There is a lot of info to go through and I’d like to get to the basics for you right away, and from there you can research more information, if you care to. Not only is the topic important, but it’s not easy to present it in a simple “do this” format which you can then take to the table.
It’s likely easier to list what not to do, and as helpful as that may be, it still will not tell you what to do instead.
What to eat? How much to eat? When to eat? Important questions!
BTW – what, when and how much to drink is also important. I put that into the Hydration bucket and do not plan to spend much time on that important topic here, but do not forget about it to concentrate only on nutrition during your training and racing. This is a good topic for it’s own post. Stay tuned.
Endurance athletes need to eat the right foods in the proper quantities and at the proper times in order to perform their best.
That statement holds true for the beginner, the intermediate, the advanced and the elite athlete. There is no way around it, we need good fuel to perform at our best (and hydration also).
What should we eat? Real food (more about that below)!!!!
How much should we eat? Enough to power us through our workout and no more, and when that’s not possible we need to supplement our nutrition with helpful additions – more about that below). More calories are not always better as excess calories may cause stomach problems and weight gain (BTW – excessive dieting can cause fat to be stored also and should be avoided.) For those trying to loose weight a slight calorie deficit each day is fine, but don’t overdue it in an attempt to loose weight too fast or your energy to finish your workouts may suffer. If that happens you”ll need to adjust you daily intake of calories to take into account your reduced exercise time/intensity.
Yes, it’s a continuous balancing act. Figure out how many daily calories you need for your weight, current exercise duration and intensity and then adjust that number whenever your weight, fitness level or your exercise intensity and/or duration changes. This is not a static number over time and you will have to make adjustments as you get more fit or you reduce your training, e.g., just prior to or after a big race. Forget to make the adjustment to daily total calories and you’ll see it on the scale.
When should we eat?
- Short run/race = less than 60 minutes – you may be able to get by without eating prior to the workout/race, but you may hinder performance a bit if you do (the same goes for hydration also – plain water will be fine unless in heat and humidity).
- Middle distance run/race = 60 t0 90 minutes – you need to eat something prior to your training run/race and hydrate with an electrolyte replacement drink during it.
- Long run/race = more than 90 minutes – eat 1.5 to 2 hours before long runs/races, during the long run/race and soon after the finish (carbs and protein within the first 30 minutes (may be in the form or a shake, post event recovery drink, chocolate milk, etc. (depends on what your body will tolerate best) and a full meal within 2 hours is optimal).
Those are the high level plans and here are some specifics:
What type of real food? Whole foods (not processed) for the vast majority of what you eat. Indulge your craving once in awhile if you must, but not before a hard workout or a race. Wait until after the workout or race if/when you must have that treat.
Carbohydrates: Not all carbs are equal. They are broken down into two general groups (slow acting and fast acting). Opt for slow acting during your regular meals, and use the fast acting types for a quick burst of energy prior to the start, during and right after you finish your training/racing.
Unsaturated Fats: Make sure that your fats are mostly of the unsaturated type. The Mono and Poly-unsaturated fats should have a leading place in your diet. Don’t cut out Saturated fats all together, just keep them as the smallest amount.
Lean Proteins: This doesn’t only mean meat. Eggs, nuts, seeds, beans, etc. are good sources of lean proteins. Protein can be consumed without eating meat or eggs, as long as you eat a varied diet which provides all of the protein you will need.
The next question is how much to eat? The answer to that will depend upon your size and activity level. Obviously if you’re a 190 pound male or a 110 pound female the answer will be quite different for you both. If you’re very active or desk bound most days, the answer will be quite different also.
How many total calories should you eat per day? If you get the total number incorrect you’ll likely either be eating too much or too little. Either way, your performance will suffer and likely your motivation as well.
Page 4 of the RunnersWorld.com article below will help you determine your daily total calorie needs. Here’s the link: http://www.runnersworld.com/sites/default/files/NutritionGuide_0.pdf
Once you know your specific total daily nutritional requirement here’s some general guidelines on how to break that down into the three food groups:
Slow Acting Carbs: 55-65% of your daily calories
Unsaturated Fats: 20-35% of your daily calories
Lean Proteins: 10-35% of your daily calories
The Nutrition Guide in Runner’s World has a lot of good information on all of this, including hydration, which will be helpful in getting this important information laid out for you. The link is above.
Further research into the topic:
Here’s a link to general nutrition inf0 on RunnersWorld.com: http://www.runnersworld.com/nutrition-weight-loss/nutrition-runners
Here’s another link to a helpful article on Active.com : http://beta.active.com/cycling/articles/the-3-keys-of-an-effective-training-nutrition-plan
All of this can be a bit much, and if so, then please ask questions and I’ll do my best to answer whenever possible, Please note that I’m not a nutritionist. However, I’m an experienced athlete and a certified endurance running coach. Rest assured, if your question is beyond my general knowledge I’ll refer you to a nutritionist.
I look forward to your comments and questions!
RRCA Certified Endurance Running Coach