How to improve performance and avoid injury through Nutrition?
Ten years ago, I read an article in one of the runners’ magazine ‘How to run faster?’ and the article started by saying ‘just run faster’ which was probably the funniest start of a ‘running faster’ article I ever read! This article started telling the reader all about interval, hill and tempo training etc which is of course how you learn to run faster.
However, it didn’t mention very much about Nutrition, performance and recovery. This is what I will talk you through in this article and you will definitely start running faster as well as getting fewer injuries.
In general, we need 7 groups of nutrients to achieve optimum nutrition for sport:
- Carbs, fats and proteins
- Vitamins and Minerals
When doing sport, we need a lot of energy and stamina. The body’s energy store is ATP. Glucose in the blood gets taken up into the cells and gets converted to ATP with the help of several vitamins, mainly B-vitamins. We can’t produce B-vitamins so they need to be taken up through eating the right foods. B-vitamins are mainly found in wholegrains, lean meat, dairy products, nuts & seeds, green vegetables and citrus fruit.
To improve our stamina, we need to fill our glycogen (glycogen is made out lots of glucose molecules) reserves in liver and muscles. It is important to eat adequate amount of wholegrains like rye bread, brown rice, wholemeal pasta and legumes which will result in a bigger reserve of glycogen in liver and muscles. How much we have to fill up our glycogen reserves depends on the duration and/or intensity of a run.
- Fats can be put in 4 groups:
- Transfats: biscuits, chocolate, crisps, processed food. These should be totally avoided.
- Saturated fats: dairy and meat. A small amount is acceptable.
- Mono-unsaturated fats: olive oil, nuts and seeds and avocado.
- Poly-unsaturated fats: fatty fish, walnuts, hemp seeds, chai seeds, flaxseeds
The last two groups are really important because of their anti-inflammatory and anti-clotting properties. They will also improve the flexibility and fluidity of the cell membranes. This is where the uptake of nutrients from the bloodstream into the cell happens.
Improved fluidity of the cell membrane improves uptake of nutrients into the cell as well as oxygen which improves enhanced aerobic delivery. All reactions in the body happen at cellular level! The fats mentioned in the last two groups above should be added to the diet on a daily basis.
Proteins are the building blocks of the body. Everything in the body is made out of proteins like hormones, neurotransmitters, muscles, bones, hair, nails etc.
Proteins are needed to repair the muscles which we have damaged through doing sport like going for a run. This damage is a natural process and the repair of the muscles will make them bigger and stronger. Eating proteins within an hour after sport is really recommended to enhance this repair phase of our training.
Make sure to add protein to every meal in the form of eggs, fatty fish, lean chicken or beef and legumes like chickpeas, lentils, black beans, red kidney beans etc
Fibre in the food will slow down the release of glucose levels into the bloodstream. It is very important that our blood glucose levels always stay in a healthy range before, during or after sport. Eating whole foods is important as they contain fibre in contrast to processed foods from which most the fibre has been taken out.
There are 2 types of fibre:
- soluble: oatbran, barley, peas and many fruits. This one will also help with lowering cholesterol and liver detoxification
- Insoluble fibre: many vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds. This helps with the peristaltic action of the large intestine which improves detoxification.
Some grains and vegetables contain both soluble and insoluble fibre. Add some of these foods to every meal. Snack on fruit or nuts and seeds.
Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and minerals are essential micronutrients. They are part of many hormones, neurotransmitters and enzymes. These molecules play a major role in optimum performance and healthy repair of our body after sport.
Lack of these vitamins and minerals can result in a higher chance of injury.
Vitamins and minerals are found in all whole foods (not processed). Avoid processed foods and make sure to only eat fresh, whole foods!
Antioxidant are non-essential molecules but have found to be having a positive effect on the body. Lack of anti-oxidants won’t cause a deficiency (unlike with vitamins, minerals, amino acids and essential fatty acids) but the consumption of anti-oxidants will give us a much higher chance to achieve optimum health.
