Learning about nutrition and eating correctly is an essential aspect of running. What you eat has dramatic effects on your running performance, so it is very worthwhile to devote some time thinking of what you put into your body in terms of nutrition when you are expecting it to perform well.
Nutrition is as essential for training as it is for races. Nutrition enables you and any runner to keep up with the many miles on the road every week and to help with recovery. Having the right nutritional balance is what this page aims to explain.
Four Critical Food Groups
Carbohydrate is the most important nutrition for runners. Your body's main source of energy for aerobic exercise comes from carbohydrate. Your body coverts the carbohydrates you eat into glucose. (glucose is a simple sugar). Glucose is then immediately used by your body for energy or is stored in the muscles as glycogen. Glycogen stores are utilized by marathon runners and help keep you from "bonking" or "hitting the wall". You've run out of carbohydrates if you have to slow dramatically to continue running. The trick is to store energy by eating carbohydrates on a continuous basis. Experienced marathon runners focused on meeting their nutrition needs eat the right carbohydrates in the right amounts at the right times! Experts recommend that your diet should consist of 50 to 60 percent carbohydrates. This amount will keep your muscles well-fueled so that you can meet both your nutrition and training goals.
However, carbohydrate is not available for prolonged time. Carbohydrates are stored in limited amounts only. During physical exercise carbohydrates need to be continuously replenished. During intermediate to high intensity level running (such as training) our body would be able to provide energy which it has stored in its muscles for about 45 minutes to one hour depending on the runners' conditioning. For optimal storage of the maximum amount of carbohydrates a marathon runner needs to start the taper period about two weeks before the actual marathon race. During the taper period the intake of carbohydrate might need to be 70 percent of your total calories.
Protein is used for some extend as an energy source. But its most nutritional value is to repair muscle fibres and muscle tissue damaged during training. Protein should make up about 15 to 20 percent of your daily calorie intake. Runners, especially those running long distances, should consume .5 to .75 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Try to select protein sources that are low in fat and cholesterol. For example; low-fat dairy products, lean meats, poultry, whole grains,fish, and beans. Keep in mind that your protein needs are not as high as those of bodybuilders so you don’t have to overdo it.
To get the greatest misunderstanding out of the way first, runners need to consume 20 to 25 percent of their total calories from fats. There is this old myth from the stone-age that fats increase your weight, clog up your blood vessels and what other bad things. However, with enough physical activity (which runners get plenty of) there are few to almost no negative effects. Actually, the opposite is true. Long distance runners train to build carbohydrate-economic muscles. This means that more fats are burned for energy before depleting the muscles of their carbohydrate storage.
Fats Provide the most concentrated and largest source of energy. Fat is required for normal growth, healthy skin, production of certain hormones, structural component of body cells, supply of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
Staying hydrated is very important to your running performance, training and, more importantly, for preventing heat-related illnesses. Dehydration in athletes could lead to muscle cramping, decreased coordination, and fatigue. Other heat-related illnesses, like heat exhaustion and heatstroke, have even more serious consequences. Runners need to pay attention to what and how much fluid they’re drinking before, during and after exercise. According to nutrition experts, water also assists in digesting food and converting carbohydrates into glucose (which is energy) instead of fat. Aiming for more than two liters on a normal day and more on hard-training and long run days.
For serious runners with high training volume it is wise to consider reducing or completely renouncing the consumption of caffeine. Caffeine affects the kidneys by acting as a diuretic, which increases urine production and therefore increases loss of water from the body. Caffeine can be found in coffee and teas including green tea. Another diuretic are oats because they contain silica. When consuming these products make sure to drink some extra glasses of water during the day.
Essential Vitamins for Marathon Runners
Vitamin A helps form and
maintain healthy teeth, skeletal and soft tissue, mucous membranes, and skin.
The recommended amount of vitamin A a marathon runner should consume every day is: 1000
Check your vitamin A intake.
A continuous supply of vitamin B is essential for the production of energy. These vitamins B eventually form enzymes which then act as a catalyst in the chemical reactions that transfer energy from the basic food elements to the body. Vitamins B are essential for the breakdown of carbohydrates into glucose, which provides us energy (read more about Energy Pathways), the breakdown of fats and proteins, which aids the normal functioning of the nervous system, muscle tone in the stomach and intestinal tract, and healthy skin, hair, and eyes. The recommended amount of vitamin B a marathon runner should consume every day is:
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine) - 50 mg.
