Five Nutrition Essentials for Runners
Join us at Gazelles HQ on Saturday, August 25 at 8:00am for a short presentation from Dr. Kristie Smith on nutrition, and fellow Gazelle, Dr. Herb Stern, talking about carbohydrate metabolism. You don't want to miss it!
By Dr. Kristie Smith
Every runner needs a solid foundation to support the stress that long miles and hard workouts put on the body, and a good nutrition plan that supports your training schedule can accomplish this. Think of food as fuel – you are eating to support your running, not just running to eat. Although running is an excellent way to stay fit, it is hard to perform your best if your nutrition is suboptimal.
Here are five components to consider:
Protein – Protein is vital for rebuilding muscle that is broken down by running and strength training. Runners should aim to include a protein source with most meals (30 g protein) and snacks (10-20 g). It is especially beneficial if taken in the first 30-60 minutes following a workout. Complete proteins contain all 9 essential amino acids and include meat, fish, dairy, eggs, soy and quinoa. Other sources of protein (which lack some of the essential amino acids) include nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes. When these foods are eaten in combination throughout the day, they provide the building blocks needed for the body to recover. Bone broth is another good source of protein – and it also helps hydrate, restore electrolytes and support bone and joint health. Some athletes choose protein powders, shakes and bars, but caution should be taken when considering the source of protein and additional ingredients.
High-quality carbs – Vegetables and fruit provide a wide array of vitamins, minerals and electrolytes. There are no perfect superfoods, but when a variety of fruits and vegetables are eaten, together they can provide what a runner’s body needs to recover. Colorful vegetables and fruit are also excellent sources of antioxidants, which decrease inflammation in the body. Aim for vegetables at most meals and snacks, and fruit a few times a day. Quality carbs also include whole grains, such as oats, rice, quinoa, farro and millet. Less-quality carbs such as sugar, corn syrup and processed grains may seem hard to avoid, but limiting these simple sugars helps keep energy steady throughout the day and leaves space in the diet for more nutrient-dense food.
Healthy fats – Essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6) are a vital part of the runner’s nutrition plan, as they play a role in decreasing inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish (such as salmon, tuna, trout and sardines). Other omega-3 sources include flaxseeds, soy, and some nut and seed oils. Omega-6 fatty acids are founds in nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds) as well as peanuts and soy. Other healthy sources of dietary fat include avocados, olives, coconut, cream and grass-fed butter. Runners should include healthy fats in most meals and snacks, though fat may not be well-tolerated before a workout.
Probiotics – Probiotics are tiny organisms that promote gut health and improved immunity. They are found in foods such as yogurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh and miso. Try to incorporate at least one of these foods in your diet daily. The type of microorganism varies between foods, so it helps to consume a variety. Probiotic supplements are available, but they may not be as effective as those found in natural sources.
Hydration – The average adult needs 2.5-3 L (around 100 oz.) of fluid daily, but this does not take into account fluid losses during workouts. Weighing pre- and post-workout can give a general idea of how much additional to take in: for every 1 lb. lost, replace with 16-24 oz. of fluids over the next few hours. Some of these fluids should contain electrolytes. Coconut water is an excellent natural source of electrolytes. There are many recipes for homemade sports drinks which combine filtered water or coconut water, juice (like lemon or tart cherry), quality salt and a sweetener like honey, maple syrup or molasses. Sport drink companies also have products specifically for hydration.
Including these key building blocks in your daily eating can make a difference in your health and performance. By creating meals and snacks with a balance of protein, high-quality carbs and healthy fats, you can feel better and recover faster. It can also be beneficial to track your food intake for a few days to see if you are meeting your body’s needs. Cronometer tracks micronutrients as well as macros (protein, fat, carbs), and this can be very helpful to see if you are getting adequate amounts of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and essential fatty acids.
It is helpful to make a weekly plan that includes meals and snacks, including those before and after a workout. If this is too overwhelming, make a list of go-to meals and snacks keep the ingredients on hand. Making nutrition a priority takes some effort, but it can have significant results in your overall health and performance.
Kristie Smith has been a Gazelle for 2 years. She is a pediatrician with a Nutrition Sciences background and is a Fitness Nutrition Specialist with the American Council on Exercise. She believes that nutrition is the foundation for fitness and that choosing the right foods can enhance performance. She knows that a solid nutrition plan can complement any training plan and has seen her own running improve by making changes to her fueling.