Best Protein for Runners

Best Protein for Runners

Why Is Protein an Essential Part of Any Runners’ Diet?

A protein diet is generally associated with people who lift weights and spend some hardcore time at the gym. Long distance runners are lean and don’t want to bulk up for fear it will slow their running.  Yet, exercise scientists agree that runners during heavy training require just as much protein per pound of body weight as football players. 

On the most basic level, protein is one of the three macronutrients (along with fats and carbohydrates) that is an essential component of a balanced diet. Protein is made up of long chains of amino acids. These nine  “essential” amino acids are present in most animal-based protein sources, but not always in plant-based proteins.  Although many plant proteins are “incomplete,” there’s a lot of research that confirms  eating various plant-based proteins throughout the course of the day is adequate for protein needs.  Near the bottom of this article, I list plant-based protein sources.

We may not envision a marathon runner consuming a lot of protein. However, there are plenty of problems that result when runners don’t consume enough protein, including slower recovery from workouts, weaker adaptations to training and increased risk of illness, overtraining and injury. Athletes training for long races like a 10k, half or full marathon, must consume an adequate amount of protein to avoid these pitfalls. Even though carbs have long been seen as the holy grail to fast running, protein is important because it stabilizes your blood sugar and helps you feel fuller longer.

During marathon training, especially after long runs & tough track workouts, my body always feels so much better after I consume a meal with plenty of protein and healthy (not processed) carbohydrates. 

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Marathon Training Diet

Dietary experts recommend that the average person should eat 0.5 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of their body weight. However, protein needs for long distance runners are higher.  Depending on the athlete’s training demands, daily calorie requirements and appetite may be greater. Accordingly, dietitians and healthcare experts suggest that a marathon runner’s diet consist of up to 1 gram of protein per pound of your body weight. 

Protein is not a fuel source, but instead it is a muscle builder or, in particular for runners, think of protein as a muscle re-builder, re-shaper and even a muscle re-conditioner.

Following ranges are broad, but there’s a wide range of macronutrient percentages that have been found to be effective for many athletes. Runners should test and adjust based on their specific situation.  Ultimately, the runner should “fine tune”  percentages of carbs, fat & proteins that make them feel and perform best.

Recommended Macronutrtient ranges for runners


 

Marathon Training Plan

A Step-By-Step Program to Avoid Injury, Have Fun & Finish the Big Race – On Sale Now


 

What To Eat After A Run

Protein for marathon training diet

Protein is responsible for healing your body from different injuries & muscle damage. The “good stuff” (building muscle) happens during rest and recovery.  The “bad stuff” (muscle damage) occurs during exercise. Rest is an essential part of recovery, but diet with protein  helps to speed  recovery. Protein aids the healing process of damaged tissues by forming collagen. Amino acids from proteins are the building blocks for the manufacture of new tissue including muscle and the repair of old tissue.  They are also the building blocks for hormones and enzymes that regulate metabolism and other body functions. 

Recovery Snack Ideas

Best protein for runners

In my article about wellness habits that improve running, the top of the list included consuming healthy sources of protein.  You can accomplish this while snacking.  

  • Small bag of assorted nuts (cashews, almonds, dried walnuts)
  • Smoothie with yogurt and berries
  • Crackers with peanut butter + low fat chocolate milk
  • Sports drink with nuts and/or crackers with nut butter

If you’re interested in joining me, I can put together either a custom training plan or I can personally coach you. Either program will be specific to your goals and athletic abilities. Just click on the links for details. 


How Does Protein Help People Who Are Training For Marathons?

During running, muscle cells are damaged by mechanical stress and oxygen radicals. Also muscle proteins are broken down by hormones to provide a source of energy. These lost proteins must be replaced between workouts. As long as you have protein from the right sources – it is suitable for your body. Some noteworthy benefits of protein for runners include:

Strengthens Immune System 

Our immune systems are highly dependent on protein consumption. You need to supply your system with sufficient protein to strengthen the immune system. Protein is known to make antibodies in your system. These antibodies are responsible for protecting your system from viruses and infections that intrude. Your immune system will respond faster and easily get rid of the potential problem.

