Optimal Performance: The Golden Foods Rules for Runners

Becoming a runner means changing your attitude to food. Yes, you will be able to eat a bit more of what you fancy, but at the same time, eating a healthy diet is more important than ever to improve both your performance and your enjoyment in running.

There is nothing complicated about eating well, just follow these basic nutritional guidelines.

Can You Run on an Empty Stomach?

Skipping meals is a bad habit for anyone, but for active people, it can ruin an exercise session. Even if you run first thing in the morning, you should aim to eat a light snack an hour or two before you run. Good options include a banana and a small pot of yogurt, a handful of raisins or if you find it impossible to stomach solids before running, try a sports drink.

Try to Eat Little and Often

Using this strategy will keep your energy levels constant throughout the day, avoiding the surges and lethargy-inducing dips caused by eating large, heavy meals. By planning healthy snacks or light meals every two or three hours, you will be less tempted to give in to cravings for unhealthy foods or skip a run because you are so hungry you choose to eat instead.

Eat the Right Carbohydrates

You will probably have heard that eating platefuls of carbohydrates (often abbreviated to carbs) is vital to fuel all exercise. While it is certainly true that the carbohydrates in your diet should give you most of your energy around 60 percent of the total calories you consume and all carbohydrates are not equal in terms of how quickly they are metabolized in the body.

It is therefore important to plan exactly which carbohydrates you eat around your training sessions, making sure to use slow-release carbohydrates most of the time, with faster fixes for just before and after your training sessions.

Inject Some Color into Your Food

As a runner, it is particularly important to make sure you have enough vitamins and minerals. The best way to do this is to accurately measure your food and work out how much of each nutrient you are eating but no-one wants to plan their meals with a calculator. A simple route to getting enough vitamins, including essential antioxidants, is to make sure you eat a variety of different colored fruit and vegetables.

Eat Some Good Fat and Keeping Heart Healthy

Forget the idea that all fat is your enemy. Between 15 percent and 30 percent of your daily calories should come from ‘good’ fats, that is polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats as found in foods like vegetable oils, eggs, nuts, and avocados. These fats can help lower levels of ‘bad’ LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, keeping your heart and arteries healthy. They are also an excellent source of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D and E) and omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to improve athletic performance as well as keeping the heart healthy.

You should try to avoid foods containing too much ’bad’ fat. Saturated fat, which is found in meat and full-fat dairy products, can raise your levels of LDL cholesterol, while trans fats (hydrogenated fats found in some ready-made products such as bread, cakes, and margarine) are worse still.

Include Protein at Every Meal Especially After A Run

The more active you become, the more protein you will need. Your body uses it to repair tissue damage and to build muscle, and it can also be used as fuel for exercise. Protein also helps fill you up, so you are less likely to crave unhealthy snacks. Make sure you include some protein in every meal. Sprinkle seeds on your breakfast cereal, snack on handfuls of nuts, and have some lean meat, fish or eggs in your lunch and main evening meal.

Do Not Diet. You Need the Energy

Most adults have been on a diet at some point in their lives. However, you will be a healthier, better runner if you can break out of the dieting mindset. Think about what you eat as fuel for your body’s activities, and don’t feel guilty about having the odd treat. Your running can help you to burn it off. Look at building healthier eating and exercise habits long term, and you will be far more successful at keeping your weight down than you ever were with dieting.

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