In the running and racing world, proper nutrition and a carefully designed training plan can make or break your success. And while most coaching apps for runners can help you pick the best training program based on your endurance level and racing preferences, optimal diet plans are not so easy to tackle since there are so many factors pertaining to your physical and mental stamina that you need to keep in mind. Preparing nutritionally for the big running race does not boil down to starting a rigorous diet regimen a couple of weeks before the big day. Your diet should be consistent and optimized for your training and running program so your body can get all the nutrients it needs from quality sources, and have enough time to recover after each run and workout. Sounds complicated? Fret not: we have some basics here on how to structure your eating habits ahead of the big running race in order to maximize your potentials as a runner and prevent energy drains when you need them least – on the big race day.
Habit #1: Recover and refuel
As you up training intensity, duration and mileage, increase calorie intake and make room for proper recovery after you run or exercise. Unless you allow your body enough time to recover and refuel, you will soon wake up feeling feeble, lethargic and reluctant to face another workout – and an aversion to your training can lead to burn out, or become a race killer and/or lead to a dreaded DNF (aka Did Not Finish - DNF - gasp!). On top of that, lack of proper recovery can increase the risk of sickness -- obviously another issue that can impact your race day performance!
Habit #2: Proper protein intake
Proteins are the building blocks of all living cells, and a diet low in the precious nutrient can lead to immune system glitches, increasing weakness and susceptibility to infections and viruses, mood swings, irritability, rashes and a range of hair, skin and nail conditions. To stay on the safe side, include portions of lean meat, quinoa, fish, beans, nuts, tofu, and eggs your weekly eating plan. If you are struggling to cram enough protein on your plate, try protein powders such as these from athletic nutrition companies Legion or Vega or Hammer Nutrition or plain ol' protein from other favorites TruVibe Hemp Protein and Now Foods Pea Protein. All for tasty and effective protein RDA supplementation.
Habit #3: Focus on healthy complex carbs
As the race day draws nearer, your diet should be structured around complex carbs. Complex carbohydrates found in oatmeal, whole-grain bread, brown rice, starchy veggies and legumes take longer to metabolize and provide lasting fuel, unlike monosaccharides you get from industrial food that produce an instant energy boost the effects of which wear off quickly. In the several days before the big event, your diet should consist of 10% protein, 70% carbs, and 20% fats.
Habit #4: Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Insufficient hydration is another thread that may cause sluggishness and hamper your running performance, which is why most nutrition experts and fitness trainers recommend drinking lots of water and fast-absorbing electrolyte-enriched beverages before, during and after the training. Plus, it's good for maintaining a healthy race weight, and nice skin. A good running hydration pack will change your life! This Orange Mud pack is supposed to be great - check out the great reviews! (Photo via http://weruntrails.com).
Habit #5: Racer made of iron
In the weeks leading up to the race, increase iron intake through extra portions of leafy greens (kale yeah!), lentils, beans and lean red meats to prevent overall weakness, infections and energy depletion on the track. Kale + Running = <3
Other useful tips for avid runners include a healthy diet schedule (meals should be evenly distributed throughout the day, optimally at 3-4 hour intervals) and avoidance of junk food. Ew, junk! (Well, okay, we like pizza and cookies here and there...) Long in-between meal periods can cause shifty energy levels, gratuitous overeating and mood swings, while empty calories and fat-packed grubs will slow down digestion, make you listless and harm your lean runner body you've worked hard to maintain.
So, are you nutritionally ready to report to the start line and kickass at the big race??
Author: Mathew McGarry is passionate about many forms of strength training, and spent years lifting, dragging and flipping all manner of heavy objects. After graduating from the Faculty of Health Sciences, he started writing about his experiences, and sharing tips for better life. Follow him on Twitter.