Balances Hormone Levels 

Hormones are chemicals produced by the glands that help you handle different activities throughout the day. An athlete’s body will benefit from having balanced hormone levels. When a long distance runner overworks their body during peak training, they are at risk of having imbalanced hormones. The result can be depression, difficulty sleeping and anxiety.  All of these are signs of overtraining.   Runner’s need to consume a variety of proteins from sources like whey powder, eggs, lean meats, and even different nuts such as fair trade cashews to help maintain the hormone levels.

Maintaining a healthy body weight

fair trade cashews

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

I’m not suggesting that marathon runners diet to maintain a lower bodyweight, but in order to maintain an optimal body weight for a long race like a marathon, weight management is important. Eating healthy proteins like nuts and fair trade cashews will reduce your cravings for unhealthy and sugary food. Runners who want to maintain and not gain weight while training should consume lean meats, fish, chicken, and nuts. I also recommend grains like quinoa which also contain carbohydrates in addition to protein.

Reduces Inflammation & supports a healthy immune system

Running for several hours every week can cause inflammation in your muscles. There’s also evidence that runners who are training hard may be at an increased risk of minor illnesses & infections.  It’s common in the last week of training for a marathon to catch a cold.  Hard training compromises the body’s immune system. Protein & carbohydrates consumed within an hour of high intensity training, helps a runner’s recovery by reducing excessive inflammation and promoting restoration of proper hormone levels. 

Protein Requirements for Different Races

As discussed above, different intensities of training require a different amount of protein. 

10k to Half Marathon

A good rule of thumb for protein is to consume 1.2 grams to 1.5 grams per pound. On the days you train less, take 1.2 grams of protein per pound and when you train harder, eat 1.5 grams of protein for every pound of your body.

Remember this formula: 1 gram = .0022 lbs.  A 125 lb runner should consume between ⅓ lb – .41 lb of protein/day. 

Marathon 

Your protein intake should be around 1.4 grams protein per pound to 1.8 grams per pound for a marathon. To determine the right amount of protein for yourself, eat a specific quantity every week. If you are consuming a lot of protein – much more than your body can handle, it will make you feel tired. Women also feel a change in their menstrual period after a change in their protein intake.

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Protein Shake After Running

I don’t worry about having a protein shake after every run, but as the intensity of my workouts increases and long runs are 12+ miles, I think there’s benefits to consuming protein shakes within a hour of running.  There’s numerous protein powders available on the market.  Which one you choose depends on whether you want a product like Whey Protein, which comes from milk, or pea, hemp, soy or other types of protein powders which may be more desirable for athletes who are lactose intolerant or vegans.

Whey Protein

Whey is a complete protein that contains all the essential amino acids.  This is probably the most extensively researched supplement on the market. While you might have heard people say you can get all the protein you need from diet alone, this isn’t always the case.  Whey protein empties from the stomach and is absorbed into the bloodstream from the intestine faster than other proteins.  This is why whey is considered to be a faster, better muscle recovery than natural foods.

A 2017 NIH paper recently confirmed that Whey protein supplementation enhances whole body protein metabolism & performance recovery after resistance exercise. Consuming whey protein after exercise accelerated recovery and supported muscle repair, as shown by participants’ ability to perform various physical tests 10 and 24 hours after a hard training session. 

First 30 Days - How To Jump Start Your Training

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Soy Protein

Soy proteins are derived from soy.  Although it’s a vegetable protein, it’s very high quality.  An Ohio State study found that soy protein supplements increased muscle mass in strength training men as much as a whey protein supplement. If you’re a vegan or strict vegetarian, soy protein will work very well.

Conclusion

Consuming protein is a vital part of an athlete’s diet. There are numerous reasons why marathon runners should include a variety of proteins in their diet. First, protein enhances recovery of muscles damaged in training, reduces  inflammation, stabilizes hormone levels and supports the body’s immune system which is compromised during heavy training.  Healthcare experts recommend that a long distance runner consume between 0.8 to 1.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Remember that this recommendation is completely dependent on your activity level. So to an extent, it’s trial and error to determine one’s precious needs. At Middleagemarathoner.com our runners have access to a registered dietitian who helps provide proper dietary recommendations.

