11th January 2018.As an intensive cardio activity, running can burn tonnes of calories. For those trying to lose weight, that makes it an excellent exercise. For those who run for fun or as practice for competitions such as marathons, it sometimes means a struggle to stay on top of your daily energy needs. Running can take a lot out of you no matter your fitness level, though, and that's why eating correctly is so important. Without the right nutrition, you'll find yourself fatigued, weary all the time, and unable to perform at your peak ability when you run. No one enjoys that feeling of running out of steam far earlier into the day's run than you'd like. What's the solution? There is no one magic diet for runners to follow. Everyone's bodies are a little bit different, and nutritional needs can vary from person to person. However, we all feel the strain from burning off so much energy with every run. With that in mind, there are some strategies and certain types of foods that can help you stay on top of your needs. It's not just about what you eat after a hard day of running, either ? it's about what you eat beforehand as well. Where should you get started when fine-tuning your running diet?
Find out where your baseline should be
Understand the nutritional needs of your body as well as possible before you begin making changes to your diet. Generally speaking, if you only run a moderate amount, your calorie needs will be about in line with what you would eat normally. If you're running many miles every week, though, your needs will be much higher. In other words, unless you're hitting the pavement hard, you don't have a license to overindulge. Instead, it's all about taking in calories from good sources of healthy nutrients ? and in the right amounts. A good way to start is to determine your basal metabolic rate. That's how much energy you burn at rest, before exercise. Some online calculators will help you compute this number. From there, you can work out the amount of calories you'd need to eat to maintain your current weight. This base can provide you with a good starting point for adjusting and tweaking your diet as you continue to run. You'll need to add more calories to the number, of course, as you'll use more when exercise enters the picture.
Know the right times to eat and when to fast
Eating at the right time is almost as important as the foods you choose to eat as a runner. Eating at the wrong time can lead to you feeling sick, or you can miss out on some of the most beneficial nutrients in your food. So, when is the right time? Try not to eat heavy meals or drink lots of fluids right before you intend to run. Not only will the feeling of being "full" distract you, but you might also start to feel your stomach contents sloshing around. That's not a recipe for a good run. Eat light meals with protein an hour or so before you run. Afterward, you should have a recovery snack within 30 minutes. The best snack is something light and loaded with carbs, which your body can use to convert back to energy to replace what you just burned. Nuts, peanut butter, and some exercise food bars will fill this role well. Otherwise, maintain a regular meal schedule.
Ideas for basic, easy, and tasty workout foods
When you want to fit in a pre-run snack, choose something very light but rich in carbs. Something like fruit slices or a granola bar can go a long way towards giving you the right energy for the run. Don't choose something too heavy, and drink plenty of water or a diluted sports drink to help your food digest. After your run, you'll need to replenish many more nutrients. You have many options for these types of meals. You could cook something up, like an omelette (eggs yield excellent protein) filled with fresh vegetables or a little ham. If you prefer something sweeter, grab a container of Greek yoghurt and build a parfait. Use granola, your favourite seeds or nuts (flax and sunflower work well here), and maybe some fruit such as blueberries or strawberries to replenish your energy stores and keep you from feeling lethargic the rest of the day. What about regular meals? You'll want to stick to healthy foods low in fat and high in protein and carbs. Lean chicken, boiled, baked, or sautéed in olive oil, pairs well with all kinds of salads and healthy side dishes. Pasta is the runner's best friend, especially in the days leading up to a race. Consider speaking with a professional sports nutritionist for a better sense of what your body needs. For more specific recipes, grab a fitness magazine, search the web, or visit your local bookstore. All these options have a wealth of recipes ready for runners.
Hydration goes hand in hand with eating
Remember that throughout all this, you need to keep your body well-supplied with fluids. When you run, you lose not just water, but electrolytes and more. While you should be regularly drinking water throughout each day, sports drinks have their place in your diet. Don't overdo them, as they do contain lots of extra carbs and sugar. However, they also provide essential salts and other components that we lose from perspiration and exercise. Learn how to balance your hydration needs between water and sports drinks. Keep a runners water bottle close at hand and sip on it throughout the day. With this strategy, you will enjoy better digestion and runs that are less of a struggle due to feelings of dehydration.
Eating on long runs ? gels and more
If you train for marathons or long endurance runs, your nutrition needs will be much different than the average runner's ? that might be a topic all its own. However, there are also special products aimed at you that can keep you from bottoming out in the middle of a long run. The energy gel is just what it sounds like: a gel-like foodstuff that you can squirt into your mouth for a quick boost of energy. These often come in all kinds of flavours, and they also accompany products like fruit chews and more. Packed with simple sugars and more, they're easy for your body to digest on the go. Keep a supply of them on your person for long runs, and eat one every 45 minutes or so; this will keep the fires burning and allow you to keep powering through every stride.
Consistency is the key to a functional runner's diet
How you approach your specific diet is up to you. Do you want to go vegetarian and focus on whole grains and a plant-based diet? Quinoa might soon be your new best friend, but that's a perfectly valid way to go. Prefer to stick to lean animal proteins like chicken instead? That's fine too. What matters in either situation is your consistency. If you can stick to your diet, not only will you feel better, but you'll have access to all the energy you need for running. When you start mixing junk food or heavy, greasy fast food into your running diet, you'll feel it sap your strength. Your digestive system might make you feel something else, too ? so once you establish your running diet, stick to it as closely as possible. You will maximise its beneficial effects while avoiding major disruptions to your body's equilibrium.
What's on your menu?
Reconfiguring your diet to work in harmony with your running will take some effort, but once you begin, it quickly becomes second nature. Whether you're mixing up morning smoothies or indulging in healthy, body-energising snacks throughout the day, eating right has an importance for runners that's tough to overstate. As you begin to make changes to your diet, remember to go slowly and to avoid any drastic changes in what you eat during training. The more you can stick to the set of foods you've settled on, the less likely you are to experience an upset stomach while running. With these rules in mind, you can enjoy your meals just as much as your runs. Follow @SportNessUK