Nutrition For Runners

By Geetha GH

If you are an ardent runner then you are not unfamiliar with the all the trials to be fit and fast. In spite of all the best efforts, runners are faced with some inevitable challenges. Here is an attempt to summat the possible reasons with suggestions to overcome them. 

STOMACH DISCOMFORT

Cause:

Meals eaten hours prior can affect a run. The following factors can contribute to gastric distress:

  • Caffeine
  • High fiber found in whole grains, pulses, vegetables and fruits with skin and seeds
  • Fructose (fruit)
  • Lactose (milk) intake before or too close to a run
  • Spicy food
  • Over drinking water
  • Alcohol
  • Consuming concentrated carbohydrate fluids during a run

      Caution:

      Nutrition goals

      Fuel the run with right choice of food and fluids.

      Before the run

      • Taper training a couple of days before.
      • Carb loading 1-2 days prior to the run helps to increase glycogen stores in liver and muscles that will help to sustain the run.
      • Consuming extra curd rice, rice bath/pulav, bread, fruit, root vegetables such as potato, sweet potato, fruits and dairy products like milk and curd offer carbohydrates which will help to increase the body’s glycogen store.

      Pre-run

      Main meal option:

      Consume meals about 3-4 hours prior to the run and opt for the following:

      • Familiar foods
      • Light and easy to digest
      • Less fiber
      • Less oil
      • More Salt!

      Snack options:

      Consume a light snack about 2 to 1.5 hours before the run. Remember the following recommendations:

      • Small portions
      • Low in fat and protein
      • Slow digesting carbohydrate - whole fruit, curd, sweet potato, oats porridge

      During the run:

      Hydration

      Water impacts performance and helps to run not just faster but farther too.

      Go for:

      • Isotonic fluids (6% sugar solution)
      • Chilled
      • With salt (sodium) or electrolytes
      • Refuel with carbohydrates about 45 minutes into the run for prolonged duration of physical activity
      • Sports drinks, gel, sports foods are convenient and effective choices

      Post-run:

      • Continue to sip on fluids immediately after a run
      • Couple water with sugar and salt
      • Swap water for diluted fruit juice
      • Low fat or skimmed dairy- Smoothie, chocolate milk, milkshakes are ideal choices too

      Food combinations

      • Eat meals with carbohydrate and protein once the stomach is at ease soon after the run.
      • Plan to spread carbohydrate and proteins in all meals over the next 24 hours to reinforce recovery.

      CRAMPING

      Cause:

      • Inadequate hydration
      • Excessive consumption of plain water without salt which leads to low sodium in the body (hyponatremia)
      • Lack of potassium and magnesium

      Caution:

      • Consume chilled fluids.
      • Add electrolytes like sodium (salt) with water to help maintain water balance as sweat depletes sodium.
      • Regular intake of fruits, vegetables including dark green leafy vegetables in daily diet offers potassium and magnesium that help in muscle function.

      HITTING THE WALL

      Cause:

      • Anaemia (low hemoglobin)
      • Poor health and nutritional status
      • Poor form and fitness level
      • Under eating especially low carbohydrate intake
      • Poor recovery during training
      • Increased body temperature

      Caution:

      Practice nutrient periodization

      • Manipulating the food group, its timing, quality and quantity of the nutrient can influence body composition and weight.
      • Increasing protein in diet especially while on low carbohydrate budget helps boost muscle mass and enhances the chances of attaining weight goals.
      • Opting carbohydrate foods around the run can help peak performance.
      • High fat or keto diets may help cut body weight but thwart stamina and reduce run time.
      • Practice cooling techniques like soaking in ice bath or taking a cold shower.

      FATIGUE

      Cause:

      • Body mass (weight) - Being overweight or obese
      • Low carbohydrate intake
      • Low hemoglobin status
      • Dehydration
      • Nutritional deficiency like vitamin B12 or vitamin D

      Caution:

      Fitness goals

      • Weight management and physical training to modify body composition to increase muscle mass and lower body fat will amplify the ability to endure the run.
      • Balance cardio exercises with weight bearing options like calisthenics, yoga, resistant band exercises, jogging, skipping which will boost muscle mass.

      Diagnostic tests

      • Blood tests can throw light on the physiological and health condition.
      • Nutritional deficiency can be addressed with the correct choice of food and dietary supplements.

      Best practices for better outcome

      • Train smart and track to optimize a run.
      • Keep well hydrated ensuring electrolyte intake before, during and after a run.
      • Budget for high quality and quantity of protein teamed with strength and conditioning to help maintain and increase muscle mass.
      • Fuel with carbohydrate rich foods before and during the run.
      • Use foam roller to help alleviate muscle soreness.
      • Rejuvenate with rest (sound continuous sleep).
      • Get early morning and mid-day sun exposure regularly.
      • Pace, practice, perfect and personalize. Happy running!

      About the Author:

      Geetha GH is one of the acclaimed sports nutritionists from International Olympic Committee (IOC), a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, a university first ranker, multiple award winner and gold medalist with diverse experience of over 16 years. She is currently based in Bangalore and mentors elite international and national level players and novice athletes by offering high-performance sports nutrition counselling based on latest scientific and research evidences. She is passionate about preventive nutrition, dietary practices to peak athletic performance, yoga and healthy cooking.

      1 comment

      • A concise article. Very well formulated. Has all salient features in a nut shell.

        Suneetha Rao

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