Eating to Run Fast(er)

So you’ve started running, it’s going well but you always feel tired and achy after you run. Or you’re a seasoned runner but recently you’re struggling to hit PB's and you don’t seem to be getting any faster. You can’t figure out what’s wrong and why you’re not improving. Maybe it’s time to consider your diet and how you can optimise your nutrition for running…

These simple tips are designed to help you improve your running by fuelling and recovering optimally, they may seem obvious but definitely shouldn’t be overlooked!


Photo by lzf/iStock / Getty Images

Don’t be afraid of carbohydrates!

Many of us run to help us lose weight which is great, but it is still important to realise that fuelling a run with correct the nutrients can actually help with weight loss goals and eating carbs won’t hinder your progress! In fact, it can have the opposite effect – by having more energy and not being afraid to eat, our training can improve meaning that we burn more calories in each run… win-win!

A common misconception with running is that before a big run or race, it’s necessary to have a big carb-load the night before, typically in the form of a pasta party. This is not actually required provided your normal diet contains adequate carbohydrate as your muscles will be relatively well fuelled anyway, especially if you taper training leading up to a race. An alternative would be to include a couple more carbohydrate sources per day in the three days leading up to a race, but not going overboard in ‘loading’ carbs.

If you have recently increased your running distance and find that you are getting fatigued towards the final miles, consider carrying some form of carbohydrate with you to have during your run. Things you can carry easily include gels, sports drinks or just some sugar added to water. This can be particularly useful if your run is longer than 90 minutes and if you’re running early in the morning before you’ve eaten very much. Probably less necessary if you’re running 5km after a fish and chip dinner the night before!


Eat your protein

It’s easy to believe with all of the marketing hype, that protein shakes are just for bodybuilders, and any ‘normal’ person doesn’t need a huge amount of protein in their diet. However for runners, protein is absolutely key in recovery and being able to adapt and improve and run faster.

When we run our muscles suffer damage and tears to the fibres, something you will realise if you get achy after a particularly hard run. In order to help our muscles to repair and adapt we must provide some amino acids from protein. If we don’t our body will start to breakdown other fuel sources within our body for amino acids, obviously less than ideal if we’re trying to recover and build our body back up!

If you eat a balanced meal within about 2 hours of finishing a run that contains a good source of protein like meat, fish or eggs, you will be fine and the recovery process will begin. If however, you are unlikely to get any protein over the next couple of hours, whey protein shakes can be a great and tasty alternative. They provide a quick digesting source of protein that goes straight towards repairing those muscle fibres, and is great if you find you don’t have a big appetite and can’t stomach a big meal straight after a run. It’s not essential to down a shake the second you finish a run, just try to get it in within about 90 minutes and that recovery will be optimised.

My Protein do offer a great range of flavours of whey protein, and their prices are a lot more reasonable than most with their products only containing essential functional ingredients – nothing unnecessary or dangerous. You can check them out here if you’re interested.


Hydrate

So as a runner you should know that staying hydrated is pretty important, but what should you actually hydrate on?

Obviously water is great, but electrolytes can be an even better alternative. When we sweat we do lose salts through our skin, the amount varying from person to person. If we don’t replace these salts we can end up with a bodily imbalance that’s potentially made worse if we just hydrate on water. These salts play an essential role in muscle function, and having low electrolyte levels can contribute to fatigue and cramps.

Sports drinks such as Lucozade contain electrolytes, however if you’re concerned about the sugar and calorie content you can get ‘zero tabs’ from High5 that dissolve in water and are just electrolytes – no sugar and no calories.

It’s not essential to carry a drink with you when you run, and in some cases can actually slow you down. If you don’t like carrying a bottle, then don’t! So long as you start your run well hydrated, and you rehydrate again when you’ve finished you shouldn’t have any issues.


One of the biggest pieces of advice I think runners need to consider is eating enough to fuel their runs. So many runners find their performance plateauing because they are under-fuelled. So remember, even if weight loss is the goal, if you’re trying to hit a new personal record you need to be eating enough calories to cover the energy cost of your runs.

 

If you are still struggling, get in touch at info@andrahealth.com or through our services page to arrange a one-to-one consultation to go through specific strategies tailored to you.