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Diet And Running - Running to Eat? Or Eating to Run?

Road Runner Sports Run Today Newsletter

You’ve probably heard more times than you care to remember that your body is like a finely tuned car and won’t run well without the proper fuel. Granted, this cliché is as trite as the one that marathon runners often hear, "26 miles! I get tired just driving my car that far!" but no matter how hackneyed the car analogy sounds, it happens to be true. If you dont eat right, you wont be able to run (or do any type of physical exercise) for very long.

Dieting and Running

People often start running because they want to lose weight. Running is an excellent way to lose weight, provided you take in enough calories to support the energy you’re expending. If you’re trying to lose weight, and you’re using running or brisk walking as your primary means of exercise, keep these tips in mind:

  • Eat several smaller meals a day, rather than two or three big meals.
  • Bump up your carbohydrate intake. Carbs are your primary energy source when you run.
  • Drink half your body weight (in pounds) in fluid ounces every day. Besides plain water, you should drink "sports drinks" (particularly when you run for longer than 45 minutes.) These drinks will provide you with the carbohydrates and protein you need to replenish muscle tissue and reduce muscle damage that occurs after more intense workouts.
  • Avoid a diet high in fat, especially fats that are derived from animal sources like beef, butter and whole milk. Focus on "good" fats like olive oil, fish oils and nuts, seeds and avocados instead.
  • Your daily fat intake should be no more than 30%.

Why Vitamins?

Vitamins are a good way for runners and other endurance athletes to get necessary nutrients that they might be missing in their daily diets.

  • Despite the best intentions, many people today simply don’t have the time (or won’t make the time) to eat right. If you’re not eating enough calories a day to sustain your activities, and you’re not eating a well-balanced diet that contains enough fruits, vegetables and good oils you're missing out on important vitamins. Getting those vitamins in pill form is better than not getting them at all.
  • Processed foods are missing a lot of vitamins and nutrients. Always go for fresh when at all possible. Choose whole wheat grains and flours and avoid highly processed cheese "foods" and other "convenience foods". If you think your diet contains too many processed foods, take a daily vitamin supplement to make sure you’re getting what you need.

The Skinny on Sports Bars and Gels

Sports bars and gels come in almost as many varieties as runners! In the past twenty years sports bars have evolved from gritty, cardboard-tasting flat snacks that clung to your teeth to candy consistency bars flavored to taste like everything from latte to salsa and everything in-between. The bar you choose depends on your activity level and what tastes best to you.

Bars vary in their amounts of carbohydrates and protein. Endurance athletes need plenty of carbohydrates in their diet, so sports bars that are higher in carbs make good between-meal snacks (provided they’re coupled with a source of protein like yogurt or cheese). They’re also good as a pre-workout or pre-race source of energy. Keep in mind though that they aren’t a substitute for a regular meal. If you’re doing a long training run, or running a race, use a sports bar pre-run for fuel, but make sure you eat a meal within an hour of finishing.

Many of the newer sports bars are frosted or dipped in a coating like chocolate. Although these may taste quite good, keep in mind that if you’re trying to lose or maintain weight, you would be better off eating a piece of fruit as a snack. The coated and frosted bars are high in calories and sugar. Bars with a high sugar content may also cause energy levels to fall rapidly after an initial spike. Low-glycemic bars that contain less sugar help sustain energy without highs and lows.

If you’re a woman who’s concerned about osteoporosis, try one of the sports bars developed specifically for women. They contain calcium, zinc and soy protein. Keep in mind though that they don’t contain all the minerals you need for the day.

Energy gels are an excellent way to give yourself an "jolt" of sugar and carbohydrate during a long training run or a marathon. Studies show that runners who participate in prolonged, intense activity (a run over 90 minutes, for instance) are at a heightened risk for developing an upper respiratory infection during the 2 hours immediately following the activity. If you’re going to be running longer than 90 minutes, you should consume ½ gram of carbohydrate per pound of body weight for each hour beyond the 90-minute mark. Because sports gels are easily carried, theyre one of the best ways to consume carbohydrates "on the run". Just make sure you wash the gel down with a 6-8 ounces of water.

Dont Forget to Drink! (Something Other than Water, That Is)

Water is, of course, critical not only to life but to your performance. However, water alone doesn’t give you everything you need when you’re training hard or racing (particularly longer races from the half-marathon distance and up.)

Sports drinks provide glycogen, electrolytes and antioxidants that are necessary for endurance, tissue repair and reducing post-workout muscle damage. Sports drinks with only electrolytes and/or glycogen are good to use during training, while those with glycogen and protein help reduce post-exercise muscle damage and help your body recover quicker from a hard workout or race.

5 Important Nutrition Tips to Keep in Mind

Put color on your plate! Choose foods with deep hues when you’re at the grocery store or fruit/vegetable stand. Foods with a lot of color are loaded with antioxidants, which help protect your body from oxygen molecules called free radicals. Free radicals cause damage to our immune systems. Squash, carrots, tomatoes, watermelons, strawberries, red cabbage, broccoli and spinach are all examples of foods whose colors can help you stay healthy!

Eat garlic and onions every day. They both contain a compound called allyl sulfide, which has been known to increase levels of infection-fighting white blood cells and enhance the efficiency of antibody production. Use garlic generously in pasta sauces and chicken or meat dishes, and try to consume one medium onion a day by eating sliced onion on sandwiches or chop it and put it into sauces, stews and soups.

Eat yogurt once a day. Eating yogurt with active cultures increases the amount of "friendly bacteria" in your intestines, which helps fight off germs. Look for yogurt that’s less than a week old to guarantee that you’ll reap the full benefit of the active cultures.

Eat more vitamin E. This vitamin is good for your immune system, which can be compromised if you’re working out and/or racing hard on a regular basis. It’s found in almonds, wheat germ, whole grains and vegetable oils.

Maintain your energy levels by eating small meals every 3-4 hours. Your meals should be a mix of carbohydrate and protein. For instance, a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread with a glass of milk is a good mid-day snack/mini-meal.

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