There was a time when nobody really paid much attention to nutrition within the running world. Performances were defined by ability, not by advantage gained through race-based or training-based nutrition plans.
Today of course the world is a different place. Nutrition is a word that more people are familiar with, at a minimum most people within the running community will be aware of the concept of carbs, carb-loading and that poor nutrition can negatively impact performance…but to what extent? There certainly is a lot of information on the Internet concerning diets and nutrition for runners, but is there too much? The plethora of information available can sometimes be confusing, however there are essentially three types of training a runner might undertake, and each will have its own nutritional demands;
• Hard training days and race days
• Moderate intensity training days
• Light training days, cross training or no training
On these days, carb intake needs to be higher than normal to meet the very physical demands for energy, and a serving should be included with all main meals. This doesn’t mean, as is often thought, stuffing yourself with carbs at every meal. The portion sizes need to stay the same, but the ratios of carbs/fats/proteins needs to change. Snacks can also be used to boost intake to support high training needs. A low GI breakfast will provide sustained energy during the morning and for a longer run. The increased carbohydrate intake means you should aim to limit fat, but a moderate protein intake should be maintained with each meal. Including an evening meal or snack containing protein is important to help your body recover from a heavy training day and assist muscle growth overnight, as this is when the majority of adaptation will occur. Increase fluid intake to compensate for sweat losses during training and stick to tried and tested foods before setting out on a long run.
Regular training days
The target is to moderate carbohydrates on these days, which would include a serving of carbohydrate at breakfast and lunch only, mainly to fuel training and replenish muscle glycogen stores. Intake can then be reduced in the evening. Meal options should focus on slow release carbs for sustained energy release. Aim for a moderate protein intake as well, a serving of protein should be included with each meal for ongoing muscle growth and repair. Include polyunsaturated fats in your evening meal to promote the function of muscle cells. Foods containing iron should also be included in three meals per week, which is vital for carrying oxygen to the working muscles and supporting energy production during endurance exercise.
Low intensity days
Carbohydrate intake should be lower, due to the reduction in training volume. This may mean that only one meal needs to be carbohydrate based. This reduction in training gives the flexibility to use a protein-rich breakfast, which can reduce hunger for the rest of the morning. Intakes of protein from meals and snacks should be high on these days to support ongoing muscle tissue growth and repair in the 24 hours following a heavy training day. Bacon and eggs anyone?
So when thinking about a training plan, think about how you can maximise effectiveness with some good nutrition choices also. Perhaps it also makes sense to think about a nutrition plan to go with it.