A Runner's Guide to Sports Nutrition
Whether you're a recreational runner, training for a half-marathon, marathon or an ultra endurance event, a well-tailored nutrition plan will help you get the best out of your training and performance. Choosing food (fuel) for your body can be a complex process, both in training and again on race day.
Carbohydrates and energy
Carbohydrates are a runner’s best friend when it comes to energy and getting the most out of your body. As a runner, carbohydrates should make up about 60 - 65% of your total calorie intake. In long distance running (over 10km), our bodies rely predominately on glycogen as fuel. Glycogen is a carbohydrate that is stored in muscles and the liver. Runners, especially those running long distances, should try to consume 6 – 10g of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight throughout the day.
For example, if you weigh 70kg then you should aim to consume 420g - 700g of carbohydrates during your longer running days.
Protein rich foods are important for muscle replacement and recovery, maintaining energy requirements, blood sugar levels and boosting the immune system; especially important for long distance runners. In addition to being an essential nutrient, protein keeps you feeling fuller for longer, which will help with heavy training loads and hunger. Protein should make up about 15% - 20% of your daily intake. Runners doing long distances, should aim to consume 0.8 – 1g of protein per kilogram of body weight throughout the day. It is a great idea to include a serving of protein at every meal. Try to concentrate on protein foods that are low in fat and cholesterol such as lean cuts of meats, fish, nuts, eggs, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, and beans.
While endurance athletes should try to follow a low fat diet, it is recommended to include ‘good fats’ into your diet as they help with physiological process such as growth and development, skin health, hair growth, metabolism, reproductive system health and cell membrane integrity. Foods such as nuts, oils, and cold-water fish provide essential ‘good fats’ called Omega 3’s. These omega 3’s help with delayed onset of muscle soreness, joint pain and repairing cartilage tissue damage.
It is also very important that runners are well hydrated during and after training sessions. For runs less than 45 minutes, water is adequate for your energy needs. However having a high intensity session, or during a heavy phase of your training (e.g. leading up to an event), you will benefit from either using sports drinks or a readily available source of carbohydrate such as gels, chews or lollies.
The benefit of a sports drink such as the PEAKFUEL Performance Drink, it contains the important water for fluid intake, carbohydrates for energy and added electrolytes (calcium, magnesium, potassium & sodium) to replace those lost during sweating.
How much should I consume on my run, and how often?
- Staying hydrated on your run and keeping up your carbohydrate energy stores is extremely important for your race day strategy. This is too often overlooked by runners and it can result in poor performance, muscle cramping, dehydration and slow recovery times.
- If you are running over 10km you must plan for proper nutrition. To ensure you are comfortable and your body gets the required intake to perform at its best, aim to take 500-750ml of water per hour of running and combine it with the essential carbohydrates (options include an electrolyte sports drink, or plain water topped up with a gel/chew or suitable food).
How often should I drink or eat during my run?
- Plan out your race. Check how many aid stations are on course, and how frequently they are (usually every 2km or 5km).
- Each aid station will have 150-200ml cups of water or sports drink available, so you should aim to drink 3 of these each hour that you run. Calculate how many cups you should consume at each aid station to get your target hydration needs.
- If you need to top up your carbohydrates for energy, then you can consume your food or gel/chew as you run but make sure you keep an eye on your watch so you know if you're taking the correct amount of fuel for every hour that you're running...it is very easy to forget to eat or drink when you're busy smiling for the cameras and enjoying the scenery!
- Even if you aren't hungry, your muscles will thank you for the carbohydrates. Don't wait until you are feeling fatigued, it will be too late to recover. The key is to consume your hydration and fuel before you feel fatigue setting in. So make sure you listen to your body and if you're feeling good, keep up with your nutrition strategy for the rest of the race.
GETTING READY FOR RACE DAY - QUICK TIPS FOR TRAINING NUTRITION
Less than 1 hour
If you're rolling out of bed, not starving, and only going for a few kilometres, you probably don't need anything more than water to help with your training run. Additionally coffee can help, as it will not only help to stimulate your mind, but elevate your heart rate and therefore you may gain a better response from your training. If you are doing a high intensity short session (e.g. intervals) runners should aim to maximize carbohydrate availability such as having easily digested carbohydrate rich snacks (e.g toast with honey or a banana) 30min before, or try consume carbohydrates (e.g. sports drink/gel) during the session.
More than 1 hour
If your session or race is upwards of one hour then you need to look at incorporating a nutrition strategy into the mix. This is where a varied approach can be taken by mixing up food choices depending on the session. During high intensity training session over 60 minutes or moderate intensity sessions over 90 minutes, the general rule of thumb is that we require between 30 – 60g of carbohydrate per hour.
‘Real’ food suggestions (containing around 50g of carbohydrates and are low fat, fibre and protein):
- 2 x White or fruit bread, bagels or pikelets; with honey or jam type spreads
- 2 x Muesli bars
- 2 x banana
- 75g of dried fruit
- 700ml of sports drink
These are all easily digestible carbohydrates that will help with fast digestion. Tip: If you’re choosing a packaged food, check the 100g column on the label and aim for options with <10g (10%) fat total and <5g (5%) of fibre.
Be wary If you are susceptible to gastric problems (stomach pains) due to nerves or other factors, sticking to low fibre foods (white breads) or liquid meals before a race can help alleviate symptoms. The 50g of carbohydrates mentioned (e.g white bread, honey/jam, muesli bars, etc) are all easily digestible low fibre options. Often, it is best to run on an empty stomach, with the pre-race/training meals eaten well in advance. If this is not practical (e.g. early morning session/race), a sports drink or gel taken before, or during the run, may be advisable.
Choosing meat, dairy, high-fat foods, and fibre too close to your event may make you just run to the loo! For training, and especially in competition, try to avoid foods high in dairy (e.g cheese, regular milk etc), meat, and fibre (e.g whole grain bread) at least 30min prior to a run. Additionally too much fatty food can give you gastric problems and this can last for a few days. Look at your ‘good fat’ options as an alternative. A great tip is to stick to what you know and to limit trying new foods before a race. Practise first in training to see if your body can tolerate it.
Recovery Running will not only challenge the runner’s carbohydrate stores, but also cause some damage to muscle fibres, which will delay recovery. Strategic intake of carbohydrate rich and quality protein foods soon after training will enhance the rate of muscle glycogen repletion and make it easier for athletes to consume enough carbohydrate before their next training session.