It’s not uncommon at this time of year to see advertisements for charity races with their associated road closures, bright clothing whizzing past you on the side walk, or someone belting from behind you “RUNNER ON YOUR LEFT!”. You yourself may be one of these seasonal runners. And you may have noticed that you are not up to the same distance you once ran, or reaching the same km/hr you did when you finished your prior race season. It can be frustrating, but with proper nutrition you can see drastic improvements to your performance.
As a dietitian, I’m biased. Of course I am going to say that nutrition is THE key to enhancing performance. Running is a sport that requires a great deal of energy, and depending on they type of running you do, it will influence your metabolic needs. For those that are new to running or if you are working on increasing your distance or improving speed, here are some key areas to consider:
During your run, you will be using primarily carbohydrates, some fat, and little protein for energy. That means that your pre workout meal should be richer in carbs and moderate in fat and protein. If you are a morning runner and are trying to reduce body fat or weight, exercising in a fasting state may help you achieve results. If your goal however is to increase distance or speed, do your body a favour and fuel beforehand. Quick and easy options could be a banana with peanut butter or yogurt with berries. Avoid the high-fat, protein rich meals as these take longer to digest. There is no worse feeling than doing speed intervals on a full stomach and reuniting with your previous meal.
If you are exercising for under an hour, there is no need to fuel during your workout. For intense exercise lasting more than an hour, eating carbohydrate rich sources may help extend time to exhaustion and may improve performance.
You have just finished a grueling workout and have likely gone through a good chunk of your stored carbohydrates (in the form of glycogen). This is the time to consume a meal that has a balance of all three macronutrients; complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fats. An example would be a chicken breast with brown rice, steamed veggies, and avocado, or a smoothie that has fruit, greek yogurt, and some nut butter. Even if your goal is weight loss or body fat reduction, never go without your post workout meal. Also avoid having the “green salad with chicken” meal. If your glycogen stores are depleted your body will start using your existing muscle tissue for energy. Now is the time to eat your carbs, people!
Fluid intake during exercise should match losses. The easiest way to know how much fluid you need is to weigh yourself before and after your run. Fluid loss of only 2% can impact performance. For every pound of weight loss, runners should take an extra 2-3 cups of fluid gradually over the course of the day. If you are running for more than 60 minutes, you will need to consume fluid every 15 minutes anywhere from ½ a cup to 1 ½ cups. This will all be dependent on your intensity, type of training, and weather conditions. If you are feeling thirsty during your run, you are likely dehydrated.
Timing your eating is by far the most challenging part. I have to say I struggle in this area because, let’s face it, life gets in the way! Everyone’s tolerance and digestive capabilities are different. For your pre workout snack, aim to eat 2-4 hours before your run, as you want the nutrients in that food to be readily available for you during your workout. You may find that certain foods agree with your body better than others. Obvious signs to look out for are cramping, indigestion, gas, nausea, or feeling like you have to go to the washroom stat. It’s a game of trial and error. As for post workout nutrition, aim to have your meal within an hour of finishing your run.