5 Important Nutrients for Enthusiastic Runners

5 Important Nutrients for Enthusiastic Runners

Korakod PanichM.D. – Member, Herbalife Nutrition Advisory Board

Running is a very popular sport thanks to its simplicity and many health and fitness benefits. It’s versatile and inexpensive, requires very little equipment, and it is an excellent way to strengthen your cardiovascular health.

With the competitive nature of the sport, runners continuously challenge themselves and each other to improve. In addition to training, proper fuel for the body is vital for peak sports performance.

The Best Nutrients for Optimal Running Performance

Nutrition is important for runners because it plays a vital role in overall health and can also boost performance. A balanced diet for healthy runners should include these five key nutrients:

1. Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates – which can be found in food such as rice, bread, and pasta – are the most important source of energy for the body. For runners, a small meal, taken an hour before running, consisting of carbohydrates from 1-2 pieces of bread (80 calories per piece) or a carton of milk (70-140 calories per carton), for a total of 100-200 calories, can provide the energy needed to run effectively.

Consuming the right amount of carbohydrates before exercising can maximize performance.

2. Protein

Protein – found in meat, milk, eggs, and soy ­­– helps repair and rebuild tissues and muscles that could be affected during physical activities. With the proper amount of protein and adequate sleep, muscles repair, rebuild, and become stronger.

Soy is a good protein source as it is one of the few complete plant-based proteins containing all of the nine essential amino acids that the body cannot produce on its own. Runners should consume a combination of carbs and protein 30 minutes to three hours after exercising.

Carb to protein ratio should be 3-4:1, with 20 grams of high-quality protein after a workout.

3. Fat

Fat serves as an essential energy source. It is often used as fuel, after carbohydrates, during exercise. When we work out for about 30-60 minutes, the body burns an adequate amount of fat. Choose healthy fats – such as those found in olive oil, avocado, and nuts – and avoid saturated fats ­­that can raise the risk of heart disease. This means staying away from ultra-processed foods, such as fast food or bakery items.

4. Vitamins and minerals

There are different kinds of vitamins and minerals that help maintain the balance in body system functions; fruits and vegetables are the best sources to obtain them. During exercise, the body excretes waste in the form of sweat, while also flushing out excess minerals from the body. If you opt to exercise for more than two hours straight, energy and mineral drinks are highly recommended to replace lost fluids.

5. Water

The human body is made up of 70 percent water, which is why staying hydrated is crucial. Water helps deliver nutrients to the cells and plays a significant role in eliminating waste. Runners need to maintain body water balance before, during, and after workouts, because water provides nourishment that the body needs for almost every single function. It also helps limit changes in body temperature.

Make sure not to lose more than two percent of your body weight in fluids during exercise, as it can reduce your strength and affect performance. If you exercise regularly, check your weight before and after a workout to keep track of water loss.

Pairing Nutrition with the Adequate Running Style

Aside from understanding the importance of nutrients, it is also essential for new runners to learn the proper way to run. Running not just makes our bodies stronger; it also helps burn calories and fat, depending on the goal.

If you have little time and would like to burn calories and fat, you can do interval training, which alternates short work intervals (80-90 percent of maximum heart rate for 30-60 seconds) with rest periods (50 percent of maximum heart rate for 1-2 minutes). This helps improve circulation and enable the heart to pump blood and make it healthier while strengthening the muscles.

If your main aim is to burn fat, and you have some time, you can run slowly to raise your heart rate to 40-60 percent of your maximum, for at least 45-60 minutes.