Running Nutrients 101: The Basics To Get You Moving
Do you want to set new personal records in your running but find yourself "hitting the wall" too often? The key lies in your nutrition. Nearly 36% of amateur athletes, including runners, don't even meet their most basic nutritional needs1.
As we'll explore in our next blog, the journey to optimal running performance doesn't stop at merely following outdated and generic nutrition guidelines. To truly excel, we need to delve deeper into personalising nutrition based on your physiology and genetics. But for now, let's explore the foundational nutrients that runners at all levels need to focus on for good performance and recovery.
In this blog we cover:
- Protein: Your Muscle's Best Friend
- Carbohydrates: The Quick Energy Provider
- Fats: The Long-Term Energy Supplier
- Fibre: The Digestive Aid
- Vitamins and Minerals: The Unsung Heroes
- Electrolytes: More Than Just Salt
- Water: The Essential Element
Let’s dive in!
Protein: Your Muscle's Best Friend
When you run, your muscles break down, entering a phase called catabolism. Post-run, they repair and strengthen in a phase called anabolism. Protein, made of essential and Branched-Chain Amino Acids (EAAs and BCAAs), is crucial for this repair process2.
If you are not consuming enough protein, expect to experience muscle weakness, longer recovery times, and increased susceptibility to injuries2.
👉 Recommended Sources: Chicken, peas, fish, eggs, turkey.
Carbohydrates: The Quick Energy Provider
Carbohydrates act as a primary fuel during your run. They are stored as glycogen in muscles and liver and are converted to glucose for quick energy3. Lack of sufficient carbs can result in fatigue and poor concentration3.
- Simple Carbs: Quick to digest; consume during or post intense runs.
- Complex Carbs: Slow-releasing; good for sustaining long runs.
👉 Recommended Sources: Whole grains for complex carbs; fruits and energy gels for simple carbs.
Fats: The Long-Term Energy Supplier
Fats provide sustainable energy, especially during longer, less intense runs4. Omega-3 fatty acids, in particular, are anti-inflammatory, aid in recovery, and help the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins, like A, D, E, and K5.
👉 Recommended Sources: Avocado, nuts, oily fish, olive oil.
Fibre: The Digestive Aid
Fibre aids digestion, regulates blood sugar, and has anti-inflammatory benefits6. However, too much before a run can be problematic – it’s all about timing and balance7.
👉 Recommended Sources: Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes.
Vitamins and Minerals: The Unsung Heroes
Don't overlook micronutrients; they play essential roles in your running performance and recovery8. There are 26 essential vitamins and minerals. For runners, these 9 are key:
- Iron: Essential for oxygen transport to muscles9.
- Magnesium: Helps in muscle contraction and relaxation10.
- Vitamin A: Aids in vision and immune function11.
- Vitamin B9 (Folate): Helps in cell repair and muscle growth12.
- Vitamin C: Boosts immune function13.
- Vitamin D: Vital for bone health14.
- Calcium: Supports bones and muscle function15.
- Zinc: Aids in muscle repair and immune function16.
- Selenium: Acts as an antioxidant17.
👉 Recommended Sources: Lean meats, leafy greens, whole grains, fruits.
Electrolytes: More Than Just Salt
Electrolytes like sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium are lost through sweat and need to be replenished18. During shorter runs or workouts, your regular diet should suffice. However, for long runs, especially those in hot and humid conditions, an electrolyte supplement can be beneficial18.
👉 Recommended Sources: Table salt, bananas, dairy products, leafy greens.
Water: The Essential Element
Finally, without adequate hydration, even the best training plans can fall apart. Water regulates body temperature, lubricates joints, and facilitates cellular metabolism19.
Your performance as a runner is not just a product of your training but also of your nutrition and hydration. By ensuring a balanced intake of proteins, carbs, fats, fibre, micronutrients, electrolytes, and water, you'll be setting yourself up for running success. Keep an eye out for our next blog, where we'll discuss how to take your nutrition to the next level by tailoring it to your specific physiology and genetic profile.
- Studies show that a significant proportion of amateur athletes, including those in running, do not meet the nutritional recommendations for optimal performance. Source: Maughan, R. J., & Burke, L. M. (2012). Sports nutrition: More than just calories – triggers for adaptation. Nestle Nutr Inst Workshop Ser., 75, 1-10.
