Monday, January 9, 2012

From Our Nutritionist: Fuel Your Run with Good Nutrition

Happy New Year! Before we get officially started with 2012, I want you to open the refrigerator right now and toss out any uneaten Christmas cookies, fudge, or fruitcake. Gone? Good. It’s now time to hit the ‘reset’ button and get back on track so you can feel and look your best this year.

Whether you are a veteran to the sport of running, a newbie, or still wondering if you can do it (and yes, you can do it), good nutrition is as vital to the sport as a comfortable pair of running shoes. Filling your body with the right fuel can boost energy, improve performance, and help manage your weight over a lifetime.

Adequate hydration is so important, especially when you are a runner. Even mild dehydration can cause fatigue, headaches, and muscle cramps. Drink mainly plain water regularly throughout the day and pay attention to your thirst cues, even on non-running days. Juices, milks (including soy and nut milks), yogurt, and fruits all contribute to hydration. There is really no need to count out “8 cups of water a day”.  A simple way to monitor hydration status is by the color of your urine; it should be pale yellow.  Alcohol and caffeine can dehydrate, so limit excessive intake of these kinds of beverages. For shorter runs water is usually adequate. A sports drink with some carbohydrate and electrolytes is recommended for longer runs lasting over 90 minutes.  Some recommend only drinking based on thirst when running. Others adhere to the general guideline of consuming about ½-1 cup of fluid every 20 minutes of running, give or take.

Balanced Regular Meals
Eat small frequent meals/snacks with adequate protein, healthy carbs, and a little fat. This will help keep you SATISFIED, control your blood sugar levels, and maintain energy levels. Start the morning with breakfast and eat at least every 4 hours to avoid ravishing hunger which can lead to overeating.  Include 1-2 servings of non-starchy vegetables at lunch and dinner. Most Americans do not eat the recommended servings of vegetables. Some non-starchy veggies include broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, lettuces and greens, peppers, onions, cabbage, and green beans.

Don’t ditch the carbs if you plan on being a runner. Carbohydrates are the preferred fuel for running.  50-70% of the calories in your diet should come from carbohydrates. Endurance runners will need a greater percentage of carbohydrates than a more casual runner. Healthy carbohydrate choices include whole grains such as brown rice, oatmeal, and whole wheat pastas and cereals, fruits, vegetables, beans, low fat milk and yogurt. The exception to choosing some of these higher fiber carbs would be in the day or two before a long race (to reduce roughage in your system). Those are special days you get to enjoy plain white pasta.

Protein and Fat
Protein from the diet helps build and repair muscles and helps keep you satisfied as part of a meal or snack. But, you don’t need nearly as much protein in the diet as carbs. There is actually varying amounts of protein in many of the carbohydrate foods. High protein foods include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, beans, cheese, milk, yogurt and soy.  Aim for 2-3 servings/day from these foods. Fats are important too. Healthy fats include those from olives, olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, and cold water fish. Omega-3 fats from cold water fish are especially important for runners. These fats have anti-inflammatory properties and may actually help prevent exercise induced asthma and ease arthritis-related joint pain.

80-20 Rule
I love this rule and it really is how I think about my diet. 80% of the time I am eating what I should, when I should, and in the amount that I should. But, 20% of the time I eat whatever I want. Running on a regular basis allows for this extra flexibility in the diet as well. A completely sedentary person probably shouldn’t go hog-wild 20% of the time and should stick with a stricter 90-10 rule. Thank goodness for running!

Megan Witt, RD, LD

Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist
MegaNutrition Works, LLC
Certified LEAP Therapist for chronic conditions caused by food sensitivities including irritable bowel, migraine, fibromyalgia and more.

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