Nutrition for Runners Episode 01 - Your Questions Answered!
A few weeks ago, I took a poll on Instagram to find out what nutrition questions you had related to running so that we could get our Team Sugar Runs nutritionist, Paula, to answer them. In addition to putting the top 5 questions into this blog post, we also made a fun video! One of my 2019 goals is to vlog and create content that’s accessible in many forms. You’ll find this video on my YouTube channel (please subscribe if you want to see more content as soon as it comes out!) as well as below. I’ve included detailed answers to all pf the questions in this post along with some additional info and links for further reading. Paula and I hope you find this helpful and we’re excited to do more nutrition videos. While we picked the top 5 questions based on how often they were asked and that they could apply to a wide range of athletes, we do plan on digging into more of your nutrition questions in the future, so again, subscribe for those updates!
What are good options for recovery meals and foods?
If you’re doing speed work, high intensity, or long runs, you’ll want to focus on getting in good sources of protein, carbohydrates and fluids.
A big thing here is the 3 R’s of RECOVERY:
REHYDRATE with fluids
REPLENISH your glycogen stores with carbohydrates (beans, rice, pasta, sweet potatoes)
REPAIR your muscle tissues with protein (meat, fish, yogurt,eggs, etc).
If its hard to eat something after your run, go for a smoothie that has protein, fluids, and carbs. Most people will want to aim for 15-30 grams of protein to start repairing those muscles. Some sample recovery meals that offer the 3 R’s:
Eggs + tortillas and fruit
Meat or chicken or fish with rice or quinoa or potatoes
Greek yogurt + fruit and nuts
Oatmeal + milk or milk alternative and protein drink or 1-2 boiled eggs
Pancakes + eggs and fruit
Tortilla + beans + eggs and vegetables and fruit on the side
Are carbohydrates important for runners?
In short, yes! Carbohydrates are the body and brains main fuel source and many food sources that provide carbohydrates are also good sources of vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Carbohydrates provide the body with its first option or primary source of fuel and energy for the muscles, brain and central nervous system. Carbohydrates are stored in the body in the muscle and liver. There is a maximum amount of carbohydrates or glycogen that can be stored. During exercise or physical activities the body uses glucose from carbohydrates as fuel. For short and high intensity exercise (think speed workouts), your muscle and liver glycogen stores provide the main source of energy. Eating adequate amounts of carbohydrate rich foods can help enhance performance, recovery, energy levels in performance and for daily activities.
It is tempting to follow diets that are low in carbohydrates for short term weight loss but for many it is not realistic for several reasons (too restrictive, risk of some deficiencies, increase in constipation and increase risk of low energy availability). For female runners and endurance athletes, recent research has shown increased stress and decreased performance when taking in less than 120-150 grams of carbohydrates per day. For female runners and endurance athletes. This can put an athlete at risk for RED-S. RED-S stands for Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport. RED-S occurs when an athletes energy intake falls short to support daily activities of living as well as physical activities in sport and recovery. This can be called Low Energy Availability. When energy intake is constantly too low, either due to high training volume and demands and inadequate nutritional intake (voluntarily or involuntarily), athletes (both male and female) can experience negative symptoms such as feeling fatigued, tired, irritable, menstrual irregularity, decreased performance, risk of injury, decreased muscle strength, decreased concentration, decreased glycogen stores and more.
When athletes restrict or eliminate an entire food group or macronutrient group, it puts them at higher risk of Low Energy Availability and the symptoms listed above.
Is the Ketogenic Diet appropriate for runners?
You may have heard of this diet recently or heard of a fellow friend or runner trying this diet. It is definitely not for everyone. Although you might hear some people finding weight loss success on this (short term) it can be difficult for many to follow this diet long term.
What is it? This diet was originally developed to help treat epilepsy in infants and children and is still new to the area of sports nutrition. The Ketogenic diet or also known as a Keto diet is a high fat (75% or more), very low carbohydrate and low protein diet that helps the body produce ketones and break down fat for fuel. The body and brain can use ketones as an energy source however in order for the body to enter a state of ketosis or produce ketones can take some time. The body is basically in a fasted state even though you are eating high fat and switches over to burning fat as fuel. In the real world many individuals are modifying the diet to fit their food preferences which then becomes more of a lower carbohydrate, moderate protein, high fat diet.
Why it may not be the best option for runners: The Ketogenic diet limits carbohydrate intake to 20-50 grams of carbohydrates per day. For reference 1 fist size apple is about 15-20 grams of carbohydrates. Protein is kept at a number high enough to maintain lean body mass and fat intake is high. The goal is to put the body into ketosis so that the body uses primarily fat for fuel. Every athlete is different, but many prefer foods that have carbohydrates and protein rather than foods that are primarily fat. It also restricts their food choices and usually many of their food preferences. In order to have the body become "fat adapted" or using fat for a fuel source takes consistency and time. Many runners are also working, have a family and other social and professional activities outside of running.
Verdict? We don’t recommend it and here’s why:
Not realistic to follow for a long period of time.
Forces you to restrict and eliminate carb rich foods that provide antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, and prebiotic fiber that promote healthy guy microbiota (think legumes, pulses, grains, fruits, and starchy vegetables).
There’s no substantial evidence that following a Ketogenic diet improves athletic performance. This may be beneficial for ultra runners or those running long distances at a moderate pace and not aiming to improve their speed or hit high intensities.
Limited amount of protein intake makes it hard for athletes to maximize muscle gain and strength.
It’s BORING - all you can eat are avocados, nuts, and yogurt (not really, but you get the idea). Sounds good now, but after a few days, that’s not going to be fun.
Additional resources on this topic:
What are good food sources of protein and iron for vegan and vegetarian athletes?
Vegan sources of protein/iron:
Beans (high iron)
Lentils (high iron)
Tofu (high iron)
Quinoa (high iron)
Other vegan sources of iron include spinach, spirulina, and legumes.
Vegetarian sources of protein/iron are the same as the above noted, but also include the following::
Eggs (yolk = high iron)
*When eating iron rich foods, pair them with vitamin C rich foods to enhance absorption of the iron. Vitamin C rich foods include strawberries, citrus, bell peppers, broccoli and potatoes.
What are go-to options for pre long run and pre race meals?
You want this to be carb rich, low fiber, low fat, low spice foods. You always want to consider things that are convenient for you and that you enjoy eating as well. Some of
Paula’s go-to options for the night before a long run or race are:
Sweet potatoes + chicken or meat or fish
Pasta or rice with chicken or fish and a little soft cooked vegetables
Pizza not too heavy on the cheese or meat (I like to do margarita pizza
Some options for the morning of a long run or race:
Banana + peanut butter or almond butter + honey and a bagel or English muffin
Oatmeal and banana
We hope this was helpful and informative for you and we’re excited about putting together future episodes and answering more questions. Thanks to Paula for answering all of these for us. Please drop any questions you’d like to see answered in future episodes and posts in the comments!
Additional resources and reading material:
Position of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance: http://www.eatrightpro.org/~/media/eatrightpro%20files/practice/position%20and%20practice%20papers/position%20papers/nutritionathleticperf.ashx
International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Nutrient Timing: https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-017-0189-4
Nutrition for Endurance Sports: Marathon, triathlon, and road cycling: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02640414.2011.610348?scroll=top&needAccess=true
Rethinking Fat as a Fuel Source: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17461391.2014.959564?src=recsys
Dietary protein for athletes: From requirements to optimum adaptation: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02640414.2011.619204?scroll=top&needAccess=true
A Step Towards Personalized Sports Nutrition: Carbohydrate Intake During Exercise: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4008807/