You may have the legs of an Olympian, but if you fail to nourish your body correctly, your racing and fitness goals will always remain out of reach. Preparation for race season is a year round process that takes the right diet for ultimate success. With such an abundance of nutrition advice and all of those "quick fix" plans it may be confusing to understand what the proper way to prepare your body. We decided to cut down all of the fluff and give you three simple rules to follow to optimize your fitness potential:
Carbs and fat have gotten a bad rap in recent years, but runners need carbs, fat, and protein in order to run well. Each nutrient plays a key role in helping you run your best. Carbs are the form of fuel that the body can most efficiently and quickly convert into energy. Without carbs, you’ll feel fatigued going into workouts, and miss out on potential gains in cardiovascular and muscular fitness.
Fat helps the body retain vitamins and minerals you need to stay strong. It also helps boost heart health. Protein helps build and repair muscle tissue, you so you can get stronger and faster. Try to cut out one of those nutrients, and you’re likely to get disappointing results both at the finish line and on the bathroom scale.
The Bottom Line: Aim to have half your daily calories from carbs, a quarter of your calories from protein, and a balance from fat.
All foods are not created equal, so when it comes to choosing which carbs, fats, and proteins to consume, you must be fiercely discriminating. After all, you spend so much time, energy and logistical gymnastics getting your miles in—you don’t want to undo the benefits of those workouts, or waste them, by filling your fuel tank up with junk. Treat your body like a prized possession it is; aim to consume the foods with the most amounts of nutrients you need and the least amount of additives and ingredients that will drag down your race times and fill out your waistline.
With the barrage of health claims on packaged foods, it’s not always easy to determine which foods are the smartest choices. Carefully read nutrition labels and aim for products with the least amount of sugar, sodium, saturated fat, and total number of ingredients. The best advice is to look for ingredients that you recognize.
What are the best carbs? Wholesome produce and whole-grains. The perfect example of this is the comparison of a banana and bagel. Each are popular pre-run snacks, and have the roughly similar amounts of calories and carbs. The banana has vitamin B6 which helps the body convert food into energy, magnesium which helps muscle contraction, and potassium which helps prevent muscle cramps. The bagel has nominal amounts of each of these power nutrients.
When it comes to fats, aim for plant-based heart-healthy unsaturated fats, such as olive oil, avocado, walnuts, and almonds. They help lower cholesterol, reduce heart disease risk, and help the body absorb vitamins. There is a raft of packaged high-protein bars on the market, but they have long lists of unpronounceable ingredients, sugars, and calories. You can’t go wrong with keeping it simple.
The Bottom Line: Aim for foods like tuna, yogurt, and dairy products, which provide healthy fats, calcium and vitamin D to support healthy bones and prevent stress fractures.
If you'd like to be more fit and be faster, you need to be mindful of when you intake certain types of food. Since carbs are the most powerful energy-giving nutrients, and they help restock glycogen stores after a tough workout, you want to think about sandwiching your workouts with carbs. Plan to have your most carb-rich meal of the day before your workout, so you put yourself in the best possible position to run your best. Plan to pack in protein immediately post-workout; it helps shuttle the carbs to your system and repair spent muscle tissue. Fat is another nutrient best suited for after your workout. Fat and protein take longer to digest, so you don’t want to pack them in right before a run. At the end of the day consider your diet an extension of your workout plan.
The Bottom Line: Whatever work you may be doing in the gym or on the trail should be complimented by what you eat before and after.
Follow our simple rules and share with us works best for you!