For the competitive runners amongst us, one of the biggest fears and frustrations is often the inability to complete a race or reach a PB. Despite training hard, it’s often a lack of knowledge surrounding the links between nutrition and running that can be the cause. Here are five ways to eat for your best race, ensuring you bound over that finish line.
A happy gut makes a happy runner! “The top nutritional risk facing 90 per cent of runners at least once, is gastrointestinal distress, including symptoms such as cramps, bloating, nausea or diarrhoea” says Pip Taylor, professional triathlete, sports nutritionist and author of The Athlete’s Fix: a program for finding your best foods for health and performance. It’s important to practice any food, drinks, gels you plan on having during a race so you can ensure they work, prepare your stomach, and train yourself to execute properly.
A good diet filled with the right nutrients should be part of your ongoing training, not something you start to do only in the weeks leading up to the race. At each meal, simply devote half of your plate to unprocessed carbs (spelt, wholemeal pasta, brown rice or quinoa, wholegrain crackers); one-quarter of your plate to protein (milk, cheese and yoghurt, white meats and eggs), and another quarter to healthy fats (nuts, olive oil, avocado). Aim to match tougher workouts with increased fuel before or immediately after exercising by adjusting portions size and including nutrient-rich snacks. As always, listen to your body and eat to appetite.
To optimise your training, when you eat as almost as important as what you eat. Generally speaking, the bigger the meal the more time you’ll need to digest. Each person is different, but allow at least 30 minutes before you run to avoid gastrointestinal distress. Be careful not to eat large, heavy meals as this places a large strain on the digestive system, diverting blood flow to the gut rather than the working muscles, which can ultimately affect performance.
Optimal fluid intake helps to regulate body temperature, ensures the joints are adequately lubricated and helps to replace fluids that are lost through sweat. It’s generally recommend to stay hydrated with water, however if running longer than 90 minutes, use a sports drink.
While tending to your hydration and nutrition needs are crucial steps after a long run, so too is prioritising rest days, with a focus on getting an optimal amount of sleep. Without sufficient sleep, the muscles aren’t able to properly regenerate and repair damage. Other benefits of sleep include curbing inflammation, lowering stress, and improving mood.