There is a dizzying amount of dieting and nutrition guidance out there. If you’re watching your weight, training for a race, or just trying to fuel up for a peak performance, it can be tough to figure out what tips will work for you, and how to apply all of that guidance to your running life.
Here are some quick numbers to help you understand how to fuel up so that you can get fit, run fast, improve your race times and avoid an expanding waistline.
Carbs have been demonized in the dieting craze of the last few decades. But as a runner, you need carbs to run strong. A little more than half of your daily calories should come from wholesome healthy carbs, which are the body’s most efficient form of fuel. And it’s not just baked goods. Many starchy vegetables and fruits like sweet potatoes, corn, and carrots can provide while fruits like bananas, apples, oranges, and grapes can also provide hydration and a variety of nutrients and minerals you need to stay healthy. And don’t forget the myriad of options for wholesome, unprocessed carbs including rice, quinoa, and oatmeal.
15 to 20%
This is the proportion of your daily calories that should come from heart-healthy unsaturated fats, like the kind in avocados, olive oil, nuts, salmon, and seeds. Though fats became demonized during the fat-free dieting craze of the 1980s, research has proven that unsaturated fats play an important role in any runner’s diet. (Avoid saturated and trans fats—they have been linked to higher levels of cholesterol, and increased risk of chronic disease.) Fat helps the body absorb essential nutrients it needs—like bone-boosting vitamins D and K. Omega-3 fatty acids help fight inflammation.
25 to 30%
The proportion of daily calories that should come from protein. Protein builds and repairs muscle tissue, and promotes a feeling of fullness. It’s best to consume doses of protein throughout the day. Try to incorporate it into each meal. Go for wholesome sources of protein like lean meat, poultry, beans, and low-fat dairy products. It may seem like a tall order, but simply adding a food like almonds, Greek yogurt, or a glass of milk to your meal or snack could help you hit that target.
At least half of the grains you consume every day should be whole grains, according to the American Heart Association Whole grain foods contain the bran, germ and endosperm plus B vitamins, iron, magnesium, selenium, and fiber that are critical to keeping your body in its best working order. Minimize the amount of refined grains you consume—refined grains have been ground into flour or meal, and the bran, germ, and nutrients have been removed. Though some refined grains are enriched with B vitamins after they are processed, they still lack the heart-healthy fiber of whole grains.
This is the number of grams of fiber per day that the American Heart Association recommends for the average daily diet. Fiber improves cholesterol, and reduces the risk of a whole raft of chronic diseases, including stroke, obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. It also promotes a feeling of fullness, so you won’t be hungry. Good sources include beans, fruits, and vegetables. But be careful of consuming too much fiber before your run—that could lead to GI distress.
Your post-run recovery meal. That’s the carbs-to-protein ratio that should look like your snack you have after you finish your speed session or long run. In the 30 to 60 minutes after these quality workouts where you’re pushing your body farther and faster, your body is particularly primed to use protein to repair strained muscle tissue, and metabolize carbs to restock your spent glycogen stores. That will help you bounce back quickly for your next workout.