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Nutrition and Running Foundations
Introduction to Nutrition
Running is a great way to build stamina, fitness, and endurance as well as mental health freedom, connect to country, build a community, challenge yourself and strive for achievement. Nutrition plays a critical role in every aspect of running and shouldn't be treated as an add-on, but as a key focus to ensure a successful run.
For runners just starting out to those that are enduring a marathon, nutrition will be individual depending on your needs, your availability and knowledge of consuming the right food, but also how to prepare, store and meal prep your nutrition. This blog post will unfold some of the recommendations for key carbohydrates, proteins and fats required for running.
Nutrients Runners Need
Every person (runner or not) requires a certain amount of macronutrients (carbs, proteins and fats) vitamins, and minerals to function on a day-to-day basis. Our Australian guidelines do a good job offering guidance on food groups and serving sizes (1).
But with running, there are nutrients we need to take more seriously such as
- carbohydrates (before, during and after long runs).
- protein (recovery repair and muscle adaption to training loads).
- fat (energy, function of hormones, organ health and recovery).
- water (hydrate our cells so they function more effectively).
- vitamins - aid in energy production, organ and immune system health).
- minerals - aid in chemical reactions, blood health, brain function and many more).
Carbohydrates are essential for sustained energy production during running and is often overlooked. The primary role is to supply our cells with glucose for production of energy (2). Our body can store glucose in the form of glycogen in our muscles and liver, however, glycogen energy only lasts for hours, not days so needs to be replenished every day. If running training multiple times a week a key focus should be to consume carbohydrates at every meal aiming for 45-65% of total energy consumed per day from starchy and fibre-based carbohydrates.
Below is an image of this food group which supplies daily energy (1).
The key question is how much do I need to aid with my running?
Answer 1: our body can uptake a maximum of roughly 60g of glucose during exercise (1g per minute). With an additional 30g of fructose with adequate gut training and practice. This would benefit those enduring more than 2.5 hours of exercise i.e. marathon runners.
Answer 2: most people running a 5-10km run would not benefit from consuming carbohydrates during a run if running less than an hour, providing they are fuelled & hydrated beforehand.
Protein is the building blocks and scaffolding for our muscle, organs and immune system. A lack of protein is a serious problem for our health, especially when you are looking to take running a little bit more seriously. We are after 9 essential amino acids located in the proteins we eat, mostly from animal-based products (eggs, chicken, fish, red meat). However, there are plant-based forms of protein that supply these key amino acids such as soy, quinoa, and amaranth (2).
The recommended dietary intake for protein is 0.84g for males or those with large muscle mass, and 0.75g for females to balance out our daily requirements. For example an 70kg women would require 70kg x 0.84g protein = 58.8g protein per day. Our Australian dietary guidelines offer some suggestions of useful protein sources (1).
Protein turnover with exercise
Running as an endurance exercise puts a demand on our protein uptake, which increases our requirements after a run >1 hour. Research suggests an intake of 20-25g of protein per hour post aerobic exercise to prevent protein loss, repair the body, and build muscle tissue (2). Protein timing is important to focus on but rather than stress about the precious 1-hour window of protein post-workout, research now focuses on the 24-48 hour window after a single aerobic training session (3). Below are some ideas of protein servings & drinks to consume, with regular meals including protein being the priority.
Since the 1980s fats have had a lot of media attention, with the suggestion that they can harm to our heart and cardiovascular system. Realistically this is very old-fashioned information, that doesn't shed much light on the role of dietary fat and our health. Fats play a key role in keeping us healthy, with monounsaturated fats (avocado, nuts, extra virgin olive oil) and polyunsaturated fats (fish, seeds and plant oils) being useful to reduce LDL cholesterol, protect us from cancer, inflammation, bone loss and respiratory conditions such as asthma (4).
Saturated and trans fats from the white fat of animals, butter, ghee and deep-fried foods are well researched to increase our risk of building harmful plaques in our arteries, increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke alongside an unhealthy lifestyle. The key message is to switch these potentially dangerous fats with healthier alternatives i.e. swap red meat for salmon or butter for extra virgin olive (4)
Our daily energy requirement should come from 20-35% fats (4). For more information on omega-6 and 3 recommendations see the below table (2).
Fats are very different from carbohydrates. They are not quick to be used for energy so our body prefers carbohydrates as it's fight and flight fuel for short bursts of energy but also endurance exercise after 20 minutes. Fats offer the biggest reservoir of energy in the body. We store this macronutrient very effectively depending mostly on our genetics ( i.e. look at Mum and Dad). Fats require more chemical reactions to be utilized for energy compared to carbohydrates but are a very effective source of energy in a long-distance run.
Recommendations hover over the 1g /kg of the body of fat, with a low-fat diet not recommended for training endurance runners. However, before and during an event, it is recommended to have a low fat intake as digestion of fats is impaired during exercise (3).
Did you know that water is a macronutrient? In fact, 45-75% of our body is made out of water! It is the nutrient we require the most of in net weight. Water obviously hydrates our cells, but what is not commonly known is that it aids in the transportation of nutrients across the body - like a river. It helps us to transport chemicals such as carbon dioxide to our lungs but also aids in the transport of carbohydrates into our muscles for energy. The most important factor water offers during exercise is temperature regulation.
The best way to find out your hydration status is to go to the toilet and check the colour of your urine, below is a useful chart. Milk, juice, and caffeinated drinks can add to your hydration daily needs. Aim for 3-5ml of fluid/kg 2 hours before exercise to ensure hydration (i.e. 3ml x 70kg = 2.10 litres) (3).
Most well hydrated individuals are not require to take on extra water if the exercise is less than 60 minutes. However, after 60 minutes hydration is key to enduring the race intensity. Research suggests a 0.4-0.8 litres of water replacement per hour spread across 10-15 minute intervals (3).
Getting enough water to aid with running is essential, however without the presence of electrolytes the cells are unable to uptake water and balance other key nutrients. Sodium is the most commonly known electrolyte with runners, but also calcium, potassium, phosphorus, chloride and magnesium are other important electrolytes that aid with endurance exercise (4).
When we sweat, we release salt from our bodies (sodium chloride). For most runners, this is not a cause for concern, as the average Australia consumes above the 6-gram upper-level intake of salt per day with their daily eating habits. However long-distance endurance runners, especially those in hotter climates need to take sodium replacement more seriously (3).
Recommendations for sodium and runner do vary, however for long-distance runners >3 hours it is worth consuming 3.2 grams (0.5 teaspoon) of table salt to every 960 mL (32 fl oz) of a sports drink to prevent hyponatremia (5). This is usually the amount you would find in an average sports drink in the supermarket, with salty snacks also helping in this situation.
Follow Luke for more fab nutrition resources here @lukedaley_nutirionist
1) Australian Government Department of Health. (2013, January 9). The Guidelines | Eat For Health. Eatforhealth.gov.au. https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/guidelines
2) Eleanor Noss Whitney. (2019). Understanding nutrition (15th ed.). Cengage.
3) Burke, L., Deakin, V., & Allanson, B. (2015). Clinical sports nutrition. Mcgraw-Hill Education (Australia) Pty Ltd.
4) National Health and Medical Research Council. (2014, March 17). Fats: Total fat & fatty acids | Nutrient Reference Values. Nrv.gov.au. https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/fats-total-fat-fatty-acids
5) Maughan, R. J., & Ioc Medical Commission. (2014). Sports nutrition. John Wiley & Sons
Written by Luke Daley (Owner at Daley Nutrition, Registered Nutritionist & Personal Trainer).