For runners and athletes, food is more than fuel… it provides the nutrients your body needs for strength, endurance, and recovery. If you’re logging tons of miles or hours in the gym, you need to optimize your diet and nutrition to replenish your energy, and also to keep your tendons, bones, and muscles strong and flexible. The foods you eat and the supplements you take are just as important as how you train.
You probably already know that, when you’re training for a race or athletic competition, your diet should be focused on whole foods, with an emphasis on high-quality protein, healthy fats, and carbs. But what else should you be doing to optimize your diet and nutrition?
If you’re a runner or athlete preparing for your next big event, these tips will help you meet your increased nutritional needs as a high-performance athlete.
Guest post by Donna Maurer Photo by Jonathan Borba
Consider Your Increased Caloric Needs
One of the first things you should think about is your caloric intake. You’ll need to consume more calories to have the energy you need for training.
The best way to know if you’re consuming enough calories is to listen to your body. Do you have the energy you need to meet your workout goals? Are you maintaining a healthy weight, or are you losing or gaining too much?
No two athletes are the same, so you’ll need to do some experimenting to find your “sweet spot” for caloric intake. As a high-performance athlete, you must take care to eat enough food to stay strong and healthy and meet your increased calorie and nutrient needs.
Fueling Up Before You Train
Eating the right foods an hour or so before you train will ensure that you have the energy you need to perform at your best during your workout. It will also help to prevent you from feeling ravenously hungry later on.
Exactly when you eat and what you eat before your workout will also be a bit different for everyone. Many athletes like to eat a light snack just 30 minutes before a run or workout, while others find that they need a light meal and as much as two hours to digest before they’re ready to go.
As a general rule, the greater the intensity of your workout, the longer you should give yourself to digest to prevent an upset stomach.
As far as what you should eat as a pre-workout snack or light meal, your focus should be on carbs and protein that can be digested easily and provide energy. Avoid heavy foods that are high in fibre or fats and can take forever to digest and leave you feeling sluggish during training.
Here are some suggestions:
- Whole grain toast with peanut butter
- Oatmeal with berries
- Whole-grain crackers and almond butter
Try a variety of carb and protein-rich foods to see which ones keep you feeling your best. Then, when you’re heading into your big race or event, you’ll know what works best for you. Over time, you’ll develop a few go-to snacks and meals to fall back on for big events.
Consider a Mid Workout Snack as Well
When you’re logging a lot of miles or hours in the gym, you might want to consider taking in some carbs and protein midway through the workout.
Studies show that a carb/protein blend is more beneficial than carbs alone. Having some protein will improve your performance, boost your energy and mood, improve muscle function, and speed up recovery after your workout.
The easiest way to do this is with a liquid carb and protein shot. It’s easy to bring with you, and you can enjoy it without interfering with your workout. It will also be absorbed easily so you won’t get a stomachache.
Hydrate the Right Way
Depending on the intensity and length of your workout, you need to hydrate properly. If your workout will be moderate and shorter than 60 minutes, water is probably all you need.
However, if you’re going to be working out in hot weather, your workout is high-intensity, or you’ll be working out for more than 60 minutes, you’ll want to focus on taking in electrolytes in addition to fluids.
Some great choices are electrolyte drink mixes, sports drinks, or coconut water. Do your best to avoid any drink that contains a ton of sugar or artificial colours and flavourings.
Refuel at the Right Time
During a high-intensity workout, the glycogen (energy) stores in your muscles are severely depleted, which causes mid-workout and post-workout fatigue.
Refuelling with carbohydrates within 15 minutes after you run or work out is the most efficient way to restore your glycogen. This is called the “Glycogen Recovery Window” and taking advantage of this strategy can improve your performance during subsequent workouts.
Protein is also crucial for helping muscles recover after a workout, so your best bet is a protein and carbohydrate combo right after your run. A protein shake or smoothie is a great option.
What to Eat Before Your Race or Event
You’ll want to consume a generous amount of carbs and some protein before your big event. If you eat an hour or two before your event, your snack or meal can be larger. If your event is only 30 minutes away, keep it small.
Here are some excellent pre-race/event meals:
- Protein and caffeine shot
- Turkey sandwich on whole grain bread
- Whole-grain bagel with cream cheese or peanut butter
- Chicken breast sandwich on whole grain
- Oatmeal with milk
- A protein shake or smoothie
Be careful not to eat anything new before your event. You want to choose something you have eaten before a workout in the past.
Take the Right Supplements
The right supplements and vitamins geared toward runners and other high-performance athletes can be extremely beneficial, especially when you’re training for a big event. They can provide your body with the extra nutrition it needs for increased energy, strength, endurance, and faster recovery.
Here are some to consider adding to your routine:
- Caffeine: Will give you an immediate energy boost and help you stay focused during training
- Creatine: Improves energy and endurance by helping your heart pump more efficiently and your muscles contract faster
- BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids): An excellent endurance supplement that can help you work out longer and harder and heal faster after your workouts
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Fantastic recovery supplement; reduces inflammation and soreness so you can get back to training sooner.
The Bottom Line
Optimizing your diet and nutrition can give you an edge when you’re training for a race or athletic event. It’s the safest and most natural way to improve your energy, endurance, and recovery so you can perform at your very best. Taking good care of yourself will also keep your bones and muscles strong and lower your risk of injury.