In 2017, 56 million people lived in the United States took part for running, jogging or trail running, and it has been a hobbyhorse among fitness enthusiasts for centuries.
If you enjoy running, or if you know people who do, you also know the central role diet plays in your performance.
Runners are bombarded with tips, suggestions, and shibboleths about how, when, and what to eat. Much of the advice is helpful, some is good but misapplied, and some is plain nonsense.
Running used to be an important part of my life (I've competed in over 100 triathlons and races), and I know firsthand how confusing it can be to try to understand the conflicting advice on how to eat to slim down get faster and faster.
And in this article, we're going to slaughter some of the most common sacred cows found in the world of running.
Myth # 1: Eating lots of carbohydrates is the most important aspect of diet
There is no question of food adequate carbohydrates is important for optimizing your performance and recovery. When you follow a high-carbohydrate diet, you will have more productive and enjoyable workouts, recover faster from those workouts, and run faster in competition.
Unfortunately, many coaches, writers, and exercise scientists beat the drum so loudly for carbohydrates that runners fall victim to the idea that this is it just Aspect of healthy eating. This single-minded focus can sometimes lead them to neglect other important aspects of diet, such as eating enough protein.
For example, Studies to have has repeatedly shown that endurance athletes likely need to consume two to three times more protein than the Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) in order to optimally support athletic performance and recovery and to maintain muscle mass. This is particularly important When you are restricting calories to lose weight because you want the majority of the weight you lose to be fat (rather than muscular).
In an effort to maximize carbohydrate intake, many runners also forego fruits, vegetables, and legumes in favor of bread, pasta, and oats, and open up to nutritional deficiencies. For example a study Published by scientists from the University of Wrocław found that only 55% of marathon runners consumed the minimum recommended amount of fruits and vegetables.
The lesson? Don't miss the forest for the (high carb) trees.
Eat lots of carbohydrates, but also get some of those carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
These foods can Improve recovery and Immune functionand they provide much higher amounts of vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients than typical endurance athletes like pasta, bagels, and so on. These foods are also usually much more filling than highly refined carbohydrates, making it easier to lose or maintain weight without feeling hungry or counting calories.
A good rule of thumb is to eat three to five servings of fruit and five or more servings of combined vegetables and legumes per day.
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Myth # 2: You must eat within 30 minutes of finishing a run
Many athletes tie in with nutritional timing, especially post-workout nutrition.
A common belief is that you do Got to Eat carbohydrates within 30 minutes of finishing a run or your recovery will be dramatically affected. In fact, some people go so far as to say that a run that does not immediately follow a post-workout meal is "wasted".
Not only is this a top cause for many runners, but it also encourages them to consume large amounts of sugary, highly processed recreational drinks and bars that are not necessary.
Fortunately, research shows that runners can cool their jets off – all you need to do is “fill up” carbohydrates within 30 to 60 minutes of your workout if you want to do another major lower-body workout (~ 90 minutes) in about eight hours. Otherwise, you can just eat normally and your body will recover and replenish Glycogen Levels just fine.
There is also a lot of noise made about food before and during a run, but whether or not this is necessary will depend on the length and intensity of your exercise.
If you're just doing a moderate 30- to 60-minute run, you won't have to worry about how to strategically plan your meals or eat during or after your workout. Eat as usual, run when it suits you, and don't overthink.
If you run for more than 60 minutes or do multiple workouts in the same day, it's a good idea to eat 20 to 30 grams of protein and 30 to 50 grams of carbohydrates between 30 and 90 minutes before and after your workout (the closer your meal is to the When you start exercising, the less you should eat to avoid gastrointestinal discomfort). And if you exercise for more than 90 minutes, it's a good idea to eat at least 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour of exercise (depending on how hard you are pushing yourself).
Myth # 3: Energy bars, gels, and drinks are better than whole foods
Many endurance athletes have a widespread belief that processed, packaged energy bars, gels, chews, beverages, etc., are superior to whole foods for fueling workouts.
Although these products can be helpful in certain situations (especially during very long workouts or competitions like ironman), in most cases they are not required and are often inferior to whole foods.
An outstanding example of this is a study under the direction of Dr. David C. Neiman of Appalachian State University, who found that cyclists who ate bananas during a 46-mile time trial did as well as cyclists who sipped sports drinks. Other studies to have shown These simple old-school raisins are just as effective at increasing endurance as energy gels or sports jelly beans.
