They say you are what you eat, which is partially true in that what you eat influences directly how your body performs. To say it differently, you get out what you put in. If you only feed your body lousy food, you are guaranteed not to perform as well as you would like.
Any athlete needs to give their body the fuel to function and excel in their sport. For runners especially, following a food plan that helps you optimize your performance can be a great asset to your health. The key to success with any program is consistency.
We help many runners work toward their goals at EW Motion Therapy, specifically by promoting healthy habits, including your diet. Giving your body good fuel gives you the best chance for excellent results. Even if you do not choose EW for your running journey, we want to offer some practical tips so you can work toward your goals and optimize your performance.
This article will discuss some diet tips for runners, including foods to avoid (but not necessarily omit) and other health factors to consider. With this information, you can continue your running journey knowing that you give your body the best chance to succeed.
What kind of diet should runners follow?
In today’s society, the word “diet” seems to indicate some sort of deficit or cutting something out of what you currently eat. The truth is that the best “diet” for anyone is a balanced one, and yes, this is also one of the best diets a runner can follow.
You do not have to follow some crazy fad diet with ten different kinds of protein powder. You can just remember the 40-20-40 rule. Your diet should consist of 40% carbs, 20% protein, and 40% fats. As much as we may not believe it, we need healthy fat in our diet to absorb vitamins and lower our cholesterol, like those found in avocados and nuts.
We also need carbs/sugars as an energy source - there’s a reason why you’re always so tired when you eat keto. While there are two carb types, we will first consider low-glycemic carbs. These carbs are the ones that are broken down slower by your body, and these can be found in cauliflower, celery, salad vegetables, and some fruits. These are better to have in your diet than high-glycemic carbs, which we will discuss in the next section.
You should focus on lean protein sources, like eggs, chicken, and fish. These will help you consume fewer calories while feeling more full, and with so many ways to prepare them, you can have great variety in your diet too!
What foods should runners avoid?
Along with the same logic, if a balanced diet does work for everyone, then the foods we are all told to avoid are the same ones runners should avoid. You know the culprits well - too much red meat, candy, and processed foods.
One of the main things any athlete should generally avoid in their diet is the other kind of carb: the high-glycemic carb. Eating these carbs causes a cascade of events that really are not great for performance. After you eat high-glycemic carbs, your blood sugar rises quickly, which promotes an insulin response to quickly lower it. This high-crash cycle can make you feel weak and shaky. The last thing you want is to eat a piece of toast for breakfast and crash 15 minutes later during your run.
Our bodies like high-glycemic carbs the same way people get addicted to drugs - we like feeling strong effects very quickly, even though they wear off faster. But for athletes who want to build endurance, like runners, low-glycemic carbs are a much better energy source. However, there is one instance in which you may not have to avoid high-glycemic carbs.
In the hour right after you run, you have an opportunity to restore muscle mass, and the best way to do this quickly is to eat some high-glycemic carbs. The timing of this is critical, but if you eat a carb-rich meal less than an hour after your run, you can enjoy a quick burst of energy while your muscles recover. Just don’t eat a whole box of Kraft macaroni & cheese, ok?
What other health factors should runners think about?
Now you know a few tips to improve your diet so you can run better. But food is certainly not the only piece of the recovery puzzle - getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, and treating your muscles well are other things to consider.
At EW Motion Therapy, we are committed to helping runners thrive in their sport by teaching sustainable techniques for a lifetime of running. Our Run team will watch you run and develop a plan for further improvement. If you are interested in our Run program, fill out the Request an Appointment form on our website, and someone from our staff will contact you within 48 hours with your next steps.