Endurance running may be interpreted as the most straightforward sport; run from point A to point B. But the truth is you can’t outrun poor nutrition! Nutrition Expert and endurance runner Nick Biase shares how he stayed nourished when he ran from Houston to San Diego in 30 days for charity. Let’s find out how he did it!
QUALITY NUTRITION IS PARAMOUNT
when it comes to endurance running during both training, event, and rest phases. The food you eat not only contributes to the energy necessary for such an activity but also recovery processes and overall performance.
What are the key factors that an endurance athlete needs to pay attention to?
Calories are the energy found in all three macro nutrients; fat, protein, and carbohydrate. But it is the carbohydrate which is the most desired source used by the body.
Carbohydrate before, during, and after endurance running is the essential source of energy. Though, not all carbohydrate foods are created equally.
Complex carbohydrate foods including whole grain options, oats, brown rice, and quinoa are recommended at most meals given their healthful nutrient and fiber profiles.
However, directly before, during, and immediately after endurance running, it is the simple carbohydrate foods which reign supreme. Examples include foods with little or no fiber and contain sucrose, such as starches, some fresh/dried fruits, fruit juices, sports drinks, and chocolate milk.
At every hour mark of endurance running, a particular amount of carbohydrate must be ingested depending on the athlete’s body composition and conditioning. Immediately after an endurance event the athlete must replace depleted muscle energy stores (glycogen) and again the amount will depend on several factors.
NITRIC OXIDE PRODUCING FOODS
Dietary nitrates are known to increase performance among endurance athletes. Nitrates can be converted into nitric oxide which promotes vasodilation; increasing the ability to deliver more oxygen to working muscles.
Note: Not to be confused with nitrites that are found in processed meats, which have been recently identified by some research to have a correlation with cancer rates.
Celery, red beet root, and beet leaves are some of the highest nitrate containing foods. As are green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, and arugula. These foods should be eaten during the days leading up to an endurance event and 2.5 hours prior to beginning.
ANTI-INFLAMMATORY AND ANTIOXIDANTS
Participating in long endurance running can cause inflammation, oxidative stress and muscle damage, leading to pain and fatigue felt by the athlete.
Not only will this inhibit performance during an event, it also extends recovery times; longer recovery equates to less training time. The good news is there are foods which combat these effects.
Omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish like salmon, walnuts, and flax seed have anti-inflammatory properties.
In addition many dark pigmented fruits contain oxidative stress fighting antioxidants that may speed up recovery time and even promote sleep. Tart cherries are known to contain an abundance of these, making tart cherry juice my go-to drink for recovery. Dark chocolate has similarities to tart cherries, making it an excellent addition to trail mix by teaming up with the healthy fats found in nuts.
Hydration is hands down the most important factor regarding endurance running because of the large amount of fluid lost in sweat and respiration.
Without adequate hydration, run speed decreases, as does muscle endurance, strength, and carbohydrate break down increase which results in earlier fatigue. More serious effects include muscle spasms, cramping, and heatstroke.
Meeting the water recommendations specific to the athlete are extremely important leading up to the start of a run, while 4-6 gulps may be necessary every 15 minutes during.
After an hour of running, water alone will not do the trick because electrolytes have been lost and they need to be replenished as the duration continues. These electrolytes are found in many of the carbohydrate sources we discussed.
As for post run re-hydration, my favorite drink is nonfat or reduced fat chocolate milk because it has fluid, simple carbohydrates, electrolytes, and high quality protein which also helps muscles recover.
Nick Biase is a San Diego-based registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in sports nutrition and wellness. Nick is a Marine veteran, fitness enthusiast, home brewer, and a firm believer that you can keep both 6-packs. Develop your nutrition game plan with Nick, make a visit to Nutrition Cadre.