What's more, others research shows that eating bananas, pears, and other fruits before, during, and / or after cardio can improve markers of immune function and recovery – something that highly processed sports supplements don't.
The reason for this is that whole foods, and especially fruits, contain large amounts of the molecules known as Polyphenolsthat help reduce inflammation during and after exercise.
Some of the best high-carb whole foods to fuel your workout include:
- Mango (my personal favorite)
In addition to fruit, some other good snacks to eat before or after your workout include:
- Yogurt, cottage cheese, or skyr
- Beef jerky
- Whey protein
- Andean millet
- Sweet potatoes
- Kidney beans
Energy bars, drinks, gels, and chewing candies are handy and tasty, and can provide the much-needed variety during long workouts, but they're not the killer app they're supposed to be.
Myth # 4: Runners must take electrolyte supplements
Sports drink companies have spent tens of millions of dollars in marketing trying to convince athletes of all kinds that electrolyte supplements are one of the keys to supporting performance and recovery.
Go to Gatorades websiteand one of the first sentences you will see is, "Add electrolytes to keep your performance at its peak."
Your sales pitch looks like this:
When you exercise, you sweat and excrete molecules like sodium and potassium that carry tiny electrical charges that make muscle contraction easier called electrolytes. When your body runs out of electrolytes, your performance drops and you need to consume more to “keep performance at its peak,” as the Gatorade copywriters would say.
In addition, they claim, a lack of electrolytes directly leads to muscle spasms that can quickly affect your workouts and competitions.
This idea is widely accepted by athletes, coaches, and many sports scientists, but it is also scientifically and theoretically bankrupt.
Allow me to explain.
The mainstay of this entire argument is the idea that when you sweat you lose large amounts of electrolytes (especially sodium and potassium) and that this loss of electrolytes leads to poor performance and muscle cramps.
As an exercise physiologist, Ross Tucker explains in a number of Excellent items However, even the “saltyest” sweater on his website just lose a small amount of electrolytes when you sweat. In fact, sweat has a much lower concentration of electrolytes than other body fluids.
So when you sweat, the levels of electrolytes in your body actually go up because you lose a lot more water than sodium and potassium. When you drink enough to replenish about 30 to 50% of the water lost through sweat (about the maximum amount most runners can comfortably consume during a hard workout), your sodium levels will stay in the normal, healthy range.
(Oh, and in case you're curious why runners and other athletes rarely replenish all of the water they lose during exercise, it's because of mild dehydration does not seem Impact performance while overhydration can be easy. Eating too much water during exercise can also dangerous dilute Your blood sodium level – even if you use electrolytes.)
In addition, the electrolyte concentration in beverages like Gatorade, Powerade, etc. is so low that the needle is barely moved as your body changes the electrolyte concentration. For example, if a runner loses about two liters of sweat and drinks only one liter of water during a two-hour run, they lose about 4.6 grams of sodium. If he drank a sports drink instead, he still lost about 4.2 grams of sodium – barely enough to improve his performance.
This was demonstrated in a study conducted by scientists at Pennsylvania State University who showed that people who drank water or Gatorade during the runs ended up with the same levels of sodium in their blood.
In other words, while you are losing some electrolytes in your sweat, the amounts are too small to matter and can easily be replenished throughout the day by consuming normal foods.
Even if consuming electrolyte-rich sports drinks and other nutritional supplements significantly boosts your body's electrolyte stores, there is little evidence that it would fight off muscle spasms.
Scientists still aren't sure what exactly causes muscle spasms, but one of the most powerful currents Theories is that they are the result of "altered neuromuscular control", not a lack of electrolytes. Basically, there is a disruption in the electrical signals that cause the muscles to contract, causing them to contract for too long and at the wrong times. Eat more electrolytes Not fix not that either.
The bottom line is that you don't need to take electrolyte supplements before, during, or after runs. Instead, drink water when you feel thirsty during and after your workout and eat a balanced diet. You will have no problem staying hydrated and maintaining healthy electrolyte levels.
Myth # 5: Getting leaner always makes you faster
Up to a point, being lighter and leaner is easier make you a faster runner, which is why competitive runners and other endurance athletes always strive to be lean.
What to keep in mind, however, is that the returns are decreasing – you want to be lean enough that you don't carry too much extra body weight, but not so lean that you don't stay healthy, feel great, and exercise hard.
At best, restricting your calories excessively will only degrade your workout and make you feel sluggish, weak, and slow. In the worst case, it can lead to an eating disorder.
