As a runner, fueling your body involves more than simply carbo-loading to meet increased energy demands. Here are three essential health goals for runners to consider as they train for their next race.
When we think about nutrition for runners, our minds often conjure up images of sports drinks, gels, and pasta. However, sports nutrition goes beyond sugars, electrolytes, and starches; it is founded upon healthy, balanced eating that includes a variety of real foods to offset the demands of hard training.
Runners must focus on consuming enough calories to fuel all those miles, but also need to choose the right types of calories to optimize performance and recovery while reducing injury risk.
Here are three key areas to focus on when you are training for your next big race:
Protect your bones
The bones and joints of legs and feet must stay strong to support the body’s weight during movement and impact. Did you know that 25% of the bones in your body are in your feet? That’s why specific nutrients including protein, calcium and vitamin D are particularly important to protect bones and connective tissues from damage.
Athletes require increased amounts of protein because training breaks down body tissues, and protein contains amino acids that allow our tissues to continuously rebuild and repair. Aim for 1.2-1.8 grams of protein per kg of body weight each day. Protein-rich foods include animal and plant products, such as:
- Chicken breast (3 oz = 24g)
- Wild salmon (3 oz = 23g), eggs (3 = 18g)
- Dairy (1 cup Greek yogurt = 22g; 1oz cheese = 8g)
- Soy products (3 oz tofu = 12g)
- Beans and legumes (1 cup = 15-18g)
- Nuts/nut butters (23 almonds = 6g; 2 Tbsp peanut butter = 8g)
- Seeds (3 Tbsp hemp seeds = 10g)
Repair damaged tissues
Vitamins and minerals play key roles in supporting growth and repairing body tissues. For bone and connective tissue health, ensure you are consuming adequate amounts of calcium. Men and women ages 19-50 years old should aim for at least 1,000mg of calcium per day.
Ditch the supplements and instead choose real food sources such as dairy products, green leafy vegetables (e.g. kale, broccoli, bok choy), sardines, salmon, tofu, almonds, fortified non-dairy milk, and fortified cereals.
Vitamin D also is crucial, because it aids in the absorption of calcium. We make Vitamin D in the skin during sun exposure, but we can also obtain it in small amounts from egg yolks and fortified foods such as milk and non-dairy milks. Vitamin D deficiency is relatively common, especially in the winter, so consider getting tested the next time you see your doctor.
Other key micronutrients for bone and connective tissue health include Vitamins K, C, and A as well as Phosphorus and Magnesium.
To help reduce injury rates, runners should consume foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. Omega-3 fatty acids help decrease inflammation and are found in foods such as fatty fish, nuts, avocado, olive oil, and seeds (flax, chia, hemp, pumpkin, sunflower). Antioxidants offset oxidative damage and are contained in many dark-colored fruits and vegetables, such as berries, kale and spinach.
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Claire Shorenstein, MS, RDN, CDN is a NYC-based Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Road Runners Club of America certified coach. As an avid runner over the past 20 years, Claire has competed in numerous team and solo running events from the 5km to 50-mile distance, and combines her personal running experience and expertise to help athletes achieve their performance goals. Learn more about Claire at Eat For Endurance.