Hi, runners! I hope training for the Steamboat Marathon is coming along nicely and now is the time to check in with another component of running a marathon that is not actually running. In this month’s blog, we will be talking about nutrition and how to fuel yourself for optimal health, recovery, and performance. This blog post will be a two-part series. I will start with the foundations of a healthy diet for runners and then next month we will talk more about pre-, post- and during-exercise fueling.
The best advice I can give is that to perform your best you need to have an optimal diet that fits your needs all the time, year-round, not just during race prep or on race day. Although everyone is an individual and functions best on a variety of diet types, the common denominators are nutrient density, plant based diets (this does not have to mean vegetarian), and lots of healthy fats, protein and carbohydrates to fuel you optimally. You set your foundation as an athlete with what you put in your mouth every day. Food is the fuel that will get you through busy workdays and long training runs. By fueling correctly you are setting yourself up for success.
Make sure to eat enough carbohydrates to fill and replenish glycogen stores that are needed for training as well as keep your mental acuity sharp by providing the brain with fuel. If your energy wanes during training you may make bad decisions and we do not want that. If you are starting to feel woozy, chances are that you need some carbs. A few sources are starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, winter squashes, and corn, whole grains such as quinoa and brown rice, all fruits, and legumes such as lentils and beans. Non-starchy vegetables such as spinach, kale, leeks, beets, tomato, cucumbers, asparagus and the like also have some carbohydrates in them, but you will have to eat several servings to get to the number of carbs that their starchy cousins provide. These vegetables are what we need in our diet to provide nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber. Fiber being very important to keep our GI tract moving along smoothly, keeping us full and satiated, and acting as prebiotics for the beneficial bacteria in our gut. As you will see in next month’s blog post, what I recommend for your daily breakfast might be different than what I suggest for race day fueling, especially in the fiber department. You should eat a fiber rich diet daily but on race day that will change.
Let’s talk protein. We need protein to help us build and maintain muscle while training hard and to help keep our immunity strong. During intense training, we are putting stress on our bodies and if we are not properly fueling we can be more susceptible illness. While training, we are creating small micro-tears in our muscles and our protein intakes, along with the amino acids that are the building blocks of protein molecules, will help us repair these tears. When we think of protein, the first thing that pops into many people’s heads is red meat, but focus on adding plant proteins to your diet as well. Good sources are nuts, seeds, beans, and organic tofu in addition to fish, chicken and your other lean animal proteins. Dairy products are also a source of protein.
Fat is not your foe! Healthy fats will help our brain as well as help in recovery and avoid aches and pains by decreasing inflammation; they also keep us full and taste delicious. Focus on nuts like almonds, cashews, pistachios, hazelnuts, and seeds such as chia, flax, sunflower, hemp and sesame. Add in fatty fruits like avocado, coconut, and olives. When we speak of plant fats the good thing is that they are often good sources of protein and fiber as well.
The best thing you can do is to take notice of each meal and see if your plate consists of these three components, if the answer is yes then you are well on your way to having a great foundation for your training for the Steamboat Marathon in the coming months!
Cara A Marrs, RDN
Cara is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist, race director, and an avid runner and skier