Nutrition for runners – Optimise performance

Next in our performance series is all about helping you to fuel your body in the right way to optimise performance, maximise recovery and stay healthy at the same time. Following on from our article about the benefits about consuming dark chocolate, here we talk about how the right nutrition for runners can really take your performance to the next level.

Common amongst most runners is the delight that comes with being able to eat, a lot! Principally this is because running burns a lot of calories and if you’re running consistently and to a high intensity your body needs the calories to repair itself and restock those glycogen stores.

When thinking about which foods you can consume to improve your performance, one of the best ways to get started is to plan ahead. Being organised and choosing your own snacks in advance can have huge benefits not only for your wallet but also the energy and performance benefits you obtain. Snacks which are healthy and convenient but offer solid energy return, include trail mix with dried fruit and seeds, bananas and other high protein snacks.

Whilst processed food is not intrinsically bad, most experts now agree that the more natural foods you can include in your diet the better. Making root vegetables the mainstay of your main meals is key and making sure to eat as much natural food as you can.

That doesn’t mean the odd ‘cheat meal’ is bad, in fact, sustainability is key and occasional rewards can help deliver consistency, providing it’s done in moderation.

What about alcohol?

All the best things are also the worst for you, right? Alcohol is no different. Despite the fact that it’s guaranteed to make you a brilliant dancer, a smooth talker and a certified 10/10, it’s also absolutely useless in making you a better runner. In fact, it’s actually pretty harmful to health and performance when it is consumed in too great a quantity.

Like everything, in moderation it’s unlikely to do too much damage but avoiding it completely in the build up to a key race is likely to result in performance benefits.

What the experts say

As ever at Trackstaa, we don’t just expect you to take our word for it. We spoke with SENr registered Performance Nutritionist, Danny Webber (@webbernutrition), who has over 7 years’ experience working with a diverse range of athletes at all levels. Danny works with middle and long distance endurance athletes, sprint to ultra MTB cyclists and triathletes and is currently the performance nutritionist for Table Tennis England, Caldy RUFC and, amongst others, Sport Liverpool.

My first question for Danny was why is nutrition so important? His reply could not be clearer. “An effective nutrition plan is so important and with it you can maximise your training, promote training adaptations, reduce the risk of illness and injury and maintain low body fat levels and muscle strength”, he says.Specifically for running, he was quick to debunk some common misconceptions.

“It is well established that carbohydrates are the body’s primary energy source for running, but this doesn’t mean that every training session should be performed following a large carbohydrate meal, or with additional carbohydrate drinks or gels during training. In fact, strategically planning lower intensity runs to be done with low carbohydrate availability (e.g. fasted training) can further enhance metabolic adaptations to help the muscles use more fat for energy and reduce the reliance on its glycogen stores.”

Key too for many runners is ensuring that a healthy load of carbohydrates is balanced by sufficient protein. “Eating enough protein is also important to help support these training adaptations by remodelling the damaged tissues to repair stronger. Protein should not just be consumed immediately after training, but actually having 25-30g every 3-4 hours with your meals is a much more effective strategy to maximise recovery”, Danny says.

Sound complicated? Well, if like me, you’re a bit lost here are Danny’s top 5 tips for runners to maximise their performance through adequate nutrition:

1. Periodise your nutrition according to your training volume – increase carbohydrate intake on harder training days and reduce on lighter training/recovery days.

2. Have a snack before training to top up your energy levels if you haven’t eaten for 3+ hours before planning to train – very common for those who run after work at 5-6pm.

3. Distribute your protein intake evenly throughout the day with every meal, which means most runners will likely need to include more at breakfast and lunch.

4. Hydrate well and do not underestimate just how much you will sweat during training. Sweat rates can vary from 0.8-2L per hour. Include electrolytes and add salt to your food if you’re a salty sweater!

5. Focus on good quality food and don’t look for a quick fix with supplements. A variety of fruit and vegetables (fresh, frozen, tinned all count!) give you so much more than any multivitamin ever will.

If all this talk is making you hungry or more interested in food, you can check out our article on the performance benefits of dark chocolate, here.

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