial to your energy and recovery. If so, you're off to a great start—but there are some other basics you should know as well.

Breakfast is a good place to start—it's the most important meal of the day! By eating a balanced breakfast consisting of complex carbs, fresh fruit, and low-fat milk or yogurt, you can stabilize your mood and energy level, and even set the stage for healthy eating all day long.

Other tips to consider:

  • Try to eat 1-2 snacks daily. Think of these snacks as additional chances to get in one or two servings of the healthy foods you need each day.

  • Forget the "after 8" rule (no eating after 8:00 p.m.). You can (and should) eat after every run, no matter what the clock says. If you eat a balanced meal consisting of lean protein, complex carbohydrates, and a hearty serving of veggies, you can forget the guilt.

  • Save room for dessert! Depriving yourself of your favorite treats often leads to trouble. If you limit your daily treat to either one portion or 10% of your daily calorie needs, feel free to enjoy it.

With those basics in mind, follow the links below for customized nutritional advice to suit your individual training, racing, and lifestyle needs.

By Activity

Pre-Run/Race

Whether you are heading out for a training run or to compete in a 5K or a marathon, what and when you last ate will have a dramatic impact on your performance, recovery, and overall health. Take some fluids and carbs before you lace up your sneakers—and for longer runs, consider eating something salty, and adding a bit of protein. Even if you run first thing in the morning, you will run better and recover faster if you fuel up before you go.

Post-Run/Race Recovery

Recovery is an active process, and a little attention to it can keep you running strong. Studies have shown that athletes who replace not only fluids, but also carbohydrates, sodium, and protein within 30 minutes of finishing a race or workout recover more quickly than those who take fluids alone. Eating right during recovery can also reduce your risk of injury and illness.

During a Run/Race

During exercise, the right nutrition can extend your endurance. It can also help you maintain your body temperature and electrolyte balance, your pace, and your RPE (rate of perceived exertion). As if that wasn't enough, a good fueling strategy can delay the onset of fatigue, prevent muscle cramping, and help you enjoy your run even more.

Training

If you spend more time choosing an outfit for your daily run than you do planning your meals, you are probably doing yourself a disservice. A balanced training diet can help give your body the energy it needs to work, train, race, and do all the other things you care about.

By Condition

Pregnancy

Being pregnant is one of the most exciting times of your life. It is also a time to pay close attention to your nutritional needs. Eating a balanced diet, inclusive of all food groups, can help keep you—and your baby—on target.

Dietary Restrictions

Runners come in all sizes and shapes, and so do runners' diets. Every runner needs adequate total calories, carbs, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals—but how you get them is a matter of personal preference.

High Cholesterol

Many slender, fit runners also have hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol). Family history, and current and past eating habits all play a role in determining your cholesterol numbers. A doctor can help you monitor your cholesterol values.

Diabetes

Controlling and balancing your total carbohydrate intake is critical if you have diabetes or pre-diabetes. Many people wrongly believe that they should be looking for low-sugar or sugar-free foods. This is most definitely not the case—especially for runners! Work with your doctor to determine how much carbohydrate is appropriate for your needs.

Hypertension

If you're a runner and you have hypertension, you may be confused as to what to eat—and what not to eat. Decreasing your sodium intake is important, as is increasing your potassium intake. Both electrolytes can help maintain your body's fluid balance.

Gastrointestinal Issues

One uncomfortable topic many runners avoid discussing is GI distress. Some lucky runners have "guts of steel," but most others experience abdominal discomfort (gas, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea) on a regular basis—and don't know what to do about it.

Weight Loss

Many people start (and continue) running because it's a highly effective—and inexpensive—way to lose weight and keep it off. Running is a great calorie burner, but it's all too easy for all but the highest mileage runners to consume more calories in a sitting than they have burned off in a training run.

By Gender

Women’s Health

While female runners need more calories than non-runners, women generally require fewer total calories than their male counterparts. Women need to make wise choices in order to ensure that they're getting adequate total carbohydrate, protein, and fat on fewer calories. Women runners tend to assess body weight from several angles: health, vanity, and sports performance.

Men’s Health

Most men need to eat 6-10% more calories per pound of body weight than their female counterparts in order to maintain muscle mass and normal body functioning. And because men tend to have higher total muscle mass, many high-mileage male runners have difficulty maintaining or gaining weight, while men who run less weekly mileage often find it all too easy to pack on pounds.

ABOUT OUR NUTRITIONIST

Lauren Antonucci, MS, RD, CSSD, CDE, CDN

Registered Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Educator, and Board Certified Specialist in Sports Nutrition

 

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