You can have lungs of steel and the legs of an Olympian, but if you neglect your nutrition, your racing and fitness goals will always remain out of reach.
With the dizzying amount of nutrition advice, it can be difficult to figure out how to fuel our running life or shed unwanted pounds.
So we’ve boiled it down to three, golden rules: balance, quality, and nutrition.
Carbs and fat have gotten a bad rap in recent years, but runners need carbs, fat, and protein in order to run well. Each nutrient plays a key role in helping you run your best. Carbs are the form of fuel that the body can most efficiently and quickly convert into energy. Without carbs, you’ll feel flat and fatigued going into workouts, and miss out on potential gains in cardiovascular and muscular fitness.
All foods are not created equal, so when it comes to choosing which carbs, fats, and proteins to consume, you must be fiercely discriminating. After all, you spend so much time, energy and logistical gymnastics getting your miles in—you don’t want to undo the benefits of those workouts, or waste them, by filling your fuel tank up with junk. Treat your body like a prized possession it is; aim to consume the foods with the most amounts of nutrients you need and the least amount of additives and ingredients that will drag down your race times and fill out your waistline.
With the barrage of health claims on packaged foods, it’s not always easy to determine which foods are the smartest choices. Carefully inspect nutrition labels on package, and aim for the products with the least amount of sugar, sodium, saturated fat, and total number of ingredients. Look for ingredients you recognize. What are the best carbs? Wholesome produce and whole-grains. Just compare a banana and a bagel; both are popular pre-run snacks. While they have the roughly similar amounts of calories and carbs, (about 150 calories and 30 grams of carbs), the banana has vitamin B6 (which helps the body convert food into energy), magnesium (which helps muscle contraction), and potassium, which helps prevent muscle cramps. The bagel has little to none of those special powers.
When it comes to fats, aim for plant-based heart-healthy unsaturated fats, such as olive oil, avocado, walnuts, and almonds. They help lower cholesterol and reduce heart disease risk and help the body absorb vitamins you need to stay healthy. There is a raft of packaged high-protein bars on the market, but they also have long lists of unpronounceable ingredients, sugars, and calories that will ultimately pack on the pounds. You can’t go wrong with keeping it simple. Aim for foods like tuna, yogurt, and dairy products, which provide healthy fats, calcium and vitamin D to support healthy bones and prevent stress fractures.
If you want to get fitter and faster, you’ve got to time your nutrient intake right. Since carbs are the most powerful energy-giving nutrients, and they help restock glycogen stores after a tough workout, you want to think about sandwiching your workouts with carbs. Plan to have your most carb-rich meal of the day before your workout, so you put yourself in the best possible position to run your best. Plan to pack in protein immediately post-workout; it helps shuttle the carbs to your system and repair spent muscle tissue. Fat is also best timed post-workout—because fat and protein take longer to digest, you don’t want to pack them in right before a run - that could lead to GI distress.