Eating to Win!

How to fuel your body for health and performance

Are you in the midst of marathon training and wish you had an edge to ensure optimal performance? Everyone knows the quantity of marathon training is important, but what about improving the quality of your training? Good sports nutrition may be the factor you need to get that marathon time you want!

Distance running places high energy demands on the body, burning up an average of 100 calories per mile. Designing a sport-specific nutrition plan does not mean calculating the right number of calories you need to train and race. It means optimizing your nutrition plan to meet the energy balance you need to perform at a high level and recover rapidly. An energy balance is achieved by consuming the right ratio of protein, carbohydrates and fat to meet the high metabolic demand of running. Carbohydrates are the primary energy source and are synthesized into stored energy called glycogen. Protein helps develop, maintain and repair tissues. Fat provides energy too and is essential making cell membranes and manufacturing, storing and delivering vitamins and hormones. Dr. Glen Gaesser, Sports Physiologist, University of Virginia, recommends a dietary ratio of 60-60% carbohydrates, 20-25% fat and 12-15% protein. Although runners have felt they needed to avoid fat in favor of carbohydrates, inadequate fat intake has been associated with increased injury risk, especially in female runners. Runners can obtain the balance needed by eating a variety of whole foods in each category. Timing your meals is also important. Dr .Gaesser recommends this simple strategy:

You Need to Eat Well Before Exercise to Maximize Glycogen Stores!

Before workouts, weigh yourself to simplify estimating fluid loss later. Eat high carbohydrate, moderate protein, low fat foods and take in extra fluids. How should you time meals before you run? This varies with racing and training intensity and food tolerance. Practice the timing and content of your meals before big events so you know what you can handle. Before intense training or racing:

Eat a large meal, 4-6 hours before the event

A light meal & 16-24 oz of fluid, 2-3 hour before the event

A snack & 12 oz of fluid, 1/2 - 1 hour before the event

You Should Eat During Exercise to Maintain Blood Glucose!

If you exercise strenuously for > 1 hour, you should take in 100 - 300 calories of carbohydrates and 4-6 ounces of fluid per hour, after the first hour of exercise. Use sports drinks, gels, 1/2 strength fruit juice, or energy bars and water.

You Need to Eat Well After Exercise to Replace Glycogen!

After your long runs or marathon, refuel and rehydrate for rapid recovery. Weigh yourself again and take in the weight lost in fluid. You need to consume 0.75 grams of carbohydrates per/pound of body weight to enhance glycogen replacement. To accomplish this, eat a high-carbohydrate snack, like an energy bar, as soon as you can within the first 30 minutes after exercise. Then, eat a high carbohydrate meal 1 - 2 hours after exercise. Eat high carbohydrate snacks every 2 hours for 6 hours after exercise.

Following these simple guidelines will make sure you will stay healthy, perform well and recover quickly for that next big race!

Marie-Christine Leisz, DO is board-certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine, with advanced training in the diagnosis and management of running and endurance sports injuries. She is medical director of the Running and Endurance Sports Injury Clinic at Sister Kenny Institute and collaborates with the Sister Kenny RunSmart Physical Therapy Program. Learn more here.

Written by Dr. Chris Leisz

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