Diet and nutrition tips for runners

If you think running alone will help you reach your weight loss goals, you may be in for a surprise. Although it’s certainly effective, running works best when combined with a balanced diet. Here are some things to include in your diet to get the most out of your running.

Many runners make the mistake of overcompensating for their exercise by eating too much. Some of them even gain weight during a program because they eat more than they would if they weren’t running. But running isn’t a license to eat more—it’s a reason to eat healthier and step up your weight-loss diet. When you’re running, your body develops special dietary needs to keep you at your peak performance. 

The runner’s diet consists of five key elements: carbohydrates, fats, protein, vitamins and minerals. Here’s how you can get them all in your diet and stay in top form.

Carbohydrates

There’s a reason they call carbs “go foods” in grade school—they are the healthiest source of energy for active people. Energy from carbohydrates will sustain you for both long and short runs, and will last longer than energy from fat and protein. Carbs should account for about 60% of your daily calorie intake. Avoid processed carbs; go for natural sources like rice, potatoes, starchy vegetables, and whole grains.

Protein

Protein also provides some energy, but its main function is to help rebuild muscle tissues that get worn out during your workout. About 20% of your total calories should come from protein, or around .75 grams of protein per pound of your body weight. That means a 100-pound runner should consume 75 grams of protein a day. Avoid protein sources that are high in fat, such as pork and beef. Good sources include fish, lean meats, beans, and low-fat milk.

Fat

You need a bit of fat to keep up your energy, but too much of it can quickly add up some pounds. Make sure it doesn’t make up more than 20% of your total calorie intake. Stick to “good” fats—those found in fatty fish, vegetable oils and grains. These fats contain omega-3, which is known to improve cardiac health and aid in weight loss.

Vitamins

These aren’t really energy sources but they’re still necessary to keep your body in top form. Exercise produces free radicals, a compound that can damage cells and make you prone to disease. Vitamins contain antioxidants that neutralize these compounds and revitalize damaged cells. Make sure to get them from whole foods such as fruits and vegetables, instead of processed juices and supplements.

Minerals

You need a variety of minerals to provide your body’s specialized needs. Whole foods and fruits are also the best sources of minerals, although some minerals are also found in meats and seafoods. Three of the most important minerals are calcium, sodium and iron. Calcium helps strengthen your bones and prevent bone damage that may result from prolonged exercise. Dairy products and dark green vegetables are excellent sources of calcium; make sure to get 1,000 to 1,300 mg a day.

Sodium is an important electrolyte that may be lost when you sweat during exercise. This is usually replaced as you eat, but a balanced diet ensures that you get enough sodium from day to day. Finally, make sure you get a healthy dose of iron to keep a constant flow of oxygen to your cells. Women should go for 18mg of iron a day, and men need around 8mg.

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