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Nutrition Plan: Fueling Long Distance Runs

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When training for a race, it’s important that runners are considering a crucial aspect of training which doesn’t require hitting the pavement: Nutrition. The foundation for any athletic training program is a proper diet that strategically benefits your joints, muscles and bones – which helps improve performance and reduces risk for injury.

Keep these four nutrition tips in mind and help keep your body in prime shape for your upcoming race:

Hydrate

Hydration is a key component of nutrition for runners. It is important to hydrate in moderation. Although the “8-cups-of-water-a-day” rule is reliable, your natural “thirst mechanism” is still the best indicator for the amount you should drink. If you are drinking steadily throughout the day, there is little need to drink a large amount prior to your run, however, the amount of water you’ll need to drink increases in hot and humid conditions.

woman_stands_outside_in_sun_with_eyes_closed_drinking_water

As you drink more, it should be balanced with other fluids rich in electrolytes. Without the balance of electrolytes, excessive water intake can lead to an unsafe drop in sodium. (Left untreated, sodium deficiency can be fatal.) Sports drinks are not a bad option for electrolyte intake, but are often rich in added sugar. If you’re looking to reduce your sugar intake, consider cutting sports drinks with a third of water.

Not drinking enough throughout the day? Keep in mind, water does not necessarily have to come in pure liquid form. Although about 80% of our total water intake comes from fluids, the other 20 percent comes from our food, such as fruits, vegetables and starches.

Keep a balanced diet

An appropriately balanced diet of protein, fats and carbohydrates is essential for all runners. Elite runners track the total grams of protein, fat and carbohydrates they consume to maximize their performance... The rest of us just need to keep one principle in mind: Everything in moderation.

And one thing to specifically moderate both during training and on race day is your fiber consumption. Certain fiber rich foods, such as vegetables and oats, will increase bowel movements − and could put you in an uncomfortable spot if you’re training far from home, or leave you waiting in long lines at the race course port-a-potties.

Protein & Fats

Protein is one of the major building blocks of muscle. When you run, a lot of strain is placed on your body. After training, protein helps your body bounce back and gain lean muscle mass. Aim to consume approximately 15% of your daily calories in lean proteins like chicken, fish, nuts and eggs.

salmon, oil, avocado, seeds and nuts

As a source of energy, monosaturated and polyunsaturated fats (aka “healthy fats”) are ideal for runners: About 25% of your diet should be comprised of healthy fats, like those found in olive oil, canola oil, soybean oil, nuts, avocados and fatty fish, such as trout and salmon.

Runners should avoid unsaturated and processed trans fats, which can contribute to heart disease, inflammation and various other conditions. These are fats that typically solidify at room temperature and are found in full-fat dairy products, red meat and some poultry.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates, or “carbs”, get a bad rap in popular media, but as a main fuel source for working muscles, carbohydrates are essential for nutrition. In particular, complex carbs should comprise about 50% of your diet. Your body breaks down complex carbs slowly to provide a steady source of energy—perfect for runners looking to fuel a long run. Foods rich in complex carbs include unrefined pastas, starchy vegetables, whole grains and fruits.

Contrary to complex carbohydrates, simple carbs are broken down quickly, resulting in energy spikes and crashes — not an ideal source of energy for active bodies. While training, try to avoid foods that contain simple carbs while training such as table sugar, candy and soft drinks.

Refuel post-run

After a workout, your body has depleted a good amount of nutrients and needs to refuel. Providing your body with the right mix of nutrients will allow it to recover quicker and to its full capacity.

chocolate milk with straw

Within 30 minutes, runners should eat a well-balanced and healthy meal containing protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. This post-workout meal should include water and fluids rich in electrolytes. Believe it or not, chocolate milk has been found to be one of the best post-work out nutritional supplements. (It can be found stocked in many professional sport teams’ locker rooms for this very reason.)

Find what works for you

One size does not necessarily fit all in athletic training. Although there are several general nutrition “best practices”, our bodies are all different and an ideal nutrition plan will for each runner. If you have health concerns and/or dietary restrictions, be sure to factor them into your nutrition plan and talk with your doctor about the right plan for you.

Consider your current physical state and race goals before planning your meals. For example, the nutrition plan for a recreational runner will look different from that of a professional. Aim to provide your body with the proper fuel to meet your fitness level, whether you consider yourself a beginner or advanced athlete.

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