Plant Sources of Protein 

  • Lentils
  • Nuts (almonds & cashews)
  • Tempeh & other Soy products
  • Chickpeas
  • Quinoa
  • Chia seeds
  • Black beans
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sweet potatoes

Sources of protein for runners

  • Eggs
  • Fish (tuna & salmon)
  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Low fat milk (including low fat yogurt & skim chocolate milk)
  • Turkey sandwich on whole grain bread or pita.
  • Protein Bars – seek bars made with whole foods & avoid excess added sugar 

 

Resources:

  1. Performance Nutrition for Runners – Matt Fitzgerald, 2006
  2. Nutrition for Athletics, A Practical Guide to Eating & Driving for Health and Performance in Track & Field – IAAF Athletics, 2011

 

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8 wellness habits that will help improve your running

8 wellness habits that will help improve your running

Wellness Habits for RunnersIn order for you to achieve your goals, it’s essential that you stay healthy so you can continue your training and improve your running.  Practicing daily wellness habits isn’t as simple as eating plenty of vegetables & getting 8+ hours of sleep each night. I wish it was that easy, but the reality is that life gets busy, we start “burning the candle at both ends” and eventually we lose focus of our wellness habits.

Even if you do have a few “bad days,” don’t beat yourself up. Having a piece of cake once in a while isn’t bad for you, it’s having cake everyday and not exercising to burn those calories off, that will lead to declines in your health.

Do what you can from the following list.  Obviously the more healthy habits that are a part of your daily routine, the better.

Get plenty of sleep

Without proper rest, your mind and body can start to suffer ill effects rather quickly. Lack of sleep leads to depression and anxiety as well as confusion and overall cognitive impairment. When you don’t sleep enough, you just don’t feel like yourself, so be sure you are getting plenty of shut-eye. Have a sleep routine, and stick to it. Going to bed on time is one way to improve your mental wellness. Because sleep is crucial for restoring your body and your mind, you must value this activity. Going to bed and waking at the same time every day reinforces your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, which means you are more likely to sleep better and longer.

Pay attention to what you are and are not eating

Your diet has a profound effect on your mental wellness. Not only can eating unhealthy foods affect your body, but they also disrupt your sleep, rob you of energy, change your mood, throw your hormones out of balance, and lower your immune system. All of these can leave you feeling lethargic, sad, and confused. Focus on eating healthy foods, including those high in vitamins and minerals as well as healthy fats (like fish, avocados and nuts), which your brain needs.

a) Eat more omega-3 fatty acids

The fatty acids found in cold-water fish, flaxseed, and other foods are not only good for your heart and gut but also your brain. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce depression and lower the risk for dementia.

b) Stop Drinking Soda

Drinking too much soda increases your risk for type two diabetes by as much as 26 percent. People who drink sugary drinks such as soft drinks tend to weigh more and have poor eating habits.

c) Eat More Fruits

Add some more fruit to your diet. Fruits provide access to fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, and potassium and folate. Vitamins are necessary for the overall function of our body. They contribute to the repair of skin, hair, nails, and organ function.

d) Eat More Colored Veggies

Do not skimp on your veggie intake. Vegetables are full of vitamins and minerals which help to lower blood pressure, promote digestive health, protect our heart and contributes to our eye health.



If you’re interested in joining me, I can put together either a custom training plan or I can personally coach you. Either program will be specific to your goals and athletic abilities. Just click on the links for details.


e) Eat Nuts!

Aside from containing omega-3 fatty acids, nuts are an excellent source for magnesium and vitamin E. Which nuts are the best? Almonds, macadamia nuts, and pecans are among those who appear to offer the best benefits.

f) Drink Water

Water intake is essential for good health. Water improves the function of our kidneys, serves as a cushion for our spine, supports hydration, and can prove beneficial to those trying to lose weight.

g) Eat these Foods to Improve Your Heart Health

Protect your heart health by heart-healthy foods. Salmon, blueberries, dark chocolate, lean meats, soy, citrus fruits, extra virgin olive oils, nuts, and legumes may boost your heart health.

h) Eat these Foods to Lower Blood Pressure

Change your diet to lower blood pressure. Try to eat foods that contain magnesium, potassium, and calcium. Pomegranates, pistachios, olive oil, dark chocolate, bananas, oatmeal, and beets may help you control your blood pressure. Consistency will be critical for success.

