Do you want to run faster or for longer? A key thing to work on is your diet which will go hand-in-hand with planning your training sessions and slotting in rest days.
In fact, improving your nutrition will help you increase your performance and arrive at a competition in the best possible condition. You can improve your nutrition…
- Daily: a balanced, quality diet will build a healthy foundation.
- Before and during your training: the right amount of energy at the right time.
- The day of the race: planning your meals and energy requirements to match the intensity of the mission ahead.
It’s then up to you to adapt and refine your meals with the foods that work best for you before and during a workout. And don’t forget… you should be enjoying this!
EATING A BALANCED DIET
The foundation of your nutrition plan for running is your daily diet.
We recommend you follow the following principles in order to meet all the nutritional requirements of your favorite sport:
- Eat three meals a day and avoid snacking. If needed, a snack like a simple banana or some dried fruit can help hold you over to a meal that’s not in the plan until quite a while after your run.
- A balanced diet is a varied diet: eat a bit of everything and listen to what your body is telling you it needs.
- Choose quality, fresh, unprocessed, or minimally processed foods.
- Even if it’s an essential source of energy, beware of sugar which is present in loads of foods and that we tend to consume too much of on a daily basis.
- The overconsumption of salt can induce oxidative stress when you exercise. Plants, vegetables and herbs are excellent antioxidants that should be added to your menu.
- Foods rich in omega-3 like fatty fish, rapeseed oil, flaxseed oil and walnut oil are good examples of fuel that can help your body regenerate after activities like running that involve repetitive movement.
CARBS, FATS AND PROTEINS: WHICH FOODS ARE WHAT?
Carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are known as energy substrates. During digestion, they’re broken down into nutrients which your body needs to function properly.
- Carbohydrates (sugars): simple carbohydrates (aka fast sugars) are found in fruit, honey, milk, and foods prepared with sugar like pastries, cereal bars … there’s a little bit of it in everything, really!. They are also found in more complex forms (aka slow sugars) in foods like bread, pasta, potatoes, cereals (rice, wheat, quinoa, corn, etc.) and legumes (lentils, chickpeas, and other beans).
- Fats (lipids): mainly found in fatty meats, fish, dairy products, eggs, avocados, olives, almonds, and other dried fruits, and of course in butter and oils. Cold cuts are also rich in fat but because they cause inflammation, they’re not recommended for athletes.
- Proteins can be of animal origin like meat, fish, eggs and milk. They can also be plant-based like legumes, whole grains, tofu and nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, etc.).
An athlete’s diet is considered balanced when it contains approximately 50% carbohydrates, 35% fat and 15% protein. Of course, this should be adjusted to your metabolism and your objectives (for example, weight loss, decreased body fat, or increased muscle mass).
Good hydration is also essential. Remember to drink pure water in small amounts throughout the day – not just during meals – for a total of 1.5 to two liters per day. Tea and coffee don’t count!
BEFORE TRAINING: PLAN YOUR FOOD AND YOUR SCHEDULE
When you plan a workout, tweak your menu to match the planned duration and intensity:
- For short runs (less than one hour) at low intensity: not necessary to modify your usual menu.
- For runs longer than an hour or at high intensity: if it’s been a long time since your last meal eat a small snack like a banana before you run.
- For a long endurance run lasting several hours: don’t overeat at the meal prior to your run because you might have difficulty digesting it. Instead plan to eat and drink regularly during your session, which is also a good way to get used to eating and drinking while you’re running.
You should also tweak your diet based on when you go running:
- Some low intensity sessions can be done in the morning on an empty stomach before breakfast.
- Avoid running right after a meal because your body will be in digestion mode.
- It’s best to wait go for a run until two hours after your last meal so your food has time to fully digest, especially if you’re planning a high-intensity session.
- You can cut the waiting time between the time you run and your last meal to an hour if it’s a low-intensity session.
BEFORE A RACE: STICK WITH YOUR PLAN
The week before a race is a period during which you’ll generally be cutting back on your workouts, so it’s normal that that your body will demand less food. Don’t force yourself to eat thinking you need to store energy.
For a short distance race like a 10km or half-marathon, you won’t need to change your eating habits during the days leading up to the race. Instead, if you’ll be running more than an hour, or if otherwise needed, plan to refuel during the race with something light and that you’re already used to. This will help maintain your energy and hydration levels.
For long efforts like a marathon or a multi-hour trail run, your objective before the run is to optimize your energy reserves by maintaining a high level of glycogen (carbohydrates stored in your liver and muscles). You can get a great idea on how to do this by following our suggestions in this article: Why adopt a trail running diet?
The rule before and during a race: don’t try new foods and focus instead on food you can easily digest and consume without stopping.
Above all, we recommend limiting fiber – like uncooked legumes – in the meals before you race so as not to stimulate the intestinal tract too much. On top of all the other stress that comes with the race, this can cause some discomfort. Acidic foods such as citrus fruit can also cause stomach discomfort and should therefore be avoided if you’re sensitive.
DURING THE RACE: PRESERVE YOUR RESERVES
Once again, don’t try anything exotic with your food during a race. Stick to your tried-and-true training habits and when it comes to fuel, stick with what you know works best.
The shorter and more intense the run, the more you need to make sure you have completely finished digesting your last meal. So stop fueling two to three hours before you race.
For long runs that require refueling (half-marathon, marathon), the objective is to keep your glycogen reserves as high as possible while avoiding blood sugar peaks (from taking in too many carbohydrates in one go). Therefore, go with small quantities of carbohydrates on a regular basis that can be easily assimilated through energy drinks or solid foods offered at the refueling stations. As an example, for an effort of around four hours you might eat some solid food every 45 minutes.
For very long efforts like an ultra-trail, the strategy is different due to the enormous amount of energy required to run so many hours. You’ll find our specific advice for trail running in this article.
POST-RACE RECOVERY: EAT TO REGENERATE
After a major effort, your body needs to replenish its reserves and repair damaged cells. We now know that during the hour following your race proteins are particularly well assimilated. So remember to refuel as soon as you finish by simply listening to your body and eating whatever it’s craving. This is the time to reward yourself! 😉
Every runner is different and so is every eater! That’s the reason we’re not providing a list of food in this article that’s specific to running but rather more general principles and suggestions that are not too restrictive and always good to follow. It’s up to you to decide on the food that works best for you based on your personal experience, your own goals, and the way your body works!