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Why you need to eat right to be a better runner

If you like to run or perform any other endurance sport, you need to focus on your nutrition

Run better with the right nutrition.
Run better with the right nutrition. (Istockphoto)

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Training for any running event requires a good amount of planning. How to finesse your running technique, how to plan your rest days, how to choose the correct strength work, all need to be figured out. Equally important is planning your nutrition, especially if you’re training for a marathon.

Without adequate protein and glutamine, athletes can feel the effects of reduced metabolism, poorer recovery times and increased susceptibility to infections. Athletes who train strenuously for competition have greater nutritional needs than sedentary people, says Girish Bindra, running coach at ASICS. “Nutrition plays a very important part along with physical training  for Endurance athletes. Endurance athletes should eat protein at 1.4 g/kg/day. Athletes taking part in longer endurance events need more protein than those running shorter distances. For example, endurance athletes weighing 65 kg would need to consume 91 grams of protein daily to support their endurance exercise.”

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Key micronutrients like iron (found in lentils, kidney beans and pumpkin seeds) help your blood transport oxygen to your working muscles. So if your diet is lacking in iron and other essential elements including the B vitamins, your muscles simply won’t have the strength and endurance to perform optimally. Should nutrition plans be planned according to the activity type and intensity? Absolutely. While everyone needs the basic micronutrients, it is important to understand how much the body is consuming to make a nutrition plan. 

“Nutrition is different for individuals who workout in the gym versus who participate in endurance running, cycling, etc. For example, endurance sports require carbohydrate loading pre-event, during and post the event. This is the primary source of energy. Even the hydration status before, during, and post an event is very crucial as large amount of water is lost via sweating. Rehydration becomes essential for optimal recovery. On the other hand, while weight lifting or resistance training one doesn't need carbohydrate during and post activity. Here creatine plays a major role in providing energy, while amino acids and protein plays a crucial part in recovery,” explains Pranay Jham, Founder and ACSM-certified nutrition consultant at ACTIVeat.

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Jham also cautions that nutrition for endurance athletes depends on several factors like the type of sport, duration, and level of competition each. Other factors like the athlete's age, gender, bodyweight, muscle mass and fat percentage also need to be accounted for. Bindra adds that most high endurance athletes use carbohydrate loading as a nutrition regimen a few days prior to the event. This is because ‘carb-loading’ is known to produce an increase in stored muscle glycogen which allows athletes to prolong their training, while also improving long-term performance.

But during the race too, you need to focus on your nutrition. You don’t want to run out of energy half way through your run. “Fuel every 45-60 minutes during a long run, with around 30-60 grams of carbohydrate (120-140 calories) per hour, like energy gels, and don't forget to stay hydrated with plenty of fluids and electrolytes. Immediately after running the marathon, replace depleted muscle glycogen by consuming carbohydrate foods such as bananas, raisins, granola bars, energy bars. Many sports drinks supply carbohydrate, too,” says Bindra. He adds that protein is also important as it aids in tissue repair, exercise recovery, injury prevention, immune function and the production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells. So your training plan is not the only thing you need to look at right now. If you are planning on running a marathon, do take your nutrition and hydration requirements just as seriously. 

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