i) Improve Your Energy with These Foods

If you’re in search of the best foods to give your metabolism and energy stores a swift kick, try adding lentils, fish (i.e., tuna, salmon), eggs, chia seeds, oranges or green tea to your diet.

j) Avoid Processed Foods

Processed foods are high in sugar and contain large amounts of high-fructose corn syrup. Most foods that come out of wrapper are processed in some way. They can produce devastating effects on the body over a period causing heart disease, obesity, cancer, and diabetes.

l) Drink Water with Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple Cider Vinegar For Runners

Apple cider vinegar with water can offer a wide assortment of health benefits including a reduction in high cholesterol, weight loss, improvement in overall cardiovascular health, liver function and reduce the risk of cancer.

Set realistic goals and put a plan together to achieve them

I discussed this in an earlier post.  Goals provide you with a purpose and sense of direction. Set a few critical, meaningful, and attainable goals for your personal or professional growth, and devise a plan that will help you achieve them. Keep working regularly to make progress toward reaching these.

Complete Strength training & conditioning exercises weekly

Strength Training for Runners

Strength training for runners won’t bulk you up and slow you down as long as you complete runner-specific training that emphasizes movements that directly correlate to running performance. I discussed some of the exercises I completed during my marathon training last year.  Increased strength contributes to improved running because it can help improve your form when later in races when you’re fatigued. Strength training can also assist in preventing injuries because you have stronger muscles & tendons. Completing strength and conditioning exercises regularly is a proven way to make your body more resilient to the demands of running.

In order to help prevent injuries, make Active Isolated Stretching (AIS), rope stretches & foam rolling a part of your daily routine.

It’s essential to maintain your flexibility with a set of simple daily exercises.  You should also include activities that will relieve muscle soreness and speed the healing & recovery process after your workouts.

Watch the following video to the see the stretches that I complete daily.  You can also watch this video about how to complete – foam rolling exercises

Start the day off right and plan your workouts for the week

To avoid the rush of the morning preparations, prepare as much as you can the night before. Pack lunches, lay out clothes, place workout clothes in easily accessible places, and make sure devices get charged overnight. Having a morning routine and help you get your day started smoothly and eliminate unnecessary stress.

One of the keys to completing your training is to plan ahead. You may have a schedule and know which workouts to complete each day of the week, but the key to actually finishing each workout is to plan when during each day you will workout.  I provide a number of proven strategies to help plan workouts. Whether it’s first thing in the morning, at lunch or after work, plug your workouts into your calendar like a meeting and do your best not to allow any changes.  When you start missing workouts due to a busy life, it can get discouraging and very difficult to get back on track.

Success with action habits

Beware of Fad Diets

Fad diets do promise results, but some have health risks tied to them or they’re simply not proven for long term health.  Keto and fasting may yield results initially and result in immediate weight loss, but those results may prove difficult to sustain and even later contribute to higher weight gain.  A balanced diet has stood the test of time as the best way to lose and maintain a healthy body.  Follow my recommendations above regarding diet and you won’t go wrong.


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Complete exercises to keep your glutes strong.

Glutes are arguably the most important muscle group for runners.  Studies link glute weakness to achilles tendinitis, runner’s knee, iliotibial (IT) band syndrome and other common injuries. Read my comprehensive post about glute weakness and how to strengthen your glutes.


Related Articles

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How To Improve Your Diet Right Now (it’s not just eating salad)

How To Improve Your Diet Right Now (it’s not just eating salad)

14 Things You Can Do Right Now To Improve Your Diet

Ways to Improve Your Diet

It’s almost the new year, so you’ll start seeing a lot of commercials for dieting and ways to improve your health.  Although eating more “greens” is a step in the right direction, there’s a lot of things you can do to help improve your diet.  Whether you want to enhance your nutritional practices for health reasons, weight loss purposes or as a personal goal, there are many ways to sensibly accomplish your goal.  Following are a few of my favorite.

If you’re training for a race, you’re going to have to fuel properly.  Each of the following recommendations will help.

1. Avoid Drinking Your Calories
Take time to evaluate the number of calories you are drinking in a single sitting. Some drinks contain as many as 150 calories in a single serving. Multiply that by three, and it’s easy to consume one-third of your calories for the day by way of beverage.

