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WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT NUTRITION FOR RUNNERS by Belinda Reynolds
19December/2015

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT NUTRITION FOR RUNNERS by Belinda Reynolds

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As seasoned MMH readers already know, exercise, such as running, is incredibly beneficial to overall health. Nonetheless, training at high intensities can place greater nutritional demands on the body. If you wish to achieve the best results from a well designed training program, fuelling your body to maximise energy metabolism, recovery, and overall health is paramount. 

A diet rich in a variety of plant foods providing healthy carbohydrates, fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients is a great place to start. Ensure that this includes foods rich in natural fats such as nuts (e.g. almonds, walnuts), avocado, plus virgin coconut and olive oils. 

Carbohydrates in these plant foods provide an easily accessible source of energy for body (e.g. muscle) cells. Furthermore, the nutrient-dense nature of a diet rich in these ensures you are taking in the substances required for conversion of carbohydrates to usable energy (i.e. ATP), for the control of inflammation, support for muscle recovery and also joint health.

Plant foods (e.g. vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, nuts and seeds) also provide beneficial fibre that support digestive health and feed the beneficial bacteria that reside in your gut. These bacteria help to protect the body against training-induced inflammation and immune suppression, and thus facilitate healthy recovery. In the 24 hours leading up to a big event, however, it is recommended to minimise fibre intake so as to reduce the risk of intestinal upset during a race. 

Protein sources are also essential as they provide the building blocks necessary for muscle recovery and growth. Furthermore, the amino acids provided by protein can augment functions including the buffering of hydrogen ions in muscle cells (this can slow the time to fatigue) and circulation of blood to working muscles.  

Essential branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are particularly useful for muscle healing and fuelling the muscles (via enhanced energy metabolism). Their consumption before and after training (and on a daily basis) is shown to reduce markers of muscle damage, reduce DOMS, improve performance, enhance recovery, and increase strength exercise capacity. 

BCAAs naturally occur in a range of protein-containing foods including red meat, chicken, fish, eggs, certain nuts (e.g. peanuts and almonds), pure whey protein, lentils and specific beans (e.g. soy beans). In order to achieve therapeutic doses, BCAAs can also be taken as a supplement. 

Throughout long training sessions (i.e. those lasting longer than 1 hour), or endurance events, regular ingestion of carbohydrates, amino acids, water and electrolytes are shown to be beneficial. During these periods it is important to look for supplement options that are easily digested and absorbed in order to achieve benefit and reduce the risk of intestinal upset which can hinder your performance. 

General recommendations are to consume 600-800ml of fluid every hour, with 30-60g of glucose and also electrolytes (the AIS recommends drinking a solution that is 10-20mmol/L sodium). However, it is important to recognise that everyone is different, and the best thing you can do is trial different approaches during your training to identify what is best for you. 

Recent research suggests that sticking to drinking when you’re thirsty is effective in preventing dehydration (so don’t feel the need to chug down more water than you feel like simply because the general recommendations say so). However, in particularly hot environments the evidence does support conscious hydration before and during an event to maximise performance, yet once again the fluid intake required should be calculated on an individual basis. Take into account factors such as how much you sweat, the ambient temperature/humidity of the training/event location, the length of training/event, your body composition goals, gastric tolerance, level of fitness and event type. 

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