Being a runner requires more than just looking after your physical body. You need to look at every part of you, especially your heart and lungs. It doesn’t matter if you’re training for a 5k or even a marathon. You need to make sure your nutrition plan is on target.
There are many areas of the nutrition you need to focus on when it comes to running. This is more than just fuel your body for during your training, but making sure you improve the rate of recovery afterward.
Your nutrition plan will differ daily to maximize your performance. Your plan will also differ depending on the goals you have for training—and the amount of training you do.
We’ll look at this with the different types of running and training in mind. You’ll also get the right nutrition for your rest days—yes, you need to make sure you have them!
Nutrition for Your Rest Days and Low-Intensity Training Days
When it comes to training at a low-intensity for just 60 minutes or less or the days that you aren’t training at all, you need to focus on filling foods. You won’t want quick bursts of energy that will fuel you throughout an hour-long, grueling session in the gym. It’s important to fuel your muscles for recovery.
Start by reducing your carbs. It’s essential that you get more protein on these days. Your muscles will be in their recovery stage, which means they need help from added proteins. Focus on getting more eggs, lentils, beans, and other high-protein ingredients. If you’re a meat eater, lean meats and poultry are good sources of protein.
Make sure all meals except one is protein based. Your snacks should also include more proteins to help support the growth of new muscle tissue and repair the tears that naturally happen during exercise. If you don’t get enough protein, your muscles will take longer to heal, they will ache more, and you’ll feel weaker.
But that doesn’t mean you want to scrap all carbs. Have them for just one meal of the day—either your breakfast or your lunch. Carbs are needed for energy levels.
While adding more protein, make sure you add more unsaturated fats. Omega 3 fatty acids are the best, but you can also look into others from coconut oil or olive oil. Healthy fats will help to ease inflammation in thebody, making it easier for the muscles to repair.
Your muscle tissues aren’t the only areas of the body affected by your training. It’s important to look after the cells and other tissues within the body from oxidative stress and free radical damage. You will also be able to reduce soreness by getting the right nutrients to reduce damaging effects. Free radicals are fought off through antioxidants, and they come from all types of fruits and vegetables.
Vegetables are a better source, as they’re lower in carbohydrates. They don’t contain as many natural sugars like fruit, keeping your energy levels stabilized.
Opt for different colored fruits and vegetables throughout the day. You don’t just want to stick to dark green vegetables (although they are good sources of nutrients). Red options are excellent for most antioxidants, along with orange and yellow.
Don’t forget about herbs and spices. Use your rest days as a time to experiment with flavors. Add some spice or some excitement to your meals. You can also use the time you’re not training for bulk cooking your other meals throughout the week.
When’s the Best Time to Eat?
If you’re going to do some low-intensity training on these days, you’ll want to do it on a morning. The exercise is best first thing in a morning before you’ve eaten anything at all. You can then fuel your muscles periodically throughout the day, starting with a protein-filled breakfast preferably (opt for the carbs at lunch time).
Keep your training low in intensity on these days. Opt for a slower, easy run that lasts for just 30 minutes or so. You don’t want to train hard on an empty stomach.
When you are training after a long fast, your body will breakdown excess fats and use them for energy. However, you run the risk of fainting, especially if you’re not used to it. If you do feel dizzy, slowdown to a walk.
Nutrition for Normal Training Plans
When it comes to the days where you train for more than an hour or when you focus on high-intensity workouts, you’ll need to make sure you give your body enough energy before and after.
These are the days where you want to up your carb intake a little. You don’t need a lot of carbs for a good amount of energy, and you need to make sure the carbs are healthy options. This isn’t an excuse to eat all the cookies and cakes stashed in your home or reach for junk food. Opt for starchy carbs that are low on the glycaemic index.
Low-GI foods will break down slower and not metabolize into the blood stream. You’ll get the energy throughout your training sessions, allowing you to do more without risking insulin resistance.
You’ll need carbohydrates for breakfast and lunch for your high-intensity days. You’ll be able to replenish the glycogen stores that are used up by your muscles throughout your training sessions.
However, you still need to add proteins to your meals. Your dinner should also be protein focused. Your muscles will constantly need help to repair on your harder days.
If you are looking at burning more fat during your workouts, you can consider reducing your carb intake. Keep your protein intake up, but encourage your muscles to take some of the fat stores after depleting your glycogen stores. Make sure you listen to your body. If you feel weak, nauseous, or shaky, you may need to add more glycogen stores to your body.