2. Increase Your Fruit Intake
Fruit is an excellent way to boost your fiber intake, protect your immunity, and get a pretty steady dose of antioxidants.

3. Increase Your Vegetable Intake
Get your veggies every day. Vegetables are a wonderful source of calcium, fiber, and antioxidants and can protect you from multiple diseases and illness.

4. Bake It or Grill It. Don’t Fry It
Stay away from those fried foods as much as possible. They may be tasty but are not suitable for your diet or body. Baked or grilled foods tend to carry less fat which is good for the heart.

5. Make a Grocery List
Make a grocery list before you visit the grocery store. Drafting a grocery list will save you from buying unnecessary foods or beverages.

6. Skip Deprivation of Foods
A healthy diet should not equate to deprivation. Allow yourself to indulge in the foods or meals you like from time to time. This action will enable you to avoid binge eating or experiences feelings of guilt.

7. Limit Processed Foods
This is tough, but is one of the best ways to improve your diet. So many processed foods such as cookies, chips, cereals, anything in a wrapper, sodas and especially candy can adversely affect your long term health. Processed foods contain a large amount of sugar, chemicals, high-fructose corn syrup and most important, they hold a large number of “empty” calories, salt and fat. The bottomline is that the combination of ingredients in processed foods, if consumed regularly, have been proven to increase the odds that you’ll suffer from heart disease, diabetes, obesity and stroke.

8. Increase Your Fiber Intake
Your digestive tract loves fiber. Fiber supports the efficient movement of material through your system. Fiber also helps your stomach to feel full after meals and has proven to be useful in promoting weight loss.

9. Eating Enough Calcium
Calcium is necessary for bone health, heart health and muscle function. Make sure you eat a diet that contains low-fat dairy and green leafy vegetables.

10. Drink Plenty of Water
Water assists with digestion and can support weight loss efforts. Obviously water has no calories and consuming it regularly ensures proper hydration.
As a runner, I like to think of water as the highway for the calories/energy to get to your muscles. Without getting too complex about the role water plays for runners, just remember that it’s absolutely essential to drink plenty of water before & after your workouts. If you’re running for 1+ hour or it’s really hot and/or outside, then it’s not essential to drink during your run (although I leave it up to people to gauge their own thirst)

11. Go Vegan for One Day
There’s countless studies about the value of a vegan diet. I think the key to this diet is ensuring you consume sufficient protein. In fact, the best rule with any diet is keep your diet balanced. Go vegan for a day! This decision will not only help to boost your veggie intake, but it will add variety to your diet.

12. Enjoy Your Morning Coffee
I’m totally on-board with this one. I love coffee.  Numerous studies contradict each other regarding whether or not coffee is good for you. Other research shows that coffee provides stimulation for the mind, promotes heart health and boosts your metabolism.

13. Track Your Meals
I think this habit of tracking your meals, can help you to subconsciously get your arms around the foods you are eating and promote a healthier approach.

14. Eat Fish!
Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids which are a complete plus for the brain and your body. Cold water fish are a great source of healthy fats. Salmon is my favorite, but Tuna Steaks a good alternative. Omega-3s help to reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Medical advice should always be obtained from a qualified medical professional for any health conditions or symptoms associated with them. Every possible effort has been made in preparing and researching this material. We make no warranties with respect to the accuracy, applicability of its contents or any omissions.

Sweating the Small Stuff: Electrolytes

Sweating the Small Stuff: Electrolytes

 By Nuun Guest Blogger Jesse Kropelnicki of The Core Diet.

Even if you have never had a “cramping problem” in the past, neglecting electrolytes in training and racing could be compromising your results. Just like you wouldn’t wait until you were dehydrated to drink fluids, waiting until that first “cramp” is a signal from your body that your performance has been suffering for quite some time. Electrolytes play a crucial role in muscle function, adequate hydration status and digestion fluids during racing.

What is an electrolyte?

In medical or scientific terms, an electrolyte is “any compound that, in solution or in molten form, conducts electricity and is decomposed (electrolyzed) by it. It is an ionizable substance in solution.”

In other words, it’s a term for minerals that, when dissolved in water, break into positive or negative electrically-charged ions (anions or cations).

What are the functions of electrolytes?

why are electrolytes important to runners, getting electrolytes back after a workout, drinking electrolytes after track, cross country and importance of electrolytes

Do you take electrolyte supplements before or after your run?

