Many ravenous endurance runners end up on the ‘see food’ diet: when they see food, they eat it. If you’re logging lots of mileage, it is important for your diet to include plenty of calories, but what those calories are and when you eat them can significantly affect your performance.
How much do you need?
First it’s important to figure out approximately how many calories you need each day. Each person’s calorie needs are different, based on height, weight, age and activity level. As a good starting point, figure out your Basal Metabolic Rate (the number of calories your body burns during a day of rest) using a BMR Calculator.
You can then use the Harris Benedict Formula to approximate your additional calorie needs based on your activity level. If you’re not sure how many calories you’re currently consuming, enter your food intake for a couple of randomly chosen average days on a food calculator program like FitDay to get a ballpark number. Now that you know how many calories you need, let’s take a look at where those calories should come from – and when you should eat them for optimal performance.
If you’re engaging in endurance running (read: your workouts are typically 40 minutes or longer, and at least 95% of your effort is aerobic), then you’ll need ample carbs to fuel your muscles as you burn sugars for fuel. Many runners think of pasta as a cornerstone of the runner’s diet, but there are plenty of other healthy carb sources that are worth a look. A few of our favorites are oatmeal, quinoa and sweet potatoes.
After carbs comes protein. Look for lean sources of protein like chicken and tuna, or fish like wild caught salmon that come with an extra dose of healthy omega-3 fats. Protein will help your body repair muscle and build new muscle as you train. If you are very active, shoot for about one gram of protein per lean pound of body mass each day. That means if you weigh 160 pounds and have 10% body fat, you should be consuming about 144 grams of protein per day [160- (160*.10)= 144].
Fats are the third macronutrient to include in your diet as an endurance athlete. Look for healthy sources of fat like oily cold-water fish (such as salmon and sardines), nut butters, extra virgin olive oil and coconut. Healthy fats promote brain health, and also offer a very high satiety factor, which is crucial for the runner with a sky-high metabolism.
What to eat pre-run
Figuring out what to eat before a run will take a little bit of trial and error. Make sure your pre-run meal includes carbohydrates that you can access for fuel on the run, but play around with different carb sources to determine which ones work best with your body before exercise. Try a few of our favorites: half a toasted bagel smeared with peanut butter, mashed sweet potatoes with a little bit of butter and brown sugar, or a smoothie with fruit and Greek yogurt.
What to eat during a run
If your body starts to lag part way through your run, you might need a little extra nutrition boost while you’re out on the roads or trails. Take some easy-to-digest carbs with you for ready fuel on-the-go. Energy gels and energy chews are great options, because they contain not only carbohydrates, but also electrolytes, to help replenish what you lose when you sweat, and help restore your electrolyte balance.
What to eat post-run
After a long hard run it can be hard to even think about food, but refueling your body post-workout is incredibly important for your recovery and future performance. Try to get some carbohydrates and protein within one hour of completing your workout. We like to follow up a long run with a glass of chocolate milk and a banana, or a recovery drink mix with both carbs and protein, like FLUID Recovery Drink or Hammer Recoverite. When your body has had time to fully cool down from your run is a great time to go a little ape with the pasta or Mediterranean pizza. Making sure that your body is getting enough calories is very important for proper recovery.
Looking to lose a few?
If you want to drop a few pounds while training, it’s important to create a calorie deficit each day. But be careful; if you create too large of a calorie deficit, your body will cannibalize muscle tissue in order to fuel itself. It’s important to drop weight gradually. Shoot for a loss of about one to two pounds each week. This means creating a calorie deficit (through both diet and exercise) of about 3,500 to 7,000 calories per week, or 500-1,000 calories per day (depending on your weight and exercise level).