Your diet not only impacts your overall health and well being, but it also fuels your training and supports recovery. Proper nutrition and hydration can also help promote peak performance so read on to see how you can improve your running and fuel for success.
Running burns roughly 50-100 calories per mile depending on variables such as weight, age, fitness level, pace, gender, etc. It is important to fuel the additional caloric requirements with healthy nutritional habits. Here are a few tips:
Eat a balanced whole food diet
Whole foods are foods that are not processed or refined (or at least processed and refined as little as possible). Whole foods can include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans and minimally processed dairy along with various fish and other meats. Maintaining a well-balanced variety of nutritious whole foods in your diet provides for a rich source of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. Whole foods can help promote appetite control and blood sugar balance, while also boosting immune function and supporting the body’s ability to resist and heal from infections and disease. Whole foods are generally preferred over dietary supplements as they can be a greater source of more complex micronutrients and provide dietary fiber and protective phytochemicals.
Tip: You eat what is in your kitchen, so stock your refrigerator and pantry with fresh whole foods and cut back purchases of processed foods and packaged snacks. When shopping, stick to the perimeter of the grocery store for fresh produce, meat, and dairy and visit the bulk bins for whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa and oats. Avoid the center aisles that are stocked full of processed foods.
Hydrate with at least 64oz of water per day
Proper hydration is critical for endurance athletes, as water constitutes about two-thirds of our body weight. Hydration is important for cellular metabolism, blood flow, and consequently athletic performance. The recommended daily fluid requirement is approximately 0.5oz for every 1lb of body weight plus an additional 16-28oz for every hour of exercise. This is just a general rule of thumb as hydration needs can vary depending on weather conditions and acclimatization.
In addition to the fluids we drink, we also help reach our fluid intake requirements through the foods we eat as many fruits and vegetables have a high water concentration. However, it is still important to consciously think about consuming enough water daily to ensure proper intake for daily requirements plus exercise replacement needs.
Tip: Carry a water bottle around with you daily so that you can drink frequently and make sure to refill it several times throughout the day.
Don’t get too carried away with your hydration because it is possible to over hydrate and overhydration can cause performance to decline and can also lead to cramping, bloating, nausea, and stomach distress. Overhydration also increases the potential for hyponatremia (low sodium concentration in the blood), which can have very serious and potentially deadly results.
Be sensible with your fluid intake and keep your electrolyte balance in check. During long training sessions or races I use Hammer Nutrition HEED (High Energy Electrolyte Drink) as a valuable source of electrolytes and calories. I also use Endurolyte Capsules in warmer temperatures and on runs lasting more than 2.5 hours.
To avoid dehydration, drink often and drink before you think you need to. If you feel thirsty, you are probably already somewhat dehydrated, as that is one of the main warning signs of dehydration. Be on the lookout for signs of dehydration that include:
- Muscle cramping
- Dry mouth
- Unclear thinking
- Dark yellow urine
- Significant weight loss during exercise
- Decreased sweat during exercise
If you experience any of these signs or symptoms, take action as soon as possible to rehydrate.
Eat 5+ small meals rather than 2-3 large meals
Eating five or more meals throughout the day is a simple way to improve your health. Eating five meals a day can help people control or lose weight, manage blood sugar levels, and ensure proper nutritional intake.
Skipping meals or eating two or three large meals a day often leads to overeating in order to attempt to satiate hunger. Eating more regularly throughout the day helps you keep hunger levels in check and also boosts your metabolism. It is a good practice to eat a small meal every 3 hours throughout the day.
Another reason for eating small meals frequently is to help maintain a steady supply of blood sugar to provide energy and stamina and ward off feelings of fatigue. When you eat five or more times per day, you are releasing sugars into your bloodstream more regularly to supply energy instead of having two or three large doses that can cause spikes and crashes.
Additionally, eating more meals in a day may actually help decrease the chance of nutritional deficiencies. People that eat more regularly throughout the day tend to vary their diet more than those who eat two or three large meals. With greater variety in your diet, you help ensure that you are getting a wider range of vitamins and minerals from the food that you eat and keep your body in better working order.
Tip: If you feel hungry between your small meals, drink a glass of water before you reach for additional snacks. Thirst and dehydration can often mask themselves as hunger as our bodies crave the water concentration in our foods. However, if you are still hungry after drinking and waiting a few minutes, then by all means go ahead and eat, your body must need it.
Pack your diet with superfoods
Superfoods are nutrient-dense whole foods that contain a high concentration of phytonutrient content and long chain carbohydrates. Superfoods can be rich in antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and fiber. These nutritional powerhouse foods have high amounts of flavonoids and micro and macro nutrients while also being low in calories. Superfoods are generally thought to add health benefits above and beyond their normal nutritional value. These foods have the power to boost your immune system and help you fight illness and the aging process. Superfoods can reduce inflammation, regulate metabolism, promote digestive health, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, protect your body from toxins, and protect against heart disease and cancer.
