Sports nutrition is something that is often greatly overlooked by runners, but how important is nutrition on performance?
The start line for any runner should always be to get your base nutrition right first, then utilise sports nutrition to provide you with what your body needs. If you ignore the fundamentals of nutrition for a runner then you will never realise your full potential, the same could be said for missing out any of the three pillars to success – training, rest and nutrition.
What types of foods should a runner include in their diet and what role does each of these foods play?
As a guide your meals should contain 60% of your calories from carbohydrates – the primary energy source for your body – from foods such as pasta, rice, potatoes and vegetables. Lean proteins, which are the building blocks of your body, should make up 15-20%, so consume foods such as chicken, mince and turkey. The remaining 20-25% comes from fats, which play a vital role in supporting the body’s organs, temperature, skin, hair as well as healthy cell function. Ideally avoid foods high in saturated fat and choose sources such as nuts, oils, avocado and peanut butter. You should also consume between 2-2.5 litres of liquid throughout the day, which when combined with your food will aid fuel and hydrate, making you ready for your race and training.
What would you recommend eating before a race or a training run?
The morning of the race you should look to consume a high carbohydrate based meal 2-4 hours before your race start time. Aim to eat a carbohydrate rich breakfast like porridge & toast with jam or honey. Keep your fibre intake low, and avoid high protein and fatty foods. You should try and drink 500ml of water during this period to ensure you’re not dehydrated before you start your race. For that extra boost 30 minutes before your race get your carbohydrate fix through sports bars such as the Maxifuel Viper Boost Bar. This also contains caffeine which will help with alertness and focus to help you get through your race.
Are there any macro/micronutrients that have been shown to improve muscle recovery?
The main nutrient associated with aiding muscle recovery is protein. When you do any form of exercise your muscles are used, and the longer and more intense the exercise, the more stress you apply on them. Protein acts as the building block for your body so not only is it beneficial for things like your skin, hair and nails, but more importantly it helps to support muscle growth and recovery after exercise.
How important is it to take on protein post exercise? What else might a runner need after a run?
Once you have crossed the finish line you need to think about recovery and protein plays an important part as it aids muscle recovery. Carbohydrates are also important to replenish energy stores that you have used up during you run. Aim to consume approximately of 1g of carbohydrate per Kg of body weight and combined with 15 to 30g of protein as soon as possible after the race. For example a 60 kg individual would consume 60g of carbohydrate and 20g of protein. Recovery shakes, such as Maxifuel Recovermax, use a blend of 3:1 carbohydrate to protein to consume after exercise. With regards to hydration, sip on liquid after you’ve finished for the first hour and ensure your urine is of a pale straw colour. This should then be followed by a meal a couple of hours later to continue the refuelling and recovery process.
There have been lots of reports of the benefits of beetroot juice on running performance. Why is this? What other foods/supplements might have a similar impact on performance?
Beetroot juice has had a reasonable amount of reports in the last few years about its benefits to exercise. The effects reported range from altering blood pressure, making the body more efficient at using oxygen and improving performance during anaerobic and aerobic exercise. Whilst some research has suggested possible physiological benefits of beetroot (nitrate) supplements, there is limited evidence linking this to meaningful performance benefits. One ingredient that has been shown to benefit performance is caffeine. Yes it may not be suitable for everyone dependent on how sensitive you are but the benefits of reducing the perceived effort of exercise and increasing mental focus & alertness in effect makes exercise easier.
What sports supplements, vitamins and minerals do you recommend runners should take (if any) over the long term?
Over the long term it’s more important to have a healthy balanced diet that contains a good selection of lean proteins, complex carbohydrates and good fats. This will always give you the best foundations to work from and then sports supplements can be used where required to optimise your training and races. Sports nutrition to aid your performance during running comes in several formats and the most common are listed below:
- Carbohydrate gels – most will provide around 30g of carbohydrates per serving and are easy to carry like Maxifuel’s Viper Active Gel.
- Cereal bars – like the carbohydrate gels these provide fuel but as an alternative for when you want something a little more filling to nibble on.
- Caffeine gels – as well as providing fuel in the form of carbohydrates, they provide a kick of caffeine for when the going gets tough.
- Electrolyte tablets – these help replace the salts you lose when you sweat and combined with water.
- Isotonic drinks – these come in liquid format and powder versions that you can mix with water. Providing carbohydrates and electrolytes to refuel and hydrate at the same time.
- Recovery drinks – these normally come in a powder format like Recovermax from Maxifuel, which you add to water at the end of the race to support muscle recovery. They contain a combination or protein, carbohydrates and electrolytes to help replace what exercise takes out.
Coconut water has become really popular in the last couple of years. Is it all hype or are you better off sticking to drinking water or a sports drink?
Coconut water is a product that contains around 90% water, a small amount of carbohydrates and a couple of electrolytes and is derived from the water naturally occurring in coconuts. It is used as a hydration formula for this reason but the reported health benefits are not based on any research. If you are exercising at a low to moderate rate in normal weather conditions for less than 60 minutes, then just water should be ok for the majority of people. If you increase the length or intensity of exercise then the requirements change. The body’s carbohydrate store will start to deplete, meaning to keep going your performance will rely on fuel and fluid replenishment. You should try to drip feed your body with easily digested carbohydrates. A sports drink can help with this, by providing carbohydrate fuel, electrolytes and water to aid hydration. So as a rule, use water for low intensity/short periods of exercise but for longer periods and higher intensity use an isotonic drink, which are designed for the job in hand and provide the correct amount of carbohydrates to fuel your run like Maxifuel’s Viper Active.
Should runner’s carb load or are we better off upping our ‘good fats’?
Carbohydrate loading is not essential if the length of exercise is not too long or strenuous. If however it’s longer and potentially harder, then carbohydrate loading is an option to look at. It essentially involves increasing your calorie intake the few days before your race by consuming more carbohydrates. The reason you should use carbohydrates instead of good fats is because carbohydrates is the primary energy source for your body during intense exercise. This means your body finds it easier to use it for energy as and when you require it. Runners who recommend carbohydrate loading tend to report they have more energy and can go further before they start to struggle, meaning a potential personal best is on the cards.
I’d like to thank Maxifuel expert nutritionist, Eric Johnstone for his excellent nutrition help and advice.