Powerfuel your body: Getting started with running-specific nutrition

© Elizabeth (Beth) Mansfield, PhD, Peak Performance, Ottawa, ON

We train to improve our sport performance and the more serious among us will spend hours each week in different types of training sessions, carefully tracking intensity, duration and recovery. Yet, we often overlook the health and performance benefits to be gained from a nutrition plan matched to meet our training and recovery goals.

Indeed, the foods we eat, how much we eat, and when we eat them can make a serious difference in both training and competition-related sport performance.

When we sport nutritionists take a look at the most successful runners, from both a performance and overall health perspective, we can see that they:

A marathoner holds a bottle of honey while she runs

A marathoner tops up the tank at the 2013 Ottawa Marathon

  • Recognize their unique individual nutritional needs;
  • Get adequate hydration;
  • Consume a diet of whole foods with a dietary pattern emphasizing vegetables and protein-rich foods that are key sources of the amino acid leucine, important for muscle recovery;
  • Take in sufficient carbohydrate to meet training and recovery needs with a focus on small servings of starchy foods like potatoes/sweet potatoes, gluten free whole grains and legumes, as well as vegetables and fruits; and
  • Pay attention to the timing of pre- and post-workout snacks and meals.

In other words, nutrition is a key part of their daily training plan, and it can be part of yours too.

Getting started with Powerfueling

The concept of “Powerfueling” is one that I use with my clients to explain the importance of coming up with a specific energy budget that is based on what you want to achieve with your training program. By allocating enough nutritional resources to your budget, you can make sure your have enough energy in the tank when it’s time to perform—whether it’s a hard training day or race day.

Over the next few months, as we put together training plans for the 2015 Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend, I’ll show you the steps you need to develop your own energy budget. We’ll also talk about how to tailor that energy budget to the changes in your training plan – a concept called nutrition periodization – for maximum performance and recovery.

Volunteers set up water station

Setting up the water station at the 2014 Scotiabank Canada Day Road Races (Photo: Ian Hunter)

To start, here are three quick tips that you can apply year round:

  1. Eat more vegetables. Include one cup of leafy green veggies (broccoli, kale, spinach, swiss chard, beet greens) and ½ cup of bright orangey red veggies (squash, peppers, sweet potatoes, carrots) every day.
  2. Earlier is better for refueling. Consume water, small servings of carbohydrate, and protein-rich foods (e.g. ½ cup Greek yogurt for a small female runner) as soon as possible following exercise to enhance their uptake and delivery.
  3. Don’t forget the Omega-3 fats. Reset your biochemical balance and get post-workout inflammation under control by eating Omega-3 fats two to three times a week (e.g. 2-3 ounces of fatty fish such as salmon).

If you want a more comprehensive eating plan or more training-specific nutrition information, you may want to consider meeting with a registered dietician who specializes in sports nutrition for endurance athletes or checking out one of the workshops offered at Peak Performance.

See you next month when we’ll talk about how to put together your energy budget.

About Beth Mansfield
Dr. Elizabeth (Beth) Mansfield, PhD, RD is a Registered Dietitian, Sport Nutrition Specialist, and Certified Exercise Physiologist with Peak Performance in Ottawa. Beth educates Canadian athletes on sport nutrition for health and performance.

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