Why is Nutrition so important for Runners?
Nutrition choices can make or break an endurance runner’s health and performance. Yet there’s no one-size-fits-all eating pattern when it comes to identifying the ideal diet and supplements. Much like a fingerprint, each athlete is unique and has varying nutrient needs. Runners who eat healthy and consume enough calories to support their daily activities and the energy they need for training should remain healthy throughout their lives and be able to enjoy many decades of running. Undoubtedly, endurance runners aspire to perform at their best. However, optimum performance depends on many factors and certainly can’t be achieved without adequate supplements and calories to fuel endurance activity and recovery needs.
Why do so many Runners get nutrition wrong?
All runners have made mistakes at some point during their training and racing. In some cases, we repeat the same mistakes over and over again. But, hopefully, we learn from those mistakes and take steps to avoid repeating the same ones in the future. Here are some of the most common running mistakes and how you can avoid running injuries and other issues.
The Do’s and Don’ts:
- Wrong Shoes:
The problem: Wearing old running shoes or wearing the wrong type of running shoes for your foot and running style can lead to running injuries.
The solution: Go to a running specialty store, where knowledgeable salespeople can evaluate your running style and foot type. When they determine whether you’re an over-pronator, under-pronator, or neutral runner they will direct you to the correct foot ware. Once you get the right pair of running shoes, make sure you replace them as the soles and support will degrade over time. If you able to, purchase two pairs as this will give each pair enough time to dry out fully before the next run and ensure the life span of the shoes are to the maximum period.
Too Much, Too Soon:
The problem: Many runners, especially people who are new to running, make the “terrible too’s” mistake. They get so excited and enthused about their running that they do too much mileage, too fast, too soon. They mistakenly think that “more is better” when it comes to running. As a result, they often start to develop common overuse running injuries, such as shin splints, runner’s knee, or ITB syndrome. In some cases, they may get burned out quickly and lose interest in running.
The solution: Be more conservative than you think you need to be with how often, how long, and how much you run, especially early on in your development. Increase your mileage gradually. Don’t let your weekly mileage increase by more than 10%. If you’re new to running or are coming off a long break, start with walking first, and then progress into a run/walk program. Pay attention to aches and pains. If pain gets worse as you run, that’s a warning sign that you should stop. Listen to your body for injury warning signs and know when you shouldn’t run through pain. Take at least one complete day off from exercise each and every week. Don’t ignore rest days—they’re important to your recovery and injury prevention efforts. Your muscles build and repair themselves during your rest days. So if you run every day, you’re not going to gain much strength and you’re increasing your risk of injury.
The problem: One of the most common injury-causing running form mistakes is overstriding, or landing heel first with your foot well ahead of your body’s center of gravity.
Some runners assume that a longer stride will improve their speed or running efficiency, but that’s not the case. Overstriding wastes energy since it means you’re breaking with each foot strike. It could also lead to injuries such as shin splints.
The solution: Make sure that you don’t lunge forward with your feet. This is especially important when running downhill. Focus on landing mid- sole with your foot directly underneath your body with every step. A short, low arm swing is the key to keeping your stride short and close to the ground. Try to keep your steps light and quick, as if you’re stepping on hot coals.
- Bad Upper Body Form
The problem: Some runners swing their arms side-to-side, which makes you more likely to slouch and not breathe as efficiently. Some beginners have a tendency to hold their hands way up by their chest, especially as they get tired. You’ll actually get more tired by holding your arms that way and you’ll start to feel tightness and tension in your shoulders and neck.
The solution: Try to keep your hands at waist level, right about where they might lightly brush your hip. Your arms should be at a 90-degree angle, with your elbows at your sides. You should rotate your arms at the shoulder (not at the elbow), so they’re swinging back and forth. Keep your posture straight and erect. Your head should be up, your back straight, and shoulders level. When you’re tired at the end of your run, it’s common to slump over a little, which can lead to neck, shoulder, and lower back pain. When you feel yourself slouching, poke your chest out.
- Losing Control on Hills
The problem: When running downhill, some people have a tendency to lean way too far forward, overstride, and run out of control. Running downhills improperly like that can lead to injuries.
The solution: The best way to run downhill is to lean forward slightly and take short, quick strides. Don’t lean back and try to brake yourself. Try to keep your shoulders just slightly in front of you and your hips under you. Although it’s tempting to overstride, avoid taking huge leaping steps to reduce the pounding on your legs and avoid putting too much stress on your joints.
- Not Drinking Enough
The problem: Many runners underestimate how much fluid they lose during runs and don’t drink enough because they’re worried about side stitches. As a result, they suffer from dehydration, which can be detrimental to your performance and health.
The solution: Runners need to pay attention to what and how much they’re drinking before, during, and after exercise. Here are some simple rules for drinking and running:
- An hour before you start your run, try to drink 16 to 24 ounces of water or other non-caffeinated fluid. Stop drinking at that point so you can prevent having to stop to go to the bathroom during your run. To make sure you’re hydrated before you start running, you can drink another 4 to 8 ounces right before you start.