If you are going to opt for depleting the glycogen stores, train first thing on a morning and eat a protein filled breakfast. Keep your carby meal to lunchtime, where you can boost the energy levels a little to get you through the rest of the day.
Another option is to keep to two carby meals but training twice in one day. This will give you similar effects, but without some of the shaky feelings throughout the morning.
Your muscles will feel it if you decide to increase your exercise. Opting for depleting the glycogen stores isn’t necessary, although it will depend on your training goals.
Don’t forget about your unsaturated fats. Like with the low or non-training days, you need to make sure you protect your body from inflammation. Opt for good sources of unsaturated fats, including coconut oil and nuts. Opting for nuts will also replenish your selenium levels, giving you more energy throughout the day.
You’ll also need plenty of vegetables with your meals to add more vitamins and minerals to your body. Dark leafy greens tend to be the best when you’re training hard since they will help to replenish your iron, calcium, and magnesium levels. With good iron levels, your muscles will get more oxygenated blood throughout the day.
When’s the Best Time to Eat?
If you want to use the fat stores, the best time to train would be on a morning before your breakfast. You want to train after a fast. Otherwise, you can train about an hour after a light meal.
Avoid training too soon after a meal. Your food needs some time to digestive. If you train immediately afterward, you will get a stitch and find it harder to put effort into your session.
Nutrition for Extremely Heavy Days
If you’re going to substantially increase your training, such as endurance based training for marathons, then you need to think about adding more carbohydrates. Your muscles will need the glycogen stores, especially as you lose more fat stores.
You’ll need to opt for carbs in two meals a day and opt for them in some of your snacks. Stick to low-GI foods, including some fruits. They’ll help to add more nutrients to your body rather than causing a sugar rush and crash.
Depending on the amount of training you’re doing, you may find some foods higher on the glycemic index are good. They will give you a quick burst of energy to get through your training.
Reduce the number of fats you’re eating on these days but keep the protein levels about the same. You’ll still need the protein to help the muscles recover. Your dinner needs to be filled with protein to sustain you throughout the night, which is when most of the muscle growth and repair takes place.
Dietary nitrate may also be an option to help repair the muscles. This is something you’ll want to discuss with your doctor first.
Stick to foods that you know you’re comfortable with. These days are not the ones to get creative with spices or flavors. You want to avoid stomach or digestive distress when you’re on the longer runs to be able to put all your effort into them. Also, avoid high fiber foods before a long and hard run.
When’s the Best Time to Eat?
Keep one of your sessions before breakfast if you are experienced in this. It helps to use up all your glycogen stores and use the fat stores. However, you will also need to eat immediately after your training sessions. Your muscles and body will need the energy after the long sessions.
Don’t forget to take fluids with you on your run. You need to replenish these as you sweat.
Always Keep Your Fluid Intake Up
Whatever type of training you do, you’ll need to focus on the amount of fluid you get. Water is the best option, especially for light and high-intensity days. On your rest days, focus on getting 8 glasses of water (around 2 liters) per day. This is a good guide for those low-exercise days where you won’t sweat that much,
The more you sweat, the more you will need to drink. You could find you need to drink double, especially when you do two training sessions throughout the day.
But don’t just stick to water on your longer, harder runs. You will start to lose electrolytes, so you will need to add them into your day. Sports drinks can be good for this, but watch out for the sugar contents in them. You can also add electrolytes back in through added sodium.
A Few Extra Notes About Runner Nutrition
While there are alternative sources for proteins, animal products are by far the best options. They will work directly with the muscles to repair tissue damage and help with the recovery process overnight. You don’t need to eat meat, but you should look at drinking some animal products, especially milk.
Dairy supplies do more than just offer protein and calcium. Milk especially is full of stearic acid, which improves the cholesterol levels to keep your heart and artery health in good shape. There are also studies that show dairy products reduce the risk of heart disease and can help to lose weight. If you are dairy intolerant or allergic, then you will need to consider alternatives but avoid whey protein as they are made with dairy sources.
Fermented products can be good for the immune system. They include good bacteria to get rid of the bad bacteria that collect in the gut. Consider them more, as long as you’re not intolerant or allergic to dairy.
When eating fruit and vegetables, keep the skin attached as much as possible. This is where many of the nutrients hide! Wash them thoroughly to remove the bacteria that can grow on the outside of the fruit and vegetables.
It’s time to focus on the best nutrition plan for your running needs. Think about the type of day you will have and make sure the nutrition works for your end goals. Set up a training schedule and you’ll find it easier to create your nutrition schedule.