Superfoods nourish your body at the cellular level to provide optimal health benefits and I highly recommend adding a wide variety of these foods to your daily menu. Some of my favorite superfoods include:
- Sweet potatoes and yams
- Berries (blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries)
- Nuts and seeds (walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, chia seed, flax seed)
- Quinoa, brown rice, and oats
- Turkey and other lean meats
- Oily fish such as fresh wild salmon and tuna
- Beans, lentils, and other legumes
- Bright colored vegetables (peppers, carrots, beets)
- Bananas, apples, citrus fruits and avocados
- Dark chocolate
Use fuels in longer workouts and eat for recovery post-run
When your training sessions last in excess of 90 minutes, it is important to fuel your body with energy packed calories while also fulfilling your hydration needs. Rapidly absorbed complex carbohydrates that can come in the form of liquid or gel are usually the easiest to consume. I use Hammer Gel, which is a concentrated complex carbohydrate gel with a syrupy consistency that contains branched chained amino acids, which help prevent cannibalization of lean muscle tissue. I usually take Hammer Gel with water, but on occasion (usually in marathon races where I have special elite bottles on the course) I mix Hammer Gel into my bottle with water. I alternate my fuel intake with HEED to mix up my nutritional intake. I take 1-2 servings of Hammer Gel or HEED per hour in runs or workouts lasting over 90 minutes.
When workouts last more than 2.5 hours, it is important to add a protein component to the fuel you consume so that your body does not begin to break down muscle to produce fuel. An added fat content is also recommended for very long workouts, as a small portion of fat can cue your body to release fatty acid stores so that you can burn fat as fuel source in addition to the typical glycogen stores that are rapidly being depleted over the course of a long session. My preferred fuel for workouts lasting more than 2.5 hours is Hammer Perpetuem, which can be purchased in a powdered form to mix with fluid or in a solid chew form. Perpetuem contains 75% carbohydrates (without added sugars), 13% fatty acids, and nearly 10% soy protein. I mix 1 scoop per hour or take 2-3 chewable tablets per hour during my really long sessions.
Recovery after training is a crucial component for success. When you train hard you deplete your body and damage muscle fibers and tissues. Thefirst 30-60 minutes post-workout or race is the most critical time to fuel your body to rebuild, repair, resupply, and ultimately recover. In this brief period, your body absorbs and metabolizes nutrients most efficiently. You need to supply your body with nutrients that provide the raw materials to build muscle, repair stressed or damaged tissues, and replace depleted energy, vitamin, and mineral stores for micronutrient replenishment. I recommend 10-20 grams of protein and 30-60 grams of complex carbohydrates.
Recovery time is also rehydration time, so the easiest method for recovery fueling is generally the consumption of a recovery drink. When fueling for recovery you should aim for a ratio of carbohydrate to protein between 3:1 and 4:1. Many athletes like chocolate milk as it has a 3:1 ratio, contains whey protein (the fastest absorbed protein with the highest levels of amino acids for recovery), and tastes good. I occasionally use chocolate milk as a recovery drink, but more often than not, I use Hammer Recoverite, which also has a 3:1 ratio, contains whey protein isolate, has high levels of glutamine (for immune system support and glycogen replenishment), and has a mild taste that is easy on the stomach.
Tip: Prepare a recovery drink or small recovery meal before you go out to train so that it is ready and easily accessible to consume during the first 30-60 minutes following your session.
Take a multivitamin supplement for additional support
Eating whole foods is by far the best way to supply your body with healthy phytochemicals, but a multivitamin supplement is a great addition to support your healthy diet. Even the best diet is not good enough for most endurance athletes because the physical demands of training and racing leave us with greater vitamin, mineral, and nutrient needs. Recommended Daily Allowances for vitamins and minerals do not take into account the higher needs of endurance athletes and we do not absorb 100% of the vitamins and minerals in food and supplements, so it is important to go above the normal recommend levels for daily intake.
Fuel for Success Recap:
If you want to get the most out of your body, remember to fuel for success! Follow these tips to fuel for success and get the most out of your diet:
Eat a balanced whole food diet packed with superfoods and broken down into five or more small meals each day. Support your body with proper hydration and follow a fueling plan for both training and recovery. And for a little extra insurance, add a multivitamin to supplement your healthy diet so that you can combat the additional needs of your training.
Follow @RyanBak_yurbuds on Twitter and RyanBakRunning.com for more tips.