It’s a new year and there are a lot of people starting new fitness routines that include running. There are also a lot of people training for half marathons, marathons and the like this time of year. I often get asked about what things to eat when you’re training hard so I’m going to go through the main nutrients and give some tips for getting it right.
I’m sure you all think of muscles when people talk about eating protein. Most of the time people link protein to people trying to build muscle and bulk up. However, when you’re doing aerobic exercise you’re using your muscles too and they need replenishment as part of your recovery. Also, your adaptations to that exercise that help improve fitness in the long run include changes in mitochondrial proteins (wow big word, sorry – it’s just the place where we make energy in our cells) and we need protein to support these adaptations. During very long distance runs, you might also start to break down protein for energy and it is important to replace this after your run to prevent lean mass losses. Aim for about 20-30g of protein post training (e.g. a small chicken breast or salmon fillet, or a protein shake).
Your energy requirements will be increased if you’re going through a new training programme. Having healthy fats in your diet will help you meet these requirements with a healthy fuel. A lot of foods that are high in natural healthy fats also contain many other nutrients beneficial for runners, for example calcium (for strong bones) in dairy, iron (for oxygen delivery) in red meats and potassium (for electrolyte replenishment) in avocados. When you’re running, you will be using fat as a fuel (especially in longer duration, lower intensity runs and when you’re fasted), so to help your body get efficient at burning this fuel, try eating a diet rich in healthy fats – such as avocados, nuts & oily fish.
The other fuel that you’ll be using is carbohydrate – and this is important during your shorter, more intense training runs. In order to get your carbohydrate fuel, go for nutrient dense, slower releasing carbohydrates – great examples are sweet potato, quinoa, lentils, wholegrain rice, and starchy vegetables.
Around 60-65% of our body is water, so understandably hydration is key to a good performance (both mentally and physically!). Different people sweat different amounts, so it is difficult to put a number on generally how much water we should consume. So it is best to monitor how often you “go” (if you know what I mean!) and what the colour is – if you go frequently and it is very pale, you are very hydrated (perhaps you may not need quite as much), whereas if you don’t go often and it is very dark it is likely that you need to increase your fluid consumption (unless you’ve been eating loads of beetroot – which can make urine quite dark). Try to sip water regularly, don’t guzzle it … and remember that water is also found in food too (like soups, salad and vegetables for example), so you don’t necessarily have to just drink loads of water.
A note on electrolytes
These are the little nutrients that we lose along with water when we sweat – the main ones being sodium and potassium. Making sure you replace these after a sweaty run is also vital to rehydration. Sodium is found in foods like olives and dairy, and a good source of potassium is found in bananas.
Ok, I think that’s it for now – of course vitamins and minerals have really important functions in the body (immune health being very important for runners), so don’t forget your 5-a-day too!