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) - 15 mg.
- Vitamin B3 (niacin) - 25 mg.
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) - 10 mg.
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) - 2.0 mg.
- Vitamin B9 (folic acid) - 1 mg.
- Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) - 2.0 mcg.
- Biotin - 500 mcg.
Enhances iron absorption, acts
as an antioxidant (antioxidants ‘mop up’ free radicals, preventing cell
damage), increases energy production, is necessary for the synthesis of
collagen for the formation of connective tissue and bone. Without this collagen
between the injured tissue, not only will the injury take longer to mend, but
when seemingly repaired the injury site will rupture again. All sports injuries
should be internally treated with increased vitamin C daily (1000 mg) for the
first week. Vitamin C has an affinity for the cartilage of the knee. The
recommended amount of vitamin C a marathon runner should consume every day is: 60 to 100
Check your vitamin C intake.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble
vitamin that helps the body absorb calcium. Our body produces vitamin D after
being exposed to sunshine. The recommended time exposed to sunshine is three to
four times a week for about ten to fifteen minutes. As most of us are training
for our marathon outside (almost) every day, exposure should not be too
difficult to get. The recommended amount of vitamin D a marathon runner should consume
every day is: 10 mcg.
Check your vitamin D intake.
An antioxidant that helps
prevent cell damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are substances that
cause cell damage. As a result of greater oxygen uptake athletes have higher
levels of free radicals. Antioxidants ‘mop up’ free radicals, preventing cell
damage. The recommended amount of vitamin E a marathon runner should consume every day
is: 15 to 25 mcg.
Check your vitamin E intake.
Vitamin K is not an essential
nutrition support form for marathon runners and adequate amounts are consumed
with a varied diet. The recommended amount of vitamin a marathon runner should consume
every day is: 90 to 120 mcg.
Check your vitamin K intake.
Essential Minerals for Marathon Runners
Required to build and maintain
strong bones and teeth, essential for muscle function, blood clotting and nerve
transmission. The recommended amount of calcium a marathon runner should consume every
day is: 1000 to 1300 mg.
Check your calcium intake.
Chromium is important in the
metabolism of fats and carbohydrates. Chromium stimulates fatty acid and
cholesterol synthesis, which are important for brain function and other body
processes. Chromium is also important in the breakdown (metabolism) of insulin.
The recommended amount of chromium a marathon runner should consume every day is: 30 to
Check your chromium intake.
Copper, along with iron, helps
in the formation of red blood cells. It also helps in keeping the blood
vessels, nerves, immune system, and bones healthy. The recommended amount of
copper a marathon runner should consume every day is: 700 to 900 mcg.
Check your copper intake.
Iodine is needed for the
normal metabolism of cells. To transform the nutrition from food into energy.
The recommended amount of Iodine a marathon runner should consume every day is: 150 mcg.
Check your iodine intake.
Iron is required for the formation of hemoglobin and myoglobin, the oxygen-carrying components of red blood cells and muscle cells respectively. Required for energy reactions to take place. The recommended amount of iron a marathon runner should consume every day is: 10 mg.
Magnesium supports contraction
and relaxation of muscles, produces and transports energy, and produces
protein. The recommended amount of magnesium a marathon runner should consume every day
is: 400 mg.
Check your magnesium intake.
Manganese helps your body
utilize several key nutrients such as biotin, thiamin, ascorbic acid, and
choline. It keeps the bones strong and healthy. It help your body synthesize
fatty acids and cholesterol. Maintain normal blood sugar levels The
recommended amount of manganese a marathon runner should consume every day is: 5 mg.
Check your manganese intake.
The recommended amount of
phosphorus a marathon runner should consume every day is: 1000 mg.
Check your phosphorus intake.
The recommended amount of
selenium a marathon runner should consume every day is: 70 mcg.
Check your selenium intake.
Essential for normal growth, reproduction, immune system function and energy production in muscle cells. The recommended amount of zinc a marathon runner should consume every day is: 15 mcg.
More on essential nutrition
Helps maintain regular bowels and can assist in reducing blood cholesterol. Marathon runners should decrease fiber consumption pre-race to prevent gut problems.