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What Is The Best Diet For Runners?

Table of Contents

Many runners know that a good diet and staying hydrated is key for their emotional, mental, and physical health, which in turn affects their running performance. But what most runners don’t know is how to get the best diet and when to do so. For instance, should they eat before the race so they avoid feeling hungry and tired or should they starve before the race so they don’t risk running into digestive issues during their run? If you fall into this category, you have stumbled upon the right article.

When should you eat?

Research on this matter has produced mixed results. For example, while one study suggests that ingesting carbohydrates an hour before working out impairs performance, there are other studies that suggest that this boosts performance instead.

However, if you’re looking for a general guideline, experts have recommended a small meal an hour and a half before the workout and taking a light snack half an hour prior. Keep monitoring and adjusting this to find what is ideal for you. 

On a side note, it is also recommended that you avoid sugary drinks, high-fiber vegetables, spicy foods, and legumes. Here are some foods you should consume instead.

Ok, What should you eat?

To get a full and balanced diet every runner needs, they should include the following nutrients in their meals.

Firstly, carbohydrates are a great source of fast and long-lasting energy. On average, carbohydrates should take up 60% of calories in a runner’s diet. Good carbs include fruits, potatoes, whole grain bread, and starchy vegetables. Whole grains are especially beneficial because they retain more natural nutrients and contain fiber that keeps you replete for a longer duration.

Secondly, we have protein which provides energy and repairs tissues that were damaged while exercising. They should take up 10-35% of calorie intake. Physiologists calculate the recommended daily protein intake by taking 1.3g of protein multiplied by the body weight in kg. Some good sources of proteins are beans, fish, lean meats, whole grains, and eggs. Eggs are great because two eggs can provide 25.2% of daily protein requirements, all the needed vitamins other than Vitamin C, and aid in muscle repair.

Next is fats. About 30% of your diet should consist of low-saturated fats and minimal cholesterol. Omega-3s are essential fats that can be found in nuts and oils. The recommended amount of this fat depends on the age and gender of an individual.

Finally, we’ve reached the vitamins and minerals.  Some vitamins prevent harmful chemicals from damaging tissues while minerals are important for different reasons. Calcium, for instance, is great for bone density and strength and can be obtained from beans, leafy greens, and eggs. Iron is needed for oxygen circulation and can be obtained from leafy greens, lean meats, nuts, and shrimp. Electrolytes like sodium need to be replaced after exercising and the best way to do so is to drink sports drinks or eat a pretzel.

Now that you know the nutrients, you need to adjust the quantity depending on when you are eating. 

Prior to running, products high in carbohydrates and low in fats, fiber, and protein are ideal. Some options are berries in oatmeal, an energy bar, and banana, a peanut butter bagel, or a cheese and turkey whole wheat sandwich. If you’re running a few hours after lunch but before dinner, get a 100-calorie snack an hour and a half before the run. If you only have an hour left, go for a slightly lower carbs food like bananas.

If you’re running longer distances that take more than an hour, eating during a run might be needed. Specifically carbs with a high glycemic index because for longer runs, sugar will be taken from the blood and liver. Thus, they will need to be replaced. Some options are grapes, bananas, and energy bars. Foods that are hard to chew or swallow should be avoided during your run.

Depending on your goals, you could opt for different nutrients after your runs. However, generally, fluids, glycogen, and muscle fibers need to be restored. Some food choices are a peanut butter bagel, protein shake, or Greek yogurt with fruit. Some post-run hydration options include water, recovery drinks, and chocolate milk. 

Oftentimes, people suffer from gastrointestinal distress because of their diet in the 24 hours prior to their run. If you’re one of them, try reducing food high in fats, caffeine, and lactose. Instead, substitute them with processed carbs like white rice. Since the whole grain is already digested, the work will not fall on your stomach. Low-fiber greens and fruits like tomatoes, zucchini, and grapefruit are all great before runs. Lastly, rice, almond milk, and soy are safer dairy substitutes. 

What & When to drink?

The duration of your run and how much you sweat are important factors to consider when considering how much fluid to drink and when. The best recommendation is to get an individualized hydration plan.

Prior to your run, experts recommend that you slowly drink six milliliters for every kilogram you weigh. Then if your urine is concentrated or little in amount, consider adding four milliliters on top of 6ml two hours before the run. 

As a general guide, you should drink minimally about 0.6l of fluid every hour. For runners who weigh more or are running in hotter climates, increase this amount. Fluids that contain electrolytes and carbs are ideal for enhancing performance. 

After the run, you should be able to sufficiently replace fluids by eating the usual meals and beverages. However, if you’re losing weight from dehydration, the recommendation is to consume 1.5l of water per kilogram of weight lost.

Event preparation

When preparing for an upcoming race or marathon, a useful tip would be to find out the anticipated weather condition as well as the food and beverages provided during the event. Also, monitor your diet and when you eat so that you find out which meal plan works best for you. 

During your practice, runs that span longer than an hour and a half should have added nutrition supplements so that you stay hydrated and energized. In the days before the run, increase your daily carbs intake instead of sudden carb loading. Loading on carbs is traditionally common but it can cause discomfort or gastric issues because of the sudden dietary changes. By the time it’s D-day, you should have a nutrition plan in place. Four hours before the run, eat food high in carbs like bagels or oatmeal. Then 15 minutes before the run, you can consider a snack high in carbs for a quick energy boost. Then when you’re finally in the race, keep in mind to consume enough fuel and fluid to sustain your energy but not too much.

Conclusion

Although there are many steps to achieve a healthy diet, it is undeniably crucial if you plan to become a runner in the long run. Training is enough to remain physically healthy, but if you want to take it a step further, consider the nutrients you are consuming. They might be the key to a healthy mind and heart. 

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