Each and every runner will have their own foods that they eat, foods that their body is comfortable with and this is all down to what foods your body has become accustomed to and your genetics.
The main three macronutrients are fats, carbohydrates and proteins.
Contrary to popular belief, fats are essential to us.
- They act as an energy store.
- They provide essential fatty acids necessary for growth development and cell functions.
- Helps to transport fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) to areas where they are needed.
- Cholesterol (from fat) is used to produce steroid hormones within the body.
It is best to consume sources of monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, but do not leave saturated fats out! They make up half of cell membrane structure, enhance calcium absorption and immune function.
Sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats include nuts, olives, avocados and dark chocolate.
Sources of saturated fat include dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt and meat products.
When glycogen stores are low, our fat stores are liberated and fat is broken down into glucose which can then be converted into glycogen.
These foods are used purely for energy. All carbohydrates are eventually broken down into glucose which can be used by the body.
Here are a few main points for consuming carbohydrates as part of your running diet:
- Try to eat slow release, starchy carbohydrates such as bananas, sweet potatoes, peas, beans and grains.
- This is because starchy carbohydrates will not spike blood sugar levels as much.
- High blood sugar levels cause more insulin to be produced which sends the glucose (blood sugar) to different parts of the body.
- Insulin is a hormone which sends signals to muscle, fat and liver cells to absorb the glucose from the bloodstream for energy.
- However, if there is too much glucose at one time, then it is more likely to be stored as fat.
- The best time to eat quick release carbohydrates is within an hour before a workout or run and/or straight after.
- This is because quick release carbohydrates or simple sugars will be used during exercise and can help replenish the glycogen stores in your muscle and liver cells straight after exercising.
- Having high amounts of sugar in your diet can cause sugar crashes where you feel hyper due to the influx of glucose into your body and ‘crash’ hours later when the insulin has dealt with the glucose and disposed of it.
- Try to minimise the number of times this happens because it messes with the hormones in your body.
- If you struggle try eating simple sugars over a prolonged period of time to start off with rather than all at once or try eating foods with a low glycemic index.
These are required for the regulation of the cell structure, function and regulation of the body’s tissues and organs, but the main focus here is why we need protein for recovery.
- Around 40% of the body is muscle (higher the leaner you are) and around 20% of this muscle is made from protein.
- During exercise your muscles contract and tear which is one of the reasons why your legs may feel weak and not be able to produce as much power as usual after a hard training session.
- Because around 20% of muscle is made from protein, you need to ingest protein (which is broken down into amino acids and reconstructed in proteins again) to repair your muscles during recovery. It is during this phase which your muscle fibres rebuild (hopefully stronger!)
- Endurance athletes need a high protein intake (similar to that of bodybuilders), but the way in which the protein is used differs.
- Bodybuilders will use the protein to increase muscle tissue size and increase muscle mass.
- Endurance athletes will use the protein so that their muscles can repair from the breakdown of daily training.
- Not ingesting enough protein will lead to:
- Longer recovery times.
- Muscle weakness.
- Suppression of the immune system,
- Post-exercise it is best to consume protein within half an hour of finishing to kickstart muscle synthesis and repair the muscle fibres broken down during exercise.
Play around with these macronutrients and figure out what works best for your body, after all some people do better with higher amounts of carbohydrates whilst others require less to perform well!
What are the macronutrients in your diet like? Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below!