A runner’s nutrition requires planning since everything we eat and drink impacts our workouts. If you’re not getting the right mix of hydration and nutrients, you won’t do your best or have much fun along the way. Check out our expert nutrition tips to stay healthy and enhance your performance.
Essential Foods for Runners
Sunflower Seeds: Throw a few packages of sunflower seeds into your shopping cart for an excellent source of vitamin E, an antioxidant that fights free-radical damage that comes from endurance sports such as running. A study published in the journal Sports Medicine found that a daily dose of 100 to 200 milligrams of vitamin E may help athletes prevent the exercise-induced oxidative damage that stems from intense and prolonged exercise.
Sunflower seeds are also a good source of phytosterols, a plant-based compound believed to lower cholesterol, boost immunity, and decrease the risk of some types of cancer.
Sweet Potatoes: Make these orange-fleshed beauties a staple in your kitchen all year long. Just one cup of baked sweet potato serves up a whopping 214 percent of the daily value of vitamin A from beta-carotene, the pigment responsible for the vegetable’s bright orange hue. Vitamin A is essential for a healthy immune system and healthy bones.
Sweet potatoes also contain more than 50 percent of the daily value of vitamin C. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends vitamin C to athletes for its wide variety of health benefits including protecting the body from an infection and cell damage, and aiding in the production of collagen, the tissue that holds our bones and muscles together.
Eggs: Just one egg meets about 10 percent of your daily protein needs and is a complete protein source, meaning it contains all of the essential amino acids your body needs to get you through your workout and recovery. Opt for omega-3 eggs that will also help boost your healthy fat intake. Dietary Concerns “I normally structure my runners’ meal plans with 35 – 40 percent of calories from fat, 25 – 30 percent from protein, and 30 – 35 percent from carbohydrates,” said Jennifer Lee, Max Muscle Nutrition Las Vegas franchisee who is also a certified nutritionist and a competitive runner.
However, no matter what type of diet you are following, Lee stressed the importance of eating enough calories every day. “If you are trying to lose weight, cutting calories will most likely hurt your running and maybe your health,” she said. Instead of eating less, she advises runners to meet their weight-loss goals by logging more miles during a run and adding in a couple of strength training workouts each week.
Lee explained that too many runners are using sugar as a fuel source during training and then consuming even more sugar during the rest of their day. While some sugar can be helpful for recovery, she warned that it can keep you from efficiently burning fat. “Cut the junk from your diet and stop relying on sugar during training when it’s not necessary,” she said. “Set aggressive running goals, recover, and let it happen naturally!” Hydration Matters Staying well-hydrated is critical for your running performance and your health in general. A common question from runners is “how much should I be drinking?”
David Roche of Some Work, All Play Coaching in Sunnyvale, California recommends drinking 12 to 16 ounces of water or sports drink in the hour before you start a run. “It’s important to start runs hydrated since you’ll be sweating it away, even in cold temperatures,” he said.
Though it varies by person, you shouldn’t need any additional water to stay hydrated for runs between 60-90 minutes according to Roche. “Don’t view yourself like a camel about to cross the desert,” he cautioned. “Instead, for runs longer than 60-90 minutes, plan a water stop where you can rehydrate.”
Your body can absorb a sports drink better than regular water, so a sports drink may be a better option for staying hydrated. In practice, though, it isn’t always possible because it requires planning. Roche, who coaches some of the best trail runners in the country, usually recommends that his runners stick with water unless they are doing a long run lasting longer than 90 minutes or competing in a race.
Another common question from runners is if required liquid intake differs by weight. Roche explained that weighing yourself before and after a normal run is a good way to approximate how much water you are losing in sweat since heavy sweaters usually require more fluids.
He also cautions athletes not to overhydrate to avoid hyponatremia, an abnormally low level of sodium in the blood that can have can have serious consequences such as kidney failure and even death. “Don’t overdo fluid intake when you might not need it,” he stated. “The body is pretty efficient at going long distances without a constant water source.”
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