Sports nutrition for runners: how to get it right every time
Hop online and search 'sports nutrition for runners' and you will be deluged with several thousand results. It is confusing as hell and can be enough to make you quit running altogether, but the good news is the information you need to know to unlock your best running performance can easily fit onto a single page, which is what we're going to do here.
1 Your diet is your sports nutrition
First, let's remove the distinction between sports nutrition and the rest of your diet. Everything you eat will have a huge effect - for better or worse - on your performance so consider the big picture, not just race day fueling and recovery. If you're scarfing down junk 24/7, no amount of nutritional perfection come race time is going to help.
2 Ditch the liquid calories
Sodas and fruit juice are the timebombs in the finest of daily diets, pumping empty calories and neat sucrose into the well-oiled machine that is your body. Swap them all for water around hard training and race time, and as often as you can the rest of the time. This is one of the easiest and biggest performance upgrades any runner can make. Booze is also in this category although coffee, used correctly, can be a performance booster.
Soda: not helping anyone get faster or healthier
3 Fuel source one: stored fat
Even in a lean body, stored fat can power you for days at effort levels below 70% of maximum. Incorporate plenty of good fats into your diet (avocados, nuts, seeds), as well as training in a fasted state (eg: running before breakfast) and you can raise this level as high as 80% or more. Training and developing fat burning ability is free, and is the core of all serious performance in aerobic sport.
4 Fuel source two: carbohydrates
Carbs are your fuel source for harder efforts. Cross your threshold from fat-burning pace and you'll start to eat into the carbs. When normally fed (see carbo-loading below) your carb stores last two hours. The more efficient your abilities to burn fat (see above), the fewer carbs you'll need to use, and the longer these stores will last. This is a total win, as it means you need to eat less while running in longer events, which also reduces your risk of suffering any stomach issues while running.
In a word, this is nonsense. If you eat a healthy, varied diet with plenty of whole foods your carb stores will be full before any big event or session. You do not need to force feed yourself pasta until you puke before race day, and nor do you need to behave like Goldilocks on race morning by pouring down three bowls of porridge. All these things will do is make you feel like crap. They will also totally balls up your ability to fuel from stored fat efficiently.
Pasta: a great carb source for runners, but no need for a ton of it before race day
6 Should I have an energy gel before I start running?
No. It will kill your abilities to tap into your fat for fuel before you even start running.
This is all about recovery, helping your muscles rebuild after your training and racing has broken them down. But before you get all obsessed about it, as long as you have point 1 above covered with a great and varied whole food diet, you do not need to start pouring down protein like a lunatic.
As you already have plenty of protein (most adults in the western world already exceed daily protein recommendations), any excess will simply come out as pee. Add the fact that animal proteins from meat, fish and dairy are increasingly being linked to cancer and glugging whey protein just got even less attractive, assuming the rank taste hadn't put you off already.
The easiest way to manage protein requirements as a runner, is to simply be conscious of the need for a little extra after hard sessions or races. Then get that from your food (nuts, beans, vegetables, seeds). If you want to use a powder source for convenience, go for a plant-based one.
Sports nutrition for runners: conclusion
So there you have it - one page of easy, actionable info and you now know more about sports nutrition to fuel and sustain your running thane you can shake a stick at. Run happy, eat great, and if you have any questions you can email us anytime on firstname.lastname@example.org.
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