- Use your thirst as your guide for when to drink during your runs. This varies on the conditions but, in general, runners running faster than 8:00/mile pace should take in 6 to 8 ounces of fluid every 20 minutes and those running slower should consume 4 to 6 ounces every 20 minutes. During longer workouts (90 minutes or more), some of your fluid intakes should include a sports drink that contain carbohydrates, BCAA, Glutamine and electrolytes to replace lost sodium and other minerals.
The problem: Some runners, who are training for specific races or certain goals run too hard, run too many miles and don’t allow for proper recovery time. They assume that running every day will help them get fitter and faster. Overtraining is the leading cause of injury and burnout for runners.
The solution: Here are some ways to avoid overtraining:
- Increase mileage/km gradually
- Give yourself periodic “rest weeks” by dropping your mileage by 50% every fourth week.
- After a hard run, take a day off. Rest days are important for your recovery and performance.
- Add some cross-training activities to your schedule. Doing activities other than running prevents boredom, works different muscles, and can give your running muscles and joints a break.
Best supplements for Runners
BCAAs ( Branched Chain Amino Acids)
If you’re running regularly, you may actually be burning calories faster than you can take them in. And while that may sound like the exact opposite of a problem if you’re trying to lose weight, the truth is that when the body needs energy, it’s not always discriminating about where it gets it — breaking down muscle tissue rather than focusing on fat reserves. Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) help offset this muscle loss while promoting protein synthesis (muscle growth) throughout the body. BCAAs have been shown to be effective endurance supplement options, staving off fatigue in athletes. Additionally, BCAAs also reduce muscle soreness and speed up muscle recovery. Runners who take BCAAs promote the building of lean muscle mass.
Another way to offset muscle loss through supplementation is by incorporating whey protein into your diet. Whey protein (particularly hydrolyzed whey protein) is absorbed directly into strained muscle tissues, almost entirely circumventing the digestive process, and put to work repairing and strengthening. Drinking whey protein causes an increase in blood amino acids including BCAA’s and promotes muscle recovery and the building of lean muscle mass. Protein is the building block of muscle tissue, so make sure to have enough in your system to keep your muscles happy while you run. Ensure you take enough protein on your rest days as this is the most important time for your body to receive the additional protein to ensure full recovery and muscle repair, Remember that your body repairs itself during night and at rest time.
Vitamins play a key role in nutrition and running supplements, but they are also a part of nutrition for endurance. Vitamins C and E are antioxidants that fight free radical damage, delaying muscle fatigue (while also fighting muscle damage and promoting cardiovascular health). Vitamin B-12 combats fatigue and weakness, while also helping runners make more efficient use of other vital nutrients. Vitamin D3 is essential for maintaining healthy bones. Additionally, Vitamin D3 plays a key role in a number of processes that are key for optimal athletic performance – muscle contraction, nerve stimulation, immune system, and improved anti-inflammatory response. An effective multivitamin will help you maintain your endurance levels and your muscle health while you run.
Although it’s not much use as an endurance supplement, glutamine does play a key role in runner health. This is because running (or any other endurance exercise) has a way of depleting glutamine levels in muscles and in the blood stream. As glutamine acts as fuel for immune cells, when those levels get too low, the immune system can’t function optimally. Simply put, if you’re not getting extra glutamine, you risk getting sick.
L-Carnitine is a popular weight loss supplement that also has an honored place among supplements for runner’s endurance. This is because L-Carnitine burns fat so effectively that it provides runners with a boost of additional energy, while also protecting muscle from being broken down. Runners who use L-Carnitine thus enjoy better endurance and improved lean muscle growth.
Fish Oil or Krill Oil
We really can’t say enough good things about omega-3 fish fatty acids. Also called fish oil, this supplement offers a range of health benefits. But where runners are concerned, the top advantages of fish oil is that it fights inflammation and reduces lactic acid build up in the muscles. That means less soreness, longer runs, and quicker recovery. This makes omega-3 fish fatty acid one of the most important supplements for runners available. Krill Oil is vastly superior to Fish Oil for delivering these omega-3s to the body.
No list of supplements for runners would be complete without calcium. Running puts a lot of stress on your skeletal structure. Repeated impacts to feet and joints, step after step, mile after mile, can even lead to stress fractures and other injuries. But just like how muscles need protein to repair and maintain themselves, your bones rely on calcium. Calcium supplements can help ensure that your healthy bones are strong enough to withstand the rigors of running.
Minerals Zinc and Magnesium
Nutrition for endurance can give runners the edge they need to keep going, which is why the minerals zinc and magnesium are so advantageous. Magnesium helps transport energy to your muscles and also assists in muscle contraction. Zinc, on the other hand, helps you metabolize energy (so you can put it to good use). Both of these minerals are essential, and both can be depleted quickly during runners endurance exercises.