How to approach the main food groups for athletes.

Runners are often obsessed with every little detail of their training schedule and constantly trying new ‘tricks’ and finding new ‘links’. From getting a new pair of trainers every 500 miles to “I just ran my best 5 mile split – was that my new pink running top?” we all have our superstitions.

In fact, there are only 2 (legal) things which have been proven to enhance performance; getting adequate sleep and what we put in our mouths. Proper nutrition and hydration are not only important to keep us healthy and happy but are essential to promote peak performance. Nutrition and hydration can be the making or breaking of a great workout. Here we are going to walk through the basic food groups and highlight what runners should be adding to their diet to hit peak performance.

One of the big questions that runners often want to know is “what should I eat pre, post and during my run?” This article won’t focus on that aspect but here is a brief overview of the key information to consider:

Pre - best bet eat a light meal about one and a half to two hours before you start running, or a small snack 30 minutes to an hour before running.

During – On shorter runs this is not necessary as the energy required comes from glycogen stored in the muscles. But for any run longer than 90 minutes it is important to replace lost glucose and stay hydrated. Sports drinks are the best way to do this as they include carbohydrates, electrolytes and water.

Post – The recovery window is real! After long or hard training and racing efforts, jump-start the recovery process by eating or drinking 200-300 calories of 3/4:1 grams of carbohydrate to protein, up to 90 minutes post-exercise. Protein balls are perfect for this especially one’s with no artificial crap or sugars.

A balanced diet for runners should include the below essentials if you want to smash those PB’s!

Carbohydrates

Without a doubt, carbohydrates are the best source of energy for athletes. As a runner, carbs should make up about 65% of your total calorie intake. Our bodies can turn carbs into energy more easily than high fat or protein. But we have much smaller reserves of carbohydrates so eating carbs at each meal is essential for everyone who grinds out the miles!

Good carbohydrates include:

Whole grain breads and pasta  Steamed or boiled rice  Potatoes  Fruits and berries

Proteins

Protein is used to repair tissue damaged during training and  release small amounts of energy. As well as being essential for muscle repair, protein keeps you feeling full for longer, which helps if you're running to try and lose weight.

You should aim for your daily food intake to consist of around 20% protein. If you are running long distances, a good guide is to aim to consume 0.25g to 0.5g  of protein per kg of body weight. So for an average male who weighs 75kg that is between 18g – 38g a day.

Good proteins include:

Eggs  Fish  Poultry  Low-fat dairy products  Whole grains  Beans

Fats

Fats commonly have a bad rep, but certain fats are important for a healthy diet. Foods such as nuts, oils, and cold-water fish contain essential fats called omega-3s which are vital for good health and can help prevent diseases. Having said that a high-fat diet can quickly pack on the pounds as our bodies are annoyingly good at storing fat, make sure that no more than 20 – 30% of your total diet consists of fats and avoid the tempting deep fried foods that are high in saturated fats and cholesterol.

Vitamins

Vitamins don’t provide energy for runners, but they are essential little ingredients for a balanced diet. Check out our blog on Vitamins that runners often lack. Running in urban areas often exposes us to free radicals which can damage cells. Vitamin C, E and A absorb free radicals meaning getting enough vitamins is very important for runners. Vit Stix are a great way to get all the daily vitamins that runners need whilst also rehydrating. Eating lots of fruit and vegetables are also great to get vitamins, carbohydrates and hydration in one go. But be aware that some vitamins are very hard to get from fruit and veg alone.

Overall a good balanced diet is vital to feel fresh and raring to go on those tough training days. Remember that you need to keep those carbs topped up. Try to focus on whole grain pastas and breads which have not been processed and still contain lots of important nutrients. Proteins and fats are also very important but avoid things high in saturated fats and cholesterol, focusing on lean meats, fish and nuts. Little tip if you do fancy a deep-fried mars bar, ruffage found in fruit and veg is a good way to prevent bad cholesterol and trans fats from entering the blood stream, meaning your 5 a day really is essential. Runners often overlook the importance of Vitamins despite these little nutrients being essential for a healthy diet so don’t forget your morning Vit Stix and a daily apple!

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