A good workout or race can come down to many reasons, but one of the most important is how you fuel your body. What you eat can determine how hard you can push yourself in a workout or a race and how well you will recover afterwards. It's important to enjoy the process and live a little when you are running. Find inspiration from our previous guide we wrote on how to find meaning in your training here.
The following guide provides you with an overview of what a healthy, nutritious diet should include. It shouldn’t go without saying that eating real food is always the better solution. By real food, we mean unprocessed food, organic food and food that you made from scratch.
Get your carbs
Carbohydrates are an important fuel source and runners need carbohydrates to perform and recover.
During digestion, the body breaks down carbohydrates to glucose and then utilised for energy. The energy is stored in the muscles and liver as fuel during exercise. Carbohydrates are therefore one of the primary macronutrients along with proteins and fats. These are the substances your body needs in large quantitates to keep your body going and functioning.
Not all carbs are the same. They can be divided into two groups: simple and complex carbs. The trick is to choose the forms of carbohydrate well. Over the last years, carbs have got a bad name because they have been associated with white bread, pasta and refined grains, many of which contains refined sugars. But fruits (like bananas), whole grains, oats and vegetables, count as carbs too, and those are the kind that athletes should choose more than just the simple carbs. Remember that white bread and pasta are not bad for you – however your body will enjoy the more complexed carbs, as they take longer time to break down and provide you with a steadier period of energy. Complex carbs are whole grains, brown rice and pasta, sweet potato, lentils etc.
As for pre-race carb loading, white toast, white pasta or other easy digestible carbs will do the trick, so you won’t upset the stomach too much. And if you are planning to race a marathon or half marathon, a high-carbohydrate diet should be eaten at least two to three days before, so you allow your glycogen stores to be filled
Protein – not just for the guns
We have discovered you need carbs to get your energy. Now, we will touch upon what protein does for your body. Protein repair muscle damage and will reduce the “stress” hormones that breaks down muscles after a workout. So, when eating together with carbs, you will speed up your body’s recovery. A high intake of protein will thus help maintain a strong immune system and keep the body healthy.
It’s important to time when you get your protein after a tough workout or race. A good thumb of rule is to eat 10-20 grams of protein within 30 min after your run. The sooner the better basically! So, what kind of protein is the best? You can fuel with a smoothie or protein shake, but many also prefer yogurt, chicken, eggs, tuna etc. It’s really up to you, but we prefer real food over processed foods or shakes anytime. Other forms of protein that is good for you is nuts, seeds, beans and lentils, but these aren’t so protein dense as the other we mentioned above.
Based on the intensity of your training, you might need more protein on the tough days compared to days where you are not working as hard, or if you are in marathon build up. Want to read more about marathon training? Read along here.
You better fuel with fats and vitamins
This leads us to the last element. It shouldn’t go without saying that you need your vegetables and vitamins every day. Here, we would like to stress that many fruits and vegetables out there contains many forms of necessary vitamins that is vital for you. Broccoli, avocado, banana, blueberry, oranges, potatoes etc. are just a few which you should eat regularly. These have a good level of fat and have lots of vitamin and health benefits attached to them.
When talking about fats, it’s important to fuel your body with real yogurt, peanut or nut-butter, oil, fish, nuts, eggs, normal butter etc. the list is really long, and you shouldn’t be afraid of these. We know it can be tricky when hearing the word “fat”, but we promise you – your body needs it! Don’t overindulge but eat this moderately and with every meal.
Eating healthy fats really reduces the risk of injuries. So, skip the low-fat diet that you have heard about. You might end up missing important vitamins and fats that the body thrives on.
Try to incorporate these types of food into a balanced meal – meaning containing complex carbs and proteins! Your body will seriously thank you for it later!
Want to read our other guides? Be inspired here.