Nutrition for Runners
Well balanced nutrition for runners can be viewed in two simple ways: Nutrition to sustain and nutrition to recover. In many respects, sound nutrition for runners is not much different from a balanced nutrition profile for any healthy individual – runner or not. That is to say, that eating for a healthy lifestyle in general is not much different than how you would eat to support running training and performance. For example, while the ingestion of foods rich in antioxidants protects the body from the free radical damage brought on by exercise, antioxidants also play an important role in lowering the risks for many chronic diseases and aging.
As you are likely well aware, there are countless books and information in many forms on sports nutrition and healthy eating. On my healthy diet for runners page, I have a grocery list of foods that contain a balanced nutritional profile as well as serve to make you feel full (high satiety). My goal on this page, is to provide you with an easy to use guide to ensure that you are coming as close as possible to fulfilling your nutritional needs as a runner.
For starters, I’d like to suggest that you consider your nutritional requirements in two ways:
- Nutrition to Sustain
- Nutrition to Recover
Nutrition to sustain addresses your basic nutritional considerations, or what you need to ingest to maintain healthy bodily systems as well as prepare you for your workouts and performances.
Nutrition to recover addresses what you need to ingest to recover from your training workouts and performances.
Once again, refer to the
healthy diet for runners
page for a specific list of foods that fall into each of these categories below.
Nuts and seeds – flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, almonds are all excellent sources of polyunsaturated fats that support your cardiovascular system functions. A good handful of nuts along a fruit and some water make a great snack when you peckish and on the fly
Fruits and Vegetables – these are the staple of any healthy body because they are vitamin packed, most are high in fibre, they make you feel full and they deliver high energy at a low caloric cost. Ideally, try to get 3 of each every day. Some vegetables such as sweet potatoes, pack a great punch for runners by helping to top up precious glycogen stores.
Lean Meat & Fish – they are rich in vitamins and minerals, make you feel full and are important for the growth and maintenance of lean muscle mass. Wherever possible, try to eat cold water fish such as salmon and sardines, as well as organic meats to avoid the unnecessary ingestion of hormones and pesticides.
With a busy work, family, training life, it can be so difficult to prepare and have available the right foods at the right time. For this reason, while there is unanimous agreement in the nutritional expert field that you should strive to meet your daily nutritional needs through whole foods, there is definitely a place for supplements!
Here are a few key staples that you should have in your pantry:
Green Tea – packed with antioxidants and naturally occurring caffeine, green tea is simply excellent for daily consumption, and particularly as a pre-run drink. I typically include a half cup of cooled steeped green tea in my recover shake as well (see below).
Multi-vitamin high in Bs – it’s almost impossible to go into vitamin toxicity so the daily ingestion of a good quality multi-vitamin helps to fulfill many of your needs where you may fall short through whole foods.
Vitamin C – while C is predominant in most high quality multivitamins, it’s usually a good idea to supplement with an extra C. The main reason for this, is that vitamins work synergistically (together) and C is the foundation of the vitamin pyramid! If you are deficient in C, many other vitamins and minerals will have limited capabilities of doing their job in your body
Omega 3-6-9 – it can be difficult to consume enough cold water fish to get the daily benefits that omega 3-6-9 provides you as a runner. The great news is, fish oils packed into pills are proven to be just as effective at delivering these elements to your body as ingesting fish!
CoQ10 – Coenzyme Q10 is proven to support and maintain cardiovascular health. This is one element that would be quite difficult to get through whole foods.
Magnesium Outside of ensuring that you are always properly hydrated and topped up on your electrolytes, many runners (including my former self) overlook the importance of supplementing with magnesium. Magnesium plays a key role in a very long list of healthy bodily functions including but not limited to muscle cramps/spasms, chronic fatigue, anxiety, insomnia and heart palpitations. Obtain a good quality magnesium supplement and follow the directions for daily consumption.
The Runner's Pantry
As mentioned in the beginning, nutrition for runners does not differ a whole lot from nutrition for any healthy individual however, as a runner, your training and recovery needs do place some extra nutritional demands on your body.
Specifically, here are a few running related staples you should consider stocking:
Natural Energy gels – these are easy to carry and an effective way to get some quick energy for your longer runs. Some energy gels also contain caffeine for an extra energy boost during your long runs or end of long races. You can get gels that only contain natural sugar sources such as honey which wreak less havoc on your blood sugar during exercise.
Running fuel – there are many types on the market. It’s important to experiment with what works best for you during training. Typically, running fuel comes in powdered form and is designed to easily mix with water for quick absorption. Running fuel helps to top up your glycogen stores on the fly as well as address your sodium and electrolyte loss from sweating. A few personal favourite during long runs is one bottle containing Nuun tablets and 1 bottle with Ultima. Coconut water is also an excellent natural fluid and electrolyte replacement fuel!
Recovery Fuel! – from my experience this is probably one of the most overlooked aspects of required nutrition for runners. This likely has much to do with simply having easy access to a convenient source of recovery fuel.
This nutritional requirement is most significant after any longer runs or higher intensity workouts such as
. The reason for this is longer and higher intensity workouts, while very effective training, cause:
- Muscle damage
- Free radical damage
- Mineral loss through sweat
- Glycogen depletion
To address all of these states, you need to consume the right ratio of carbohydrates, protein, antioxidants and electrolytes WITHIN 1 HOUR after exercise! Hands down, the easiest and most effective way to achieve this is to consume a recovery shake that contains all of these listed elements in a bio-available way.
My training world before recovery shakes consisted of persistent soreness and fatigue, not to mention untold damage I was allowing at a cellular level. When it comes to the topic of nutrition for runners, recovery is simply not an area that you can afford to skimp on. If you are new to recovery fuel, you will definitely notice a big difference in how quickly you bounce back after your hard runs.
Nutrition for Runners Quick Win!
Here is a quick nutritional win that is easy to make and packed with good stuff.
- 2 cups of water/juice
- 1 handful of baby spinach or mixed greens
- 2 small squirts of lemon juice or ‘real lemon’
- 1 handful of frozen or fresh berries and/or 1 banana
- 2 tsp of real maple syrup or agave nectar
- 1 tsp of honey
Throw ingredients into a blender or sorts (I LOVE my Magic Bullet) or blend with a hand mixer. This is a great shake as a meal replacement any time of day!
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