These ions carry electrical energy necessary for many functions in the human body, and optimal athletic performance requires adequate (and a consistent) supply of electrolytes. These ions move across membranes carrying fluids, nutrients and water. They aid in a number of processes that are important to an athlete:

  • Regulation of body fluids
  • Muscle contraction (including the heart)
  • Transmission of nerve impulses

However, repeated days of moderate or severe sweating can result in such substantial electrolyte loss, particularly sodium because of its high concentration of this mineral in sweat. When electrolytes are lost too quickly, the body does not have the ability to restore them as rapidly as they were lost. In these situations, dietary mineral intake is generally not sufficient to compensate for these large losses, and supplementation is needed to replace these electrolytes in order to maintain concentrations of body fluids.

What are the major electrolytes in the body and what do they do?

  • Sodium (Na+) – regulates total amount of water in the body
  • Potassium (K+) – regulates heartbeat and muscle function
  • Magnesium (Mg2+) – aids in muscle relaxation
  • Calcium (Ca2+) – aids in muscle contraction
  • Chloride (Cl-) – helps maintain a normal balance of body fluids

How are electrolytes lost?

Electrolytes are lost through urine and sweat. Endurance athletes can lose large volumes of sweat on a daily basis, which is accompanied by a similarly large electrolyte loss.  Each athlete has different electrolyte (and fluid) needs and environmental conditions of training and racing will factor into this.

  • Average sweat rate is typically 1 – 1.5L of fluid per hour (32 – 48 oz.) and 1,000 – 1,500 mg of sodium per hour while running (a bit less when cycling).
  • Most people’s sweat contains about 500mg of sodium per 16oz. Very salty sweaters can have up to about 1,500 mg per 16 oz. of sweat.
  • Sweat rate will depend on several factors including environmental conditions (temperature, humidity), genetics and the athletic fitness of the athlete.

Side Effects of Dehydration

In most cases, muscle cramping is related to either sodium or magnesium deficiency in athletes. If a deficiency occurs, cramps, tremors and spasm can be present. It is the Core Diet’s experience that acute occurrence of cramps during racing is typically due to sodium loss, and more chronic cramping (even between activity, during swimming or while sleeping) is typically due to magnesium deficiency. Another sign of sodium related cramping is a sloshy stomach. Another electrolyte, magnesium, is key in avoiding muscle spasms. A muscle “twitch” is usually a sign of low magnesium levels. Having proper sodium balance during digestion is important to fluid absorption.

Have you ever felt tingling fingers during your racing? If you have, you probably are experiencing a potassium deficiency. Many times a simple half banana available on many race courses can fix this problem before it impacts race performance.

How to replenish electrolytes?

Electrolytes help to increase the absorption of fluids into the bloodstream, and your muscular system operates efficiently which is why the best hydration plan is one that includes these minerals. Using products such as Nuun Active Hydration (electrolyte-enhanced drink tablets) before, during, and after workouts can go a long way to replenish electrolytes and achieve your best performance.

Nuun provides great-tasting active hydration.

About Nuun

Nuun is a great tasting on-the-go hydration tablet with the electrolytes you need to hydrate and re-fuel, but none of the sugar and junk found in sugary sports drinks. Nuun is available in over 5,000 stores in the U.S. and in over 30 countries. Visit nuunlife.com to learn more.

About The Core Diet

Jesse Kropelnicki is an elite triathlon coach and founder of TheCoreDiet.com, a leading provider of sports nutrition. He coaches professional triathletes Caitlin Snow, Ethan Brown, and Pedro Gomes with quantitative training and nutrition protocols. Track Jesse’s coaching strategies tips on his blog at kropelnicki.com.

Jaime Windrow is a Registered Dietitian and the Nutrition Programs Director at TheCoreDiet.com. Jaime’s interest in sports nutrition began when she danced professionally for 12 years with the Radio City Rockettes, and continued when she began to race in triathlons as an elite amateur. Jamie holds a number of age-group wins and podium finishes, as well as a finish in Kona at the Ironman World Championships.

