Nutrition for Running Performance and Recovery

EAT FOR YOUR INDIVIDUAL NEEDS

One of the key considerations in nutrition is that we are all individuals. As individuals, our overall nutritional requirements and the foods that work best for us are unique to each and every one of us. Just because your competitor follows a particular nutritional strategy, doesn’t mean that the same dietary plan will help you perform at your best.

Adequate nutrition, tailored to each individual, is paramount for energy production, performance and overall health and wellbeing. Challenges which may present themselves to athletes include insufficient energy intake; insufficient macro and micronutrient intakes and poor control of blood glucose levels-all factors which will greatly influence fatigue levels.

ENERGY INTAKE

As a general rule, runners tend to have higher energy requirements than the majority of the population. In our fast-paced society, often overly obsessed with fad-diets and weight loss, it can be easy to default to simply not consuming enough energy. We can be unaware that we are inadvertently skipping meals and snacks whilst we are busy working, or be influenced by the food choices of those around us (which often may not be suitable to meet our own requirements). This can definitely set up an energy deficit, in turn leading to feeling tired, training and racing poorly, and not recovering properly.

Consistency
We need to be consistent in our nutritional approach. A food diary will help to highlight situations and times where you may fall short on meeting your energy needs and the effects this may have on your performance.

MACRONUTRIENTS
An important consideration in relation to nutrition and fatigue is daily intake of macronutrients. Whilst most athletes will do best (in terms of both performance and convenience) in following a high carbohydrate diet (with moderate intakes of fats and proteins), others will take preference to a high fat, low carbohydrate diet.
It is important to follow what works best for each individual- given your events, goals, training and lifestyle. 

MEAL COMPOSITION AND TIMING

The composition of our meals and snacks and the timing of them can have significant influences on both energy levels and recovery. If we are to follow a high carbohydrate diet, then it is important to ensure that for optimal fuelling, muscle repair, balance of blood sugar and insulin levels, hormonal manufacture and healthy physiological processes of the body that each meal and snack contains a nutritious source of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. 

Examples include:

Carbohydrate sources
(wholegrains, starchy vegetables, fruits, etc);


Protein sources
(lean meat,skinless chicken,fish,eggs,nuts,dairy,legumes, etc)


Fat sources
(nuts,seeds,olive oil, etc).

Many of us will need to eat meals and snacks every 2-3 hours to meet our energy needs as well as maintain adequate blood glucose levels, thereby helping to prevent undue fatigue.

Post training-time to replenish depleted glycogen stores. Consuming carbohydrates, combined with protein to facilitate cellular and muscle repair within approx  30 minutes of finishing exercise is optimal.


FLUIDS

Dehydration (even marginal) is a known contributor to fatigue. Unless you are in the habit of consistently carrying a water bottle with you (and sipping on it), or regularly consume glasses of water at your desk throughout the day, it is highly likely you are not optimally hydrated. The recommended minimal daily water requirement is about 2.2L for woman and 3L for men. If you are not meeting the above fluid intakes before even taking into account training, chances are you are in some state of dehydration. Get into the habit of regularly sipping water throughout the day. Urine colour is a handy gauge for dehydration. It should be a clear to pale yellow colour: dark yellow urine indicates dehydration (although supplementation of some B group vitamins can cause your urine to be darker in colour than usual). Another easy method is to weigh yourself in minimal clothing before training, and then towelled down in minimal clothing after training. The difference in weight is fluid lost through sweat: 1kg of weight ‘lost’ is 1L of fluid lost. To replace this deficit and rehydrate optimally aim for 1.1-1.5L of fluid for every kg ‘lost’. This may be achieved by consuming a combination of water and sports/electrolyte drinks (where appropriate).


VITAMIN, MINERAL AND ELECTROLYTE DEFICIENCES

As athletes undergoing regular, strenuous training and racing, our needs for many vitamins, minerals and electrolytes are elevated far beyond those of the ‘normal’ population. Common short-falls in athletes which contribute to fatigue through various physiological routes include: iron, zinc, magnesium, chromium, B-group vitamins, vitamin C, and potassium. With the majority of these nutrients, supplementation should only occur once your requirements have been professionally assessed.
Many minerals also compete for absorption, and it is possible to induce a deficiency in one nutrient by supplementing with another. Furthermore, most commercially available, over-the counter supplements have poor bioavailability (meaning the body is unable to absorb and use them properly) as well as being in dosage amounts that are not optimal. To ensure you save time, money and protect your own health and get the desired results- the professional advice of a fully qualified dietician is highly recommended.

A General Rule of Thumb:

Food source first, Supplementation second!!!

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