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In Food We Trust: A Runner's Guide to Nutrition

Posted by Jessica Windell on

Nutrition is the driving force behind a runner reaching peak performance. Complex carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and anti-inflammatory foods all respectably play a vital role in the body’s preparation, performance and recovery. Unfortunately, misuse of these fuels are a common practice.

Carbohydrates create your body’s most easily accessible form of energy, glycogen. Glycogen is stored directly in your muscles and liver- tapped into during intense physical exercise. However, not all carbs are created equal. White bread, enriched pasta, and pastries are simple carbs with high sugar content, registering them as a fast burning ineffective energy source. Fruits are also a tricky situation. Though high in carbs, many fruits are also high in fiber and pose gastrointestinal issues during long runs.

To fuel effectively with carbs, incorporate complex carbohydrates like whole grain bread, oatmeal, and starchy fruits and vegetables at least a day before your run. Complex carbs produce slow burning glycogen allowing for a steady stream of energy sustaining you for a longer and stronger run.

Fat is the unsung hero of endurance sports as fat stores can contain 50 times the amount of energy than contained in carbohydrate stores. Once your body has burned through its stored glycogen, it begins to break down your fat stores to create energy, and continues on into the muscle recovery process. While diving into a vat of ice cream, or a sleeve of cookies is, needless to say, well earned after a 20 mile run, it does not provide you with the good fatty acids necessary for recovery. However, fats from unsaturated non-animal sources, such as almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds, avocados, coconut, and healthy omegas-3 fats from salmon and other select seafood, do the body right.

Every time your foot strikes the ground it bares seven to eight times your bodyweight. Repeated striking with such force leads to muscle breakdown and potential injury if your body lacks sufficient protein. Protein helps recuperate and build muscle by expediting the healing process of rebuilding muscle fiber. It will also boost your immunity, a vital aspect of recovery as your body’s immune system can be compromised for a duration of 72 hours. Great sources of protein include nut butter, seafood, and lean protein, such as white-meat poultry. Protein however, isn’t the only contributing factor in the recovery process.

Inflammation has been identified as the main culprit for pain resulting from running injuries. Following minor damage from overuse to a muscle, tendon, or connective tissues, your body attacks the injured area with an onslaught of inflammatory cells, which manifests as pain, stiffness, and soreness. To combat this, many treatments include ice, compressive wraps, and anti-inflammatory medicine like ibuprofen. Though beneficial, these treatments only scratch the surface and provide limited support throughout the duration of muscle recovery. For more well-rounded recovery regimen, incorporate foods rich in anti-inflammatory properties. Berries, whole grains, and green leafy vegetables are all great sources to supplement your diet to help aid and recover your sore legs.

Viewing your food as fuel and understanding that smart food choices can have an immensely advantageous effect on your performance are the first two steps in competing at your optimal level. With the incorporation of complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, lean proteins and anti-inflammatory foods into your diet, your body will be able to prepare, perform, and recover better, faster and stronger. To stay healthy, you need to eat healthy.