Whether you’re a beginner runner or pro athlete, nutrition plays a key role in running performance. Check out these winning tips to eat and drink your way to peak performance.
Running is (generally speaking) a high energy burning sport. Sometimes this allows us to get away with eating whatever we like with little consequence on our weight. However, while burning lots of calories, runners still require a mindful approach to eating, as everything we eat and drink directly affects our performance. Just because you can get away with it, doesn’t mean you should be reaching for the biscuit jar every afternoon for a pick me up.
Focus on real foods to fuel training, with a balance of carbohydrate and protein rich foods at main meals and snacks. Be sure to include lots of colourful fruits and vegetables as these provide important run-fuelling nutrients. Include moderate amounts of healthy fats such as avocado, nuts, seeds, extra virgin olive oil and oily fish as these help with satiety, reduce bad cholesterol and have anti-inflammatory properties.
Indulge occasionally (we’re all human!) and eat mindfully when you do, while consistently making healthy, balanced food choices to improve your run performance.
Carbs are your friend
Carbs are getting a bad wrap in the media these days with the re-emergence of high fat, low carbohydrate diets. The truth is, there is no one diet that’s superior. In an ideal scenario, carbohydrate should be periodised across the week depending on what your training program looks like and what your goals are. For example, you shouldn’t eat the same amount of carbohydrate on a rest day vs. a double session day. An Accredited Sports Dietitian can help you develop a meal plan that’s periodised to your training program.
Choose quality, whole food carbohydrate sources such as wholegrain breads and cereals, starchy veggies such as potato, sweet potato and corn, fresh fruit, legumes and dairy products such as milk and yoghurt. Sports products such as gels, bloks and sports drinks have their place, especially during long runs where eating a sandwich or banana may be difficult, but real food carbohydrate foods should form the backbone of a runner's diet.
Drink on your feet
Fluid is essential for life with our bodies made up of roughly 60% water. Water plays many important roles in our body including maintaining blood volume, transporting nutrients, getting rid of waste products and importantly, regulating our body temperature by sweating to lose heat.
It’s important to know what sort of sweater you are and develop a personalised hydration plan to prevent dehydration, as we know dehydration affects performance. For long runs, drinking can be more difficult on your feet, commonly causing gastrointestinal upset. The good news is; your gut is trainable so practice in training what you plan to do in your races. Start taking on small sips of water when you pass a bubbler or carry a fuel belt with water bottles on your long runs, building up your tolerance for drinking without getting a stitch or gut upset.
It is possible to over-drink, particularly during cooler weather and training at low intensities. Over-drinking can also impact performance and has dangerous implications if sodium levels are diluted in the bloodstream. This is called hyponatraemia. Drinking to a plan can help prevent dehydration and overhydration. See an Accredited Sports Dietitian to assess your fluid needs.
Taryn Richardson, APD, AccSD Bach Hlth Sc (Nut & Diet) Hons; IOC dip sport nutr.
Taryn is an Accredited Sports Dietitian and Director of her private practice, Dietitian Approved. She spends half of her time on the Gold Coast working with the triathlon program at the Australian Institute of Sport (dream job!). The other half is spent consulting in Brisbane (or over Skype) spreading the good word on nutrition and helping everyday exercisers perform at their best.