Nutrition Tips for Runners

Nutrition Tips for Runners

Nutrition for runnersWhy is nutrition so critical to my success as a runner?  Fortunately, my wife is a registered dietitian.  She helps me maintain the proper balance of foods to help me thrive as a fit, healthy person.   Although I see so many overweight and out of condition people, among runners and other athletes, there is an intense new focus on the role that nutrition plays in being able to improve one’s performance.  Unlike other training plans, we include a complete nutrition plan as a part of our marathon plans.

Before we discuss specific meals and recovery foods, it’s important for athletes to understood some basic nutritional facts.  Nutrition can imply a lot of different things depending upon whom you ask or what you read. We all want the food we consume to taste good, but when it comes to processed, sugary or fatty foods, moderate consumption is best. If you take some time to eat healthier, you will notice a difference in your performance.  But telling runners to simply eat “healthy” isn’t the solution.

Fiber is an important part of anyone’s diet. Fiber assists in weight management by helping you not to feel hungry. It also works to help lower blood cholesterol. Eating fiber will also to decrease your risk of some forms of cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

Minimize intake of processed foods.  This is because many nutrients are lost when processed foods are made. A whole-grain wheat bread is a much better choice than a multi-grain “processed” bread, for example. If you look at the ingredients of bread, look for “whole grain” as the first ingredient.  You can also look for grams of dietary fiber.  Good “whole grain” breads have 3 or more grams of dietary fiber.

Instead of snacking on sweet items like cookies, ice cream and chips, try healthier foods like fruit or non fat greek yogurt.  Greek yogurt is better than regular yogurt, because it contains less sugar and has more protein and active cultures that are good for digestion.  Also consider snacking on lowfat crackers with lowfat cheese.  These options provide carbohydrates and protein for energy and to build muscle.

In order to get essential amino acids (proteins) which are important for recovery, I recommend regularly eating low fat meat, chicken, turkey, eggs, fish, nonfat or 1% milk, nuts and pseudo grains like Quinoa.  Quinoa seeds contain essential amino acids and good quantities of calcium, phosphorus, and iron.  Quinoa is considered a superfood.  I look for recipes with quinoa, make a batch and keep it in the refrigerator for after hard workouts.  These recipes taste great and really help me recover faster than consuming processed foods.

A few other foods that I eat as a part of my regular diet include:

1) Fresh & frozen fruit.  I mix these into my cereal, oatmeal or greek yogurt.  I also mix fruit into smoothies that I make after a hard workout.  Oranges, bananas and apples are easy to eat fresh fruits.  Consume these 3-5 times/day.

2) Consume vegetables 2-3 times per day.  Green leafy vegetables are some of the best foods you can put into your body.   I go through bags of Spinach and Kale.  Kale is one of my secret superfoods.

The following information is taken from Wikopedia on the benefits of kale.  Kale is very high in beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, and rich in calcium.  Kale, as with broccoli and other brassicas, contains sulforaphane (particularly when chopped or minced), a chemical with potent anti-cancer properties.  Kale is also a source of indole-3-carbinol, a chemical which boosts DNA repair in cells and appears to block the growth of cancer cells. Kale has been found to contain a group of resins known as bile acid sequestrants, which have been shown to lower cholesterol and decrease absorption of dietary fat. Steaming significantly increases these bile acid binding properties.

Bottomline, get Kale into your diet somehow.  A list of my Top 10 Secret Superfoods is included in all of my marathon training plans.

 

3) Another helpful approach to healthy eating is not to deprive yourself of foods you enjoy, but rather to swap them out for similar foods that will provide more or better nutrition.  One way you can do this is with soy products.  Soy is a legume and is an expensive, but very efficient protein. Soy products are available in many forms such as milk, hot dogs and veggie burgers.  Soy products are a good substitute for animal products because, unlike some other beans, soy offers a ‘complete’ protein profile.  This means that soy beans contain an adequate proportion of all nine of the essential amino acids necessary for the dietary needs of humans.  Soy protein products can replace animal-based foods, which also have complete proteins but tend to contain more fat, especially saturated fat.

Try new ways to eat foods you eat on a regular basis. Instead of just eating plain yogurt, pour a bit of honey in and experience a new taste sensation. Instead of always steaming broccoli, try it in a stir-fry with a few other vegetables. You’ll be more likely to eat healthy if you have fun with it.

