Ever find yourself running on fumes at the end of long run? Or maybe you’ve felt sluggish during miles that you normally have a bit more spring in your step.
Although there are several reasons a run can turn into a ride on the struggle bus, one culprit may be nutrition. Below, Nicole Kerneen RD,CD,CSSD, with Froedtert’s Runners’ Clinic, helps us understand the role nutrition plays in training and how you can fuel better your next run.
How can eating right help improve a person’s running?
For any sport, eating right helps with performance and recovery, and sometimes performance even lies within the recovery. Athletes in general don’t realize how important good rest and proper recovery nutrition are for their overall gains and performance. Nutrition is everything. It helps to decrease inflammation that’s built up from running, which in turn helps decrease muscle breakdown. It helps to decrease stress hormone, which is elevated while running, and therefore helps a person recover in a more timely manner, especially with two-a-day workouts and quick turnovers between runs.
What are some common mistakes you see runners making when it comes to nutrition? How might these mistakes be corrected?
Improper recovery and hydration. I tell all my athletes, recovery starts at breakfast. Recovery starts immediately. Going into your run strong helps you come out of it even stronger with less tissue damage and therefore less damage control. Meal timing and proper planning is crucial.
What are some common myths about running and nutrition? What’s the truth behind the myths?
A common myth is if I’m smaller, I run faster. This is not true. Your speed, stamina, endurance and agility are all determined by training your body physically and eating to support that training.
Another myth is that carbs are bad, fat is better. This is also not true. Your body responds to how you train it. If you force it to rely on fat for energy, then eventually it will respond well by this, but switching over takes time and many people don’t feel well during the process. Depending on the type of activity, level and training, this form of eating can create a lot of stress on the body. There is a time and a place for all types of intake. It’s important to work with someone trained in all areas of nutrition to help you understand what would be best for your particular body and body type.
What does a good diet look like for runners in training? What types of foods should runners include in their diets? Are there any foods that should be limited or avoided?
A good diet is going to vary from one person to the next depending on their likes, dislikes, lifestyle, running demands and other training schedules. For the most part, a focus on good quality carbohydrates spread throughout the day, in addition to lean proteins, some healthy fats and a focus on anti-inflammatory choices from any of those categories.
I recommend eating fish whenever possible, as well as lean meats such as pork and poultry. Eggs are powerful to include in any diet as they are loaded with such great choline and some vitamin D and clean burn proteins. And let’s not forget about greens!!! My clients get sick of me talking about greens, but they are everyone’s best friend. They are loaded with antioxidants, vitamin K, calcium, iron, magnesium – all of which are phenomenal for muscle and tissue health in addition to good skin and healthy bones. Greens help neutralize the acids in our diet, which help to maintain good bone health. On top of the foods mentioned above, berries, apples, bananas and mangos are loaded with antioxidants, incredible doses of potassium and are rich in slow-burn carbohydrates, which is the preferred energy source of the body.
There’s so much hype around limiting carbohydrates, but study after study, still shows how efficient carbs are for a runner. They create the less stress for the body to convert to energy and on top of that, they carry all those stress fighting B vitamins that help the body manage the stress of working out, enhancing recovery and keeping brain chemistry balanced as well. They also aid in identifying true hunger cues.
Anti-inflammatory fats such as avocados, nuts and nut butter (just make sure they are dry roasted and not laden with inflammatory oils), olive oil, small amounts of coconut oil, grapeseed oil, avocado oil, etc. are also crucial for good joint and heart health. The key to these is having them a couple hours before and after a workout. Fats can inhibit proper recovery as they slow down the re-uptake of carbs and protein into the muscle.
Let’s talk about pre- and post-workout nutrition. When is it appropriate to eat a pre-workout snack and what are some good options? When is it appropriate to eat a post-workout snack and what are some good options?
Eating a pre-workout snack depends on the intensity and length of your workout in addition to your last meal. If it’s been three hours since you’ve eaten and dinner is still another three hours away, then it’s absolutely necessary for you to have a pre-workout snack, anywhere between 30-60min before you start the workout. It’s important to have the right kind of carbs –typically something that has a combination of carbs so you have a faster release blended with a moderate and slow release. This helps you have a steady and powerful energy throughout the workout. It’s also good to have a small amount of protein going into a workout to release some amino acid in the blood stream and aid in less tissue breakdown.