Antioxidant have anti-inflammatory, anti-ageing, anti-toxic, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-allergic, anti-cancer and cholesterol lowering properties. They are mainly found in fruit & vegetables, legumes and nuts & seeds.
Add these foods to every meal and use a large variety of different fruit and vegetables. Think the rainbow of fruit and veg!
Water is essential for life. It accounts for 60% of our body weight. It carries nutrients and waste products between our major organs, regulates our body temperature, lubricates our joints and acts as a shock absorber. These are all major facts that need to be supported while going for a run. The general recommend consumption of water is 2L per day.
This should increase while doing sport depending on the duration and intensity of the run as well as the environment like outside temperature and humidity.
Do not over hydrate, check the colour of your urine as an indicator. It should be straw coloured and will become darker the more dehydrated we become.
What to eat and drink before, during and after a 5K, 10K and Half marathon?
As mentioned above, looking after yourself and having a healthy diet is key to preparation, good performance and repair after every run.
Assuming that your diet is as described above, we will recommend now what to eat/drink before, during and after a 5K, 10K and Half marathon.
Before: small snack or eat nothing as this can suit some runners and perform better on race day. This has to be a personal decision and be tried out a few times which will make you realise which group you belong to.
After: Eat a healthy snack like nuts & seeds (a handful), a banana or hard boiled egg within 45 minutes.
Before: Have a meal 2 hrs before the event
breakfast: 1 wholemeal toast with poached egg, porridge
Lunch: avocado salad, quinoa salad, lentil salad, smoked salmon sandwich
During: Energy drink if needed, maybe a sports gel at 30 to 40 minutes
After: Eat a whole food like a a banana, an apple within 20 minutes. Eat a meal within 1 hr of finishing your race which includes carbohydrates and proteins if possible, not later than 2 hours after
Fuel, food, hydration and electrolytes are very important. Make sure you have a healthy, balanced diet several weeks, if not longer, before the half marathon providing complex carbs, essential fats and proteins at every meal.
Before: Have a wholesome carbohydrate meal 2 hours before the event. Have a banana or something similar 1/2 hr before the event (if practiced in training). Make sure you are well hydrated and have regular sips of water before the start. Do not over hydrate.
During: Start eating gels, a bite of a banana, a date, jelly babies and/or an isotopic drink after 30-40 minutes running and keep on fuelling/drinking on regular intervals. Add an electrolyte tablet to a small bottle of water you carry or carry an isotonic drink. Make use of the water stations, they sometimes provide isotonic drinks as well.
Do practice this during your training sessions so you won’t surprise yourself and end up with indigestion, cramps or similar reactions.
After: You will have made considerate damage to your muscles and will have produced free radicals which is a natural process. Proteins are very important for recovery as well as getting fitter and stronger.
Eat something within 20 minutes to start refuelling. Eat a meal of carbohydrates and proteins within 1 hour if possible, not later than 2 hours.
Other facts to take into account
When running a half marathon without good initial nutrition, low levels of glycogen reserves and/or lack of refueling during the race, it will be likely that you will run out of glycogen reserves which will induce the release of cortisol. This cortisol breaks down muscle (amino acids) to produce glucose as a source of energy.
It is really important straight after an endurance event to replace this lack of glycogen with a carbohydrate-protein meal to fill up those glycogen reserves and bring cortisol levels down.
Having taking part in an endurance event like a half marathon, it is important to have a meal made out of carbohydrates and proteins after the event than just a protein meal as you will have a better insulin release which will stimulate a better muscle glycogen replacement.
Free radicals are being produced during any type of exercise. This a normal, natural process. Try adding berries, plums to your meal or eat is as a dessert to introduce antioxidants.
Montmorency cherry juice contains a very high concentration of anti-oxidants. Drink a glass of this juice or other cherry juice to add some extra anti-oxidants.
These are a few general ideas about nutrition and running.
I hope this is helpful but most of all enjoy your running, your food and the company of your running buddies!
Please contact me if you like to look deeper into this and personalise it to your own goal!