Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Nutrition for the run of it

Some of you may know that I recently completed my second marathon two weekends ago. As I trained for the last six months, I was constantly reminded of the importance of sound nutrition to my physical performance. When I nourished my body well, I noticed a major difference not only in my physical state but mental as well. Throughout my training and up to my competition, it was interesting to hear the different thoughts and advice on nutrition that people would give me along the way. While the support and good intentions were always appreciated, it was often interesting to note the great amount of misinformation there must be about nutrition for sports out there. So, I thought I'd address a few of the sports nutrition in my blog.

1) "You can eat whatever you want since you just burned all of those calories!"

While it does seem tempting, it's not as easy as it sounds on several levels. Adequate nutrition is still important, especially for an athlete, so consuming nutritious foods, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins, is essential even for an athlete. In fact, the need for certain nutrients are much greater for athletes than for non-athletes. Secondly, in order to ensure peak performance, having the right combination of nutrients is vital. Because carbohydrates provide a primary fuel source during physical activity, especially endurance activity, it's important to include foods rich in carbohydrates, like whole grains. Plus, with the need for more carbohydrates (at least for an endurance athlete) being so much greater, it can leave little room for foods high in fat and calories. Finally, I've found that in order to maintain a healthful diet, it's best to be consistent with the food intake, especially when coming off the training/competitive season.

2) "Be sure to load up on those carbs the night before!" or "Are you having a big pasta dinner the night before?"

Obviously, people are aware of the importance of carbohydrate for optimal performance. However, it's not just about loading up on carbohydrates the evening before a race. For optimal training and competition performance, it's best to consume an adequate amount of carbohydrates daily. In addition, true glycogen or carb loading involves increasing carbohydrate consumption ~6 days before the event to max out glycogen stores rather than simply doing so the night before. It's also important not to try out something new just before or during an event. So if one truly wants to load up on carbohydrates, it's best to practice during training along the way in case adjustments are needed.

3) "Don't you need some Gatorade?" (after a standard training run of 40-60 minutes)

Fluid replacement sport drinks have their place in training and competition, particularly for high intensity stop-and-go and endurance sports. However, they're most beneficial for activity lasting >90 minutes. So, for a short 40-60 minute run, water will do just fine.

4) "Make sure you drink enough water during the run!"

Not only is it important to be well-hydrated during the event, but it is also important to maintain proper hydration on a daily basis. Staying adequately hydrated even during training is important as even a loss of 2% of body weight can result in impaired performance, and I speak from experience when I say that even mild dehydration can reduce mental stamina during any run. And it's important not to forget to replenish fluid losses after the training or event. (See #3 re: the need for sport beverages during activity lasting >90 minutes.)

5) "You don't really need that stuff do you?" (regarding carbohydrate gels)

Consuming carbohydrate during high-intensity events like basketball or endurance events like marathons helps replenish muscle glycogen (stored energy) and improve performance. It is important to try out these gels or other supplements during training as adjustments may be needed depending on individual tolerance and preference. It's best not to try something new on event day!

That's about all for now. Keep moving and happy training!


Angie Eats Peace said...[Reply to comment]

I loved this post. I definitely get the mind set sometimes that I run so much, so I can eat whatever. Thanks for the reminder that I still need balance!

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