This past weekend was a great weekend for runners. Several of my friends completed a half marathon on Saturday and The Chicago Marathon on Sunday! What an accomplishment all the way around! Recently, I have had some great questions thrown my way regarding runners and proper nutrition. It has been something I have looked forward to writing about, but when this email from my good friend and marathoner came through, I wanted to get to this topic sooner rather than later!
If you are new to the blog, please check out my past interview with Mike. His story will inspire you to get healthy, create a work life balance, and maybe even lace up your running shoes! The following is an excerpt from his most recent email to me:
I have a question for you to ponder. It may be because I can’t get out as much as I’d like to with football going on or maybe the fact that I’m doing a lot more early morning running now and everything is still tight/cold, but whatever it is, I’ve seemed to hit a wall. Early summer I was running sub 6:40‘s regularly on short speed days and 7:15‘s on longer runs. These days, I’m running 7:40 on short runs (this is at 5:15 AM so bear with me here!) and 7:25 on my longer runs (only about 8-10 miles). Again, this could all be just a coincidence or I may need to get a real diet going. I figure you have more experience than anyone, so I thought I’d see what diet you feel gives people the most energy for an active & busy lifestyle, and aren’t incredibly difficult to follow. You have a basic idea of how I do things these days but I’ll give you a little rundown of a sample day of eating:6:00 AM cold cereal/granola/oatmeal9:00 AM trail mix bar maybe paired w fruit12:00 PM sandwich with salad and yogurt6:00 PM dinner- usually consists of pasta and veggies and 75% of the time meat (most often chicken or turkey).8:00 PM sweet snack of some sorts in moderation. ice cream, yogurt, etc.Drinks: Coffee then water all day long and maybe a beer with dinner.I am not really looking to lose any weight but just get things back in tune. Any advice you can give is greatly appreciated. I’ve looked on the net but there’s only so much I can believe from someone who may or may not have real experience with it. I’ve worked out of the Runners World Cookbook and its great but as always, people get bored with the same meals. Maybe I don’t “need” a diet to get my times down but I know it will help. I have 30 mins to shave in 7 months so I’ll take all the help I can get!THANKS AGAIN!
What a great question! One that many of us may be asking in one form or another. Something I told Mike, and I will tell all of you is that I am flattered that many of you feel you can reach out to me. Please keep in mind that I am not a marathoner or elite athlete, but I do love to learn and research for my own active and busy lifestyle. Please take my advice simply from a trainer’s perspective-not as a specialist in this area. I hope that this information is helpful, and at least sets all of you up for a step in the right direction.
It looks as if there is no such thing as a “runner’s diet”. So much of the information out there is to simply eat a well-balanced, healthy diet-which we all should be doing, runner or not. A healthy balanced diet (and one that is recommended for runners as well), is one that is containing healthy complex carbs, good fats, and sufficient but not excessive protein. Roughly 60 % carbs, 25 % fat, and 15% protein. What I have been learning over the last several months of studying fat loss (how to lose fat versus water or muscle), is that there is no A + B = C diet out there. (We sure do wish there was though!) We are each so unique in how our bodies operate, our hormones, and how we process and use fats and sugars. So rather than telling you to “do this”, it will be best for you to become a detective, make a few tweaks here and there while making notes on how you feel and perform. You may have to tweak things again…and again…until you find your formula for this season of life/stress/rest/work/training that you are in. (Your needs will change again! I guarantee it!)
With all of that said, I have done some research that may be useful for my runners and high activity athletes to think about and work into your diets for some testing. First of all, with Mike coaching football this fall, his work, family, and needing to run early in the morning, I wonder if he is eating before the run? I think he is onto something noting that the change of time for runs could be affecting him. If you workout early in the morning, remember that you just fasted, and haven’t been hydrating for 6, 7, hopefully 8 hours! You will definitely need some fuel and H2O to train optimally out there in the mornings. However, you will have to play with what that looks like. Complex carbs are a great choice. Mike’s morning oats are perfect, especially on those long runs as they release energy slowly. I know that I always feel better and stronger in a.m. training’s when I eat first. However, I have to allow the food to digest for a bit before I get started. With the time he is getting up to run, and get to work, that may be challenging I understand. Trial and error, and making the necessary adjustments are key until you find the right recipe for yourself.
After lengthy or vigorous runs and workouts, you need to be sure to eat within 30 minutes of finishing. Opt for snacks that have a good balance of carbs and protein. Chocolate milk has been touted for some time now about being a great recovery snack. Really, anything healthy, about 100-300 calories, again with a balance of carbohydrates and protein for muscle recovery and repair.
Mike’s diet looks great to me. Very healthy, yet balanced. I just wonder if he is actually eating enough? I am not big on “calorie counting”, but it may help anyone for a few days just to see where you are at. If you use My Plate from Livestrong.com or My Fintess Pal, these apps make it easy. Plug in your information and be sure to add in your activity level. These food diaries are great because given your entered goals, after a certain workout, it will tell you how many calories and macros you need to eat back in. If that seems to be too tedious, maybe just add an extra 200 calories into your day and see how you feel for a couple of weeks. Keep a little diary to track hunger, energy, and cravings (on a scale of 1-10-You want hunger and cravings to be low and energy to be high!) to know how the changes are affecting you throughout the day. I would also encourage Mike to try to add a little protein in the morning to help balance blood sugar levels from the complex carbs he is eating. Protein will keep you fuller longer and give you sustained energy. Here is an article on some of the best foods for runners to eat and why: Best Food for Runners
It seems simple, but also make sure you are drinking enough water. Even if you are running 10 miles tomorrow, it is important to make sure you are hydrating enough days before the run. An easy rule of thumb is to keep drinking until your urine is a pale lemonade color!Lastly, I asked Mike to heavily consider a consultation with a sports nutritionist or a clinic that specialized in athletes like himself. Where I live in Grayslake Illinois, there is a studio that specializes in training marathoners, triathletes, cyclists, and the like-The Fitness Pursuit. If you could find a studio like this, it may only take you a couple of visits to feel confident in a training program/nutrition approach made for you by the people who know this stuff best: the athletes and trainers themselves. This is your hobby, you are crazy passionate about it. I say invest a little more into it and see what gains you receive!
I hope that this information was helpful to all of my athletes out there. Nutrition is key in performance, and finding the right formulas that works for you can be tricky. I say, keep at it, and you will find it!