Runners compete along the Bandra-Worli sea link over the Arabian Sea during the Mumbai Marathon on January 19, 2020. (Image: AP)
For runners, a balanced diet is as important as training. What and when you should eat before, during and after your runs is a key factor while training for a marathon. A diet that benefits joints, muscles and bones helps improve performance and reduces the risk of an injury.
Nutrition choices can make or break an endurance runner. Yet, no one meal can be called an ideal diet. Much like fingerprints, each athlete is unique and has varying nutrient needs.
Priyanka Rajani, 32, a nutritionist and a fitness coach, shares some tips for runners.
-Stay hydrated through the training session as well as the day
- Focus on rest and recovery too
- Sleep at least seven-eight hours and take a day off from training
- Eat more natural foods and whole foods. Avoid fried and processed foods. Consume alcohol within limits and don’t smoke
- Make sure you have your pre, during and post meals on time
- Listen to your body for any hunger. Make sure you fuel it well.
Rajani believes it is important for runners to focus on nutrition as it lays the foundation for the next run. Training and nutrition are equally important and neither can be done without the other. She considers food as the fuel for the body to perform and store energy.
Also read: Planning to run your first marathon? Here is what it takes
If it’s a short run then a banana with a tablespoon of peanut or almond butter should be good, says Rajani. If you can eat one or one-and-a-half before a long run, a small bowl of oats porridge or some sweet potato should give the slow release of energy for the duration of the run. “Some people prefer to drink instead of eating, so a pre-run drink of Unived or Maurten works for them,” she says.
During the run
Sports drinks: These drinks contain electrolytes, which you lose in sweat and a high percentage of carbs to restore energy.
Energy gels: These concentrated sources of carbs contain sugar and other ingredients like electrolytes or caffeine. They come in small, single-serve disposable packets.
Energy bars: These tend to be high in carbs and moderate in protein. Protein helps your muscles recover and rebuild.
Other snacks: Dried fruit, jaggery and other candies work just as well as their more expensive counterparts at restoring energy.
After a workout, your body has depleted a good amount of nutrients and needs to refuel. Providing your body with the right mix of nutrients will allow it to recover quicker and to its full capacity.
Within 30 minutes, runners should eat a well-balanced and healthy meal of protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. This post-workout meal should include water and fluids rich in electrolytes.
Proteins, carbs and fats—the marathon fuel
Elite runners track the total grams of protein, fat and carbohydrates they consume to maximise their performance, while the rest of us just need to have everything in moderation.
Carbohydrates give energy for training and hence are very important for a runner, says Rajani. Consuming the right kind of carbohydrates is important. Many people rely on the simple carbs found in sweets and processed foods instead of fruits, complex carbs like roti, rice, oats and sweet potato. About 45 to 65 percent of your total daily calories should come from carbohydrates. This is especially true for runners, she says.
Proteins are important for muscle recovery and to avoid breakdown of the muscle tissues. Hence, they are essential to consume from sources like lentils, pulses, tofu, lean meat, seafood, paneer and should comprise about 15 percent of your diet, says Rajani. Since protein helps muscles heal faster, runners who consume the right amount are less likely to get injured.
Fats are essential for the absorption of vital vitamins and nutrients. They provide energy while training when the carb source is lacking. Hence essential fats (good fats) such as avocado, nuts and seeds, olive or coconut oil should be consumed in moderation, says Rajani. About 25 percent of the diet should be healthy fats.
Hydration is a key nutritional component but it is important to hydrate in moderation. Though the “eight-cups-of-water-a-day” rule is reliable, your natural “thirst mechanism” is still the best indicator for the amount you should drink, says Rajani.
If you are drinking steadily throughout the day, there is little need to drink a large amount before your run, however, the amount of water you’ll need to drink increases in hot and humid conditions.
Consider your physical state and race goals before planning your meals. For example, the nutrition plan for a recreational runner will look different from that of a professional. Aim to provide your body with the proper fuel to meet your fitness level, whether you consider yourself a beginner or an elite athlete.