There is ample evidence to suggest that people who do endurance sports competitively are more likely to experience eating disorders than normal people. For example a study Among Norwegian top athletes, around 24% of female endurance athletes and 9% of male endurance athletes found an eating disorder.
The most common eating disorder among endurance athletes is severely restricting calories to lose weight (which can sometimes turn into full blown anorexia nervosa). Even athletes who have not been diagnosed with eating disorders (or who don't believe so) often limit their calories excessively, leading to what scientists do Call low energy availability.
Basically, these people do not eat enough to support their training and other important body functions. This, in time, causes High cortisol levels, low sex hormone levels, lethargy, irritability, loss of libido and menstruation in women, a higher risk of injury and decreased athletic performance.
While getting and staying lean is important if you want to run faster, you shouldn't be obsessed with fat loss at the expense of your performance or health.
One of the best ways to avoid this problem is to get close to your goal weight long before your main competition. For example, don't make the mistake of waiting until a month or two before a marathon to start losing weight.
Instead, try to reach at least 5% of your target weight at least two to three months before your most important competition. That way, you can eat more calories while doing your most intense, race-specific workouts and focus on getting faster and staying healthy instead of getting leaner.
Myth # 6: Runners should never diet
There are two likely sources for this myth:
- Most runners need to eat significantly more calories than other people, which leads some people to believe that they don't need to follow a structured eating plan. In other words, they can leave their eating habits behind.
- As you learned earlier, some runners develop an unhealthy fixation on weight loss, making it uncomfortable for many health professionals to recommend diets to runners.
Both ideas are wrong.
The first point is proven to be wrong. Although running burns a lot of calories, it is still very easy to overeat and even gain weight while following an intense running program. The hundreds of obese runners who train for and finish marathons bear witness to this fact. Scientific research also shows that simply exercising more without controlling caloric intake rarely results in significant weight loss.
Second, while it is true that some runners develop an unhealthy fixation with weight loss, this is still a small minority. Most runners are not very competitive. In fact, many of them run for fun or to improve their health and lose weight. Still, if someone has a fair amount of weight to lose and enjoys running, restricting their caloric intake – dieting – can still be a good idea.
The key is smart nutrition.
In general, you don't want to limit your calories more than 20% below your calories Total daily energy consumption (TDEE) when participating in an intense exercise program (more than 20 miles per week with several intense workouts per week). If you're doing a simpler exercise regimen, it's still best to limit your calories no more than 25% below your TDEE.
This is usually enough to help you lose weight quickly without significantly affecting your exercise or mood.
Myth # 7: You Should Be Running to "Earn" Your Calories
As a result of the last myth, some runners feel that if they are to maintain their lean, lean physique, they must run enough each day to precisely balance their food intake.
If you eat 500 more calories than you normally would, you need to burn 500 more calories. If they want to eat 3,000 instead of 2,700 calories that day, they'll run better enough to burn 3,000 calories, and so on.
The first problem with this idea is obvious: it is stressful and prepares you for exercise addiction, eating disorders, and overuse injuries. It also encourages people to base their training plans on the goal of burning calories, not necessarily getting fitter and faster. That said, long, medium-paced runs, while good for burning calories, are not enough to maximize your performance.
The second problem with this idea is that micromanaging your caloric intake this way is complicated, inaccurate, and unnecessary. Though you can Estimate how many calories you are burning With reasonable accuracy, you will never be 100% correct. So it's a no-brainer to fret about burning an extra 100 calories to make up for the banana you had at lunch.
And even if you had an accurate estimate of how many calories you were burning from exercising, you wouldn't have to eat that exact amount every day to maintain your current weight. As long as you eat and exercise around the same amount each week and maintain your weight, you don't need to adjust your food intake daily according to your activity level. You will be eating more calories than you burn some days and fewer others, and the differences will work out by the end of the week.
A good rule of thumb is to track your weight and caloric intake for two weeks to see how much you need to eat to maintain your weight. As your weight increases, slightly reduce your caloric intake. When it goes down (and you want to maintain your weight), eat some more. And if it stays the same, keep eating the same amount.
If you want to lose weight, subtract 20% from that number (so you are eating roughly 80% of what you need to keep your weight off).
You don't necessarily have to count the calories to do this. You can simply estimate the calorie content of some foods and replace them with reduced calorie options to get that 20% reduction. Then continue exercising as you did before, tracking your weight to see how your body is responding.
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