Grapefruit, asparagus, and cantaloupe contain very few calories, but provide your body with many essential vitamins. You should also look for low calorie foods that are high in protein, such as salmon and kidney beans. These will give you the energy you need to get through the day.

Legumes are superstars of the nutritional world because they provide protein and help balance blood sugar.  But they may seem dull. Just dress them up in a good recipe and they are superstars of taste also: lentils become a good veggie burger, chick peas become hummus, beans excel in Mexican dishes, and there is nothing better than a bowl of homemade pea soup on a cold winter day!

Eating a well balanced and healthy diet is not something that’s going to happen overnight. There’s one secret food or pill that’s going to keep you injury free and maximize your performance.  However, a diet that’s rich in multi-colored vegetables, lean meats, fiber, fruit and numerous other protein sources is the key to your success.  If you expect to exercise almost everyday,  nutrition must play a role.  The foods that go into your body will make a difference in how quickly you recover and how well you perform.  Sure you want your food to be tasty.  Just make sure that your food choices are sensible.

Guest Blog: Running Myth- Good Running Nutrition is Complicated and Expensive

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See below for Kelly’s “Long Run Sandwich Bites” Recipe.

For every nutrition question you have, there are at least ten expensive nutrition products on the market that claim to have the answer.  It’s easy to be overwhelmed.  Luckily, good running nutrition can be broken down into a few simple principles.

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Thumbs up for good nutrition! Guest Blogger Kelly Egan breaks down nutrition basics for runners.

Carbs vs. Other Nutrients

Based on body weight, a typical athletic diet should be about 60 percent carbs, 15 percent protein and 25 percent fat.  To get ready for a race, “carbo load” by bumping up your carbohydrate intake for three to four days before the event.   Keep a food and workout diary if you make any changes to your diet to help you figure out what works for you.

Supplements

Many runners have questions about supplements – which to take, how many, at what times, etc.  Skip those expensive pills and powders and spend your money on fresh fruits and vegetables instead.  A varied diet will provide all the vitamins and essential nutrients that your body needs. Plus, your body is able to absorb nutrients better from food than pills.  Fun fact: Consuming beets, a source of nitrate, has been shown to increase athletic performance!

Protein and Muscle Recovery

There is a belief that high amounts of protein, especially protein powders, improve muscle growth.  A benefit to this has not been shown – excess protein is simply converted into energy – or fat.  Save your money!  Immediately after your run, enjoy an ice-cold glass of low-fat chocolate milk!  It has a 4:1 carbohydrate-to-protein ratio and has been proven to help the recovery process.  For an added benefit, have another glass two hours later – ideally with a healthy, balanced meal.

In Summary:

  • A basic running diet should have roughly 60 percent carbs, 15 percent protein and 25 percent fat – but listen to your body. Consult with a dietitian or nutritionist for best results.
  • Keep a diet and workout log to help you figure out what works best for you.
  • Increase your carbohydrate intake for 3-4 days before a race.
  • Instead of focusing on supplements, eat a balanced diet instead.
  • For a natural performance boost, eat beets!
  • Chocolate milk is an effective and cheap recovery drink.

 

In addition to this brief intro to running nutrition, I’d like to share an easy and nutritious snack to try during long runs.  I came up with this idea after getting sick of bad-tasting gels and energy bars with a long list of ingredients that I couldn’t pronounce.

Long Run Sandwich Bites

You will need:

  • Bread – you can use whole grain or white, depending on what your stomach tolerates
  • Peanut or other nut butter – I like dark chocolate Yumbutter
  • Jam or honey

Combine all of your ingredients to make a sandwich.

  1. Use a knife or mini cookie cutter to cut your sandwich into bite-sized pieces.
  2. Pack a handful in a small sandwich baggie to take along on your long runs.
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Pack these little guys with you on your next long run for on-the-go, inexpensive fuel.

 

running myth on nutrition, running nutrition myth busted, nutrition myths for runners, nutrients for runners needsKelly Egan is a guest blogger for Brooks, as well as a member of our Inspire Daily program. Look for more posts from her on running myths in the coming months. Kelly is a fourth year medical student in Madison, Wis.  This year, she plans to volunteer in India, graduate from school, get married, honeymoon in Morocco, move across the country and get her first job – in that order.  To follow her adventures, please visit runningblonde.com.