By Ciara Lucas
There are quite a few benefits of eating healthy and exercising. The old saying goes, “You are what you eat,” and the same is true regarding training and general fitness. What goes inside your body is just as important as the way you move your body. If you’re training for an endurance event, using the proper footwear is essential to performance and success. With a high volume of mileage and strain on your body, the right fuel and hydration practices can make or break a training cycle and race day.
The three macronutrients that are the main pillars of healthy eating and proper nutrition are: carbohydrates, fat, and protein. The primary macronutrient for runners is carbohydrates. Carbs are required to replenish glycogen storages in your body that fuel your muscles and keep you energized. This macronutrient should make up most of the healthy food you consume while in a training cycle.
Runner’s rule of thumb for carbohydrates: aim to eat between 3.5-4.5 grams of carbs per pound of body weight on intense training days.
Protein is another essential macronutrient that aids in training success. This macronutrient helps to replenish muscle breakdown and helps with muscle recovery. That soreness you feel after a vigorous physical activity or training session? Protein steps in to rebuild the muscle fibers that have been damaged.
Runner’s rule of thumb for protein: aim to eat 0.7- 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight on training days.
Finally, there’s dietary fat to round out the macronutrients. Fat supports cell function, hormone production, and absorption of nutrients like vitamins and minerals. Why is this important for athletes? It’s another source of fuel, especially for light to moderate physical activity or exercise.
Runner’s rule of thumb for fat: aim to eat 0.5 grams of fat per pound of body weight on training and non-training days.
What should I eat?
Now that we’ve explained macronutrients, let’s dive into the most optimal sources of each macronutrient. The best healthy foods to consume are nutrient-dense and endure little to no processing (i.e., healthy food choices like fruits and vegetables). Whole foods are easy to digest and provide the most nutrients, which can help maintain a healthy weight.
- Whole grain bread and pasta
- Potatoes (white or sweet potatoes)
- Rice (white or brown)
- Beans and legumes
- Lean cuts of meat
- Greek yogurt
- Protein powder
- Nuts and seeds
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Full-fat dairy (milk, cheese)
When should I eat it?
Nutritional timing is a predominantly individualized practice that takes trial and error to determine. Your body needs fuel to stay energized and continue with exercise. The timing of meals and snacks will depend on your body’s needs and the intensity/duration of a training session. For example, some athletes prefer waking up and immediately working out on an empty stomach. But for others, that may not be the best option.
If you need a little something on your stomach before you get moving, try a small carb-based snack 30-45 minutes before a run—for example, a piece of toast with banana slices. If the training session lasts longer than an hour, consider bringing along sports nutrition to sustain your effort. This should be portable and carb-based, like a sports gel, gummy candy, or dried fruit. The purpose of this snack is for a burst of energy and a spike in glucose when you begin to feel tired.
After your workout, it’s important to refuel and replenish your electrolytes and calories. Within an hour after your training session, eat a full and healthy meal with adequate macronutrient portions.
Besides healthy food choices, hydration is a critical part of athletic performance and general health, especially during extended durations of exercise. It is also essential for muscle health, body temperature regulation, and nutrient absorption. When participating in intense exercise, you should consume water every 15-20 minutes to replenish the fluids lost while sweating. If it’s a particularly hot day or a grueling workout, electrolyte supplements can also be helpful in the effort to stay hydrated.
Find more hydration tips from Vionic.
About the Author:
Ciara Lucas is a journalist, on-air talent, media professional, and fitness/wellness coach. Her multifaceted career brings a unique perspective and expertise to the Vionic Innovation Lab team.
Ciara’s professional career has encompassed contributing to local and national newsrooms including NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, NBC Sports for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janerio, Brazil, and NBC News coverage of the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery march. When she’s not on screen, she’s building connections strengthened through sweat as a certified personal trainer and nutrition coach, helping clients find their meaning of sustainable health and happiness.
Ciara has created a personal brand and platform titled “Fit For A Queen” where she aims to empower, motivate, and inspire women from all walks of life to nurture their health and live their best lives by treating their bodies well. She is also an active member of the nonprofit Girls on the Run where she serves as a run coach for elementary school girls.