Depending on likes and dislikes, workouts, etc., a few snack recommendations include:
- A Clif bar – It offers a 3:1 carb to protein ratio with a nice blend of the different types of carbs.
- A regular, fruited yogurt – This snack is most excellent for magnesium and potassium and offers at least a 2:1 carb to protein ratio. However, most are a solid 3:1 ratio.
- A peanut butter sandwich with a piece of fruit
- A “GORP” type snack mix with dried fruit/pretzels or Goldfish crackers and your favorite Chex-like cereal. This mix provides you with different carbs, sodium and potassium….all easy-burn carbs so they don’t upset your stomach.
Protein isn’t always necessary before a workout, but depending on timing and amounts – I’m talking about 10 grams – it can be a nice enhancement. This is why you see people taking in amino acids of BCAA’s before a workout. However, this isn’t necessary – a piece of string cheese or an ounce of chicken, tuna or turkey with a piece of bread or crackers and fruit is great!
Post-workout snacks are also critical. When I work with someone, I use their amount of lean mass to help determine their carb needs post workout. It’s the muscle we are fueling and refueling, so knowing one’s muscle mass is really important. A post-workout snack can consist of anywhere between 45 and 110grams of carbs – it all depends on the muscle mass for the individual. Without knowing specific numbers, I always suggest at least 45grams.
Similar to a pre-workout snack, an immediate post-workout snack also needs a 3-4:1 ratio of carbs to protein. This is why chocolate milk has been touted as one of the best and most effective post-workout drinks. It has fast and slower burning carbs to keep the recovery going until the next meal (preferably no longer than two hours post workout) and it has just enough protein. Post workout protein needs vary between 12-20 grams. Studies have shown that anything more than 20 grams is overkill.
A few post-workout snack examples include:
- 12-16oz of chocolate milk
- Regular yogurt + fruit or cereal
Smoothies or shakes are also great after a run because they also help with rehydration. Here’s a basic recipe to make a post-run smoothie:
1 scoop of protein powder – 10ish grams worth OR 1 cup of regular yogurt or ½ cup of Greek yogurt
1 cup of fruit
1 Tbsp of honey
¼ – ½ cup of oatmeal
What types of Performance Nutrition services are offered through the Runners’ Clinic?
- Performance Nutrition Assessment – During this assessment, the athlete tells me about their current situation and I ask a few more questions so I can provide immediate feedback. No plan is created and a body comp read is optional unless I find it necessary based on our conversation.
- Performance Nutrition Consult – This consult and the assessment can go hand in hand. At a full consult, we identify goals and trouble areas. I do a complete intake of one’s diet/training and lifestyle. In addition, we always take a body fat read so I can better create a program based on their present and desired state. A plan is also developed during the session and the client goes home with information based on their body.
- Grocery Store Performance – I meet the athlete at their favorite grocery store and we walk the aisles. I educate and also help them put together meals and snacks based on their needs.
- Pantry Performance – This is where I come to the athlete’s home or they take a picture of what they currently have in their pantry. I give them ideas and recipes to help them obtain a pantry built for performance.
- Performance Nutrition Overhaul – This includes several sessions – all of the sessions listed above with some additional follow-up. This is a real hands-on program, offering tailored plans and lots of education!
How can all runners – experienced and beginners, competitive and non-competitive – benefit from Performance Nutrition services?
Everyone can benefit from working with a Board-Certified Sports Dietitian. We are trained in all areas of physiology and dietetics in addition to the emphasis on sports and exercise. Some, like myself, are also trained in eating disorders and disordered eating and have a wealth of experience working with different behaviors and changes through the life cycle a.k.a hormonal and endocrine changes. Anyone who wants to make sure that they are giving themselves the nutrition they need can benefit from getting a review of their current intake. A lot can be learned with just one session! The body is an intricate piece of work. Not everyone is the same so it’s important that health past and present be used to determine what the individual needs today!
Thanks so much for chatting with us, Nicole! To learn more about the Runners’ Clinic and Performance Nutrition services, visit http://www.froedtert.com/sports-medicine/performance-enhancement/nutrition
Keep Running MKE – you’re doing great!