- Protein is critical for muscle repair and anabolic growth after exercise. Source: Tipton, K. D., & Wolfe, R. R. (2004). Protein and amino acids for athletes. Journal of Sports Sciences, 22(1), 65-79.
- The role of carbohydrates in athletic performance is well-established. Carbohydrates are stored in muscles and the liver and are the body's primary source of energy during exercise. Source: Jeukendrup, A. E. (2004). Carbohydrate intake during exercise and performance. Nutrition, 20(7-8), 669-677.
- Fats are the primary energy source for long-duration, low- to moderate-intensity exercise. Source: Helge, J. W., Watt, P. W., Richter, E. A., Rennie, M. J., & Kiens, B. (2001). Fat utilization during exercise: adaptation to a fat-rich diet increases utilization of plasma fatty acids and very low-density lipoprotein-triacylglycerol in humans. The Journal of Physiology, 537(Pt 3), 1009-1020.
- The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids in reducing inflammation and aiding recovery. Source: Tartibian, B., Maleki, B. H., & Abbasi, A. (2009). The effects of ingestion of omega-3 fatty acids on perceived pain and external symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness in untrained men. Clin J Sport Med, 19(2), 115-119.
- Dietary fiber has various benefits including aiding digestion and regulating blood sugar. Source: Anderson, J. W., Baird, P., Davis, R. H., Ferreri, S., Knudtson, M., Koraym, A., ... & Williams, C. L. (2009). Health benefits of dietary fiber. Nutrition reviews, 67(4), 188-205.
- Timing and balance of fiber intake can affect gastrointestinal comfort during exercise. Source: Lis, D., Stellingwerff, T., Kitic, C. M., Ahuja, K. D., & Fell, J. (2018). No effects of a short-term gluten-free diet on performance in nonceliac athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 50(12), 2560-2566.
- Micronutrients play a crucial role in athletic performance. Source: Lukaski, H. C. (2004). Vitamin and mineral status: effects on physical performance. Nutrition, 20(7-8), 632-644.
- Iron is essential for oxygen transport and thus important for athletic performance. Source: Hinton, P. S. (2014). Iron and the endurance athlete. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 39(9), 1012-1018.
- Magnesium has been shown to aid in muscle contraction and relaxation. Source: Zhang, Y., Xun, P., Wang, R., Mao, L., & He, K. (2017). Can magnesium enhance exercise performance? Nutrients, 9(9), 946.
- Vitamin A plays a role in vision and immune function. Source: West, K. P. (2002). Extent of vitamin A deficiency among preschool children and women of reproductive age. The Journal of nutrition, 132(9), 2857S-2866S.
- Vitamin B9 (Folate) aids in cell repair and muscle growth. Source: Bailey, L. B., & Gregory III, J. F. (1999). Folate metabolism and requirements. The Journal of nutrition, 129(4), 779-782.
- Vitamin C boosts immune function. Source: Hemilä, H. (2003). Vitamin C and SARS coronavirus. Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, 52(6), 1049-1050.
- Vitamin D is crucial for bone health. Source: Holick, M. F. (2007). Vitamin D deficiency. New England Journal of Medicine, 357(3), 266-281.
- Calcium supports bones and muscle function. Source: Heaney, R. P. (2000). Calcium, dairy products and osteoporosis. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 19(sup2), 83S-99S.
- Zinc aids in muscle repair and immune function. Source: Prasad, A. S. (2008). Zinc in human health: effect of zinc on immune cells. Molecular medicine, 14(5-6), 353-357.
- Selenium acts as an antioxidant. Source: Rayman, M. P. (2000). The importance of selenium to human health. The Lancet, 356(9225), 233-241.
- Importance of electrolytes in fluid balance and nerve function during exercise. Source: Maughan, R. J., Leiper, J. B., & Shirreffs, S. M. (1997). Restoration of fluid balance after exercise-induced dehydration: effects of food and fluid intake. European journal of applied physiology and occupational physiology, 73(3-4), 317-325.
- Water is crucial for multiple physiological processes including regulating body temperature and aiding cellular metabolism. Source: Sawka, M. N., Burke, L. M., Eichner, E. R., Maughan, R. J., Montain, S. J., & Stachenfeld, N. S. (2007). Exercise and fluid replacement. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 39(2), 377-390.