I’m not a fan of any ‘rules’ when it comes to diet and exercise, no way José, but I’ve definitely had to start eating differently since getting into running, especially longer distances. As with any exercise running boosts the metabolism and leaves most people absolutely starving and reaching for the nearest calories to replenish their tired legs. But for most it’s in the form of energy bars, nutrient-enhanced drinks, and fortified ready meals. But real, whole foods are WAY better for you, containing a whole range of natural vitamins and minerals rather then just isolated nutrients targeted by the simple fortified bars. Basically, calorie for calorie, a balanced meal will enhance your performance and recovery much better than any store-bought snack.
So here are a few considerations to remember when wandering around Tesco or making your next dinner to enhance your run and feel awesome:
- Balance what you eat with the volume AND intensity of training that day, otherwise known as ‘periodising’ your diet. Your days can be separated into 3 categories; rest days, days of normal/moderate intensity and high intensity training days. This allows everyone to tailor their diet to their own fitness level and own definition of ‘normal’ intensity. On rest days of low physical activity relative to moderate days, runners should concentrate on higher protein meals to aid recovery from previous higher intensity sessions and moderate carbohydrate intake as the body won’t need such a significant store of quick release glucose for intense exercise. Overeating carbs on these days is most likely to result in weight gain. However on medorate and high intensity days carb intake should be increased to fuel the work out while maintaining protein consumption. Water intake should also increase to compensate for sweat loss – just keep drinking!
- Specific foods are often recommended to runners for power, stamina and recovery. All of them would contain vegetables and fruits rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, as well as lean protein sources, good sources of healthy fats, and of course foods packed with the quality carbohydrates your muscles need to fuel workouts. Such include nuts, salmon, cherries, avocado, peanut butter, oatmeal, bananas, legumes, milk and Greek yogurt, eggs and whole wheat pasta. A balance of which provide mono-unsaturated fats, high fibre and the essential vitamins and minerals.
- Minimise saturated fats people. Fat is fuel but saturated fats raise levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and have been linked to a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. They are mostly animal fats and tend to have a buttery consistency at room temperature. Red meat, poultry, butter and full-fat milk all fall into this category. Trans-fats are created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil, to make it more solid and less likely to turn rancid. The process is used to give products a longer shelf life, but it may shorten yours: trans-fats raise your levels of bad cholesterol, fur up your arteries and have even been linked to a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Check a product’s ingredients and put it back down if you see the words ‘hydrogenated vegetable oil.’
- Watch the salt intake. Salt increases blood pressure which is linked to strokes and heart attacks, a major cause of death in the Western world. According to the Food Standard Agency’s (FSA) recommended daily salt allowance is six grams, which can be easily consumed before even reaching dinner, often the most salt-laden meal. That said, runners sweat, quite a bit, leading to salt loss, as much as 3g an hour in hot weather which can lead to cramping when salt levels dip too low. Therefore salt requires a balance,which can often be managed by limiting intake but also to responding to cravings in moderation especially on heavy training days.
- Remember that girls can shake too! I really struggle to eat enough protein. Living alone and often eating in a mad rush means cooking meat is just effort and time beyond my allowance and hence I often ache for far longer than the average person and struggle through my subsequent runs. I eat a fair amount of Greek yoghurt and nuts etc but sometimes there’s nothing for it but steak and eggs OR maybe a protein shake? Personally I’ve never tried it, buying into the stories that I’ll ‘bulk up’ but I think I’m going to give it a whirl, if only for convenience (really I’d much rather eat a steak).