How much does what we eat impact how we perform? There is a group of runners who subscribe to the belief, “I run, therefore I eat what I want,” which is a pretty unhealthy diet.
There is a mistaken belief that the higher mileage you run, the unhealthier you can eat since you’ll just run it off on the weekend with your twenty mile or longer run. There is lots of research out there about what is the healthiest diet for runners and athletes in general.
If you look, you can find support for many diets including low-carbohydrate, paleo, fruititarian, vegetarian, and vegan. There is not support for the eat whatever I want diet and still perform well as an athlete.
Food supplies the body with energy and nutrients. It provides you with immediate energy and long lasting energy. High sugar foods lead to crashes and cravings for more high sugar foods. Food with high calories can lead to weight gain and an increase in fat mass because you get more calories than you are burning off.
Running requires a large supply of oxygen to be transported through your blood to your working muscles. Foods rich in trans or hydrogenated fats cause buildup in veins and slow the blood flow, which means your heart, lungs, and muscles don’t get the oxygen they need and you slow down.
The insulin gait connection is something new research has uncovered. Consumption of a high carbohydrate diet causes your body to increase production of insulin. Too much insulin in our bodies means we are not able to maintain a healthy balance of blood sugar levels. Imbalances in blood sugar can cause irritability, cravings for sugar, excessive appetite, afternoon drowsiness or headaches, getting the shakes, and trouble sleeping.
People with blood sugar imbalances have irregular gait patterns and thus some chronic ache, pain or injury. How does this happen? High levels of insulin affect the brain directly and not just mental functioning but physical functioning too. The more the brain is lacking proper nutrition the more impaired the more physical movement will suffer. An impaired gait leads to other muscles compensating and then to injury.
Foods that are going to benefit your running are nutrient dense whole foods. Fruits, vegetables, brown rice and protein from lean meats or plant based. Healthy fats are also important to decreased inflammation and build strong cell membranes that are resistant to damage during exercise. Good sources of fat are avocados, olive oil, nuts, and coconut.
Finally, getting enough calories to fuel your body is just as important (perhaps more) as what you are eating. Without enough calories, your body begins to consume your own muscles when you are underweight. Muscle loss is not the goal of any athlete. The recommendation currently is 2800 calories a day for middle aged active men and 2200 calories a day for middle aged active women. Here is a chart to find your age group.
Eating healthy gives your body the building blocks it needs to recover quickly and repair damage done through training.