Someday, I would love to be a registered dietitian or sports nutritionist. Alas, today, I am not.
But, it doesn’t take years of study and a degree to know that there is a direct correlation between what, how and when you eat and your athletic performance — regardless of your discipline. The old adage “Garbage in, Garbage out” has been around for ages, and it is absolutely true.
During each training season, I keep a food journal, using MyFoodDiary. (There are now tons of online resources for this. I picked MyFoodDiary two years ago because is user-friendly, and has an impressive of database of nutritional data from virtually every major restaurant. MyFoodDiary has no idea who I am, and I pay $9 a month for the service just like everyone else.)
Whatever food journal you choose, however, keep in mind that eating to run is very different from eating to lose weight (as most online journals are designed). Here are a few things that I keep in mind . . .
1. Nutrition during the entire training cycle is equally – if not more – important than nutrition on race day.
Everyone seems to ‘get’ nutrition in the days leading up to and during a race. Carb-loading is super fun (see # 3), and it makes sense that you need to eat and hydrate properly to safely and swiftly complete 26.2 miles. What people forget is that these same principles apply to training. You can’t ask your body to run 45+ miles a week for 20 weeks (yes, folks, that’s a total of 900+ training miles!) without the proper fuel.
2. Nutrition does not mean strictly counting calories.
Yes, you need to make sure that you’re eating enough food to support your training. But the focus of your nutrition goals should be the ratio of carbohydrates to proteins to fats — not the total number of calories consumed. Throughout training, you should be eating around 50-60% carbs / 15-25% protein / 20-30% fat. Why so heavy on the carbs? Your muscles use mostly carbs and (if you are training at an appropriate easy pace) fats for fuel. If you deplete your carb stores, your body will break down muscle for energy (and, yes, that is as bad as it sounds). But, remember, these need to be quality carbs like fruit, low-starch veggies, and whole grains — not bagels, cookies, and frosted cereals.
3. Carbs alone are not the answer.
Bring up the subject of nutrition during a run, and you’re likely to discover that your running group could be re-named “Carb Addicts Anonymous.” I honestly know people who have signed up for half marathons solely for the carb-loading pasta dinner. (Sorry guys, but at least I didn’t name names!) Drop a bunch of carb addicts into an environment where they constantly hear about the need to carb-load, and you end up with a group of runners who aren’t eating nearly enough protein. Runners need protein to recover quickly and to repair muscle damage. This also is why it is critical to eat/drink a meal that has both carbs and protein within 30 minutes of any run that exceeds one hour. (Chocolate milk is my personal favorite.) An added bonus: Protein satisfies hunger, so you feel full longer.
Happy running … and eating!