Nutrition is one of the most complex and time consuming things you can do whilst participating in any sport, however there are a few things you can do to improve your diet. It is something you have to spend a fair amount of effort on, as everyone is different, and some things that work for you, won't work for others. There are some simple changes to your current diet that you can make, as well as some things you can do before, during and after exercise to improve performance.
Simple change 1) Replace white bead pasta and rice with brown bread, pasta and rice
Now most people will be eating certain quantities of different food types. Most people will also be eating the wrong quantities of each! For runners, it is recommended that 60-65% of your diet is carbohydrate based. Most people (rightly) think that this means bread, pasta and rice, however what they might not know, is that the white variations of all of these are high in glucose, and not the complex carbohydrates that are needed for sustained activity. With high glucose intake you'll end up having an energy spike, and then you'll feel sluggish. The more complex carbs found in brown bread, brown pasta, and brown rice allow a slower, steady release of energy, that will sustain your performance at a steady level. That’s not to say that glucose isn't useful, but the body needs fructose and sucrose as well as maltodextrin to sustain long duration activity. A really useful and delicious food that a lot of people have not heard of is Quinoa. It is similar to rice, but again contains the other sugars that provide that slow steady release of energy.
Simple change 2) Increase protein intake
It is recommended that 15-20% of your diet is made up of protein. Protein is very important for building muscle, and repairing tissue. Without it, your body cannot sufficiently recover from exercise, and again, you'll feel sluggish. The timings of ingestion need to be considered too, however I'll go into this more, further down the page.
Simple change 3) Don't cut out fat, just pay attention to the type
Fat is very important, and offers the highest energy yield of any of the 3 macronutrients. However, even though this is true, it takes a long time to break down, and any more than 25% of your diet will result in you storing it. Make sure you avoid saturated fat, and high cholesterol foods, as these are the ones that stick around and cause health issues.
Simple change 4) Make sure you are eating the right quantities as well as the right percentages.
It's all well and good getting in 60% carbs, 20% protein and 20% fat, but if you're only eating one meal a day, your body will be starving itself. Make sure you eat enough to sustain your body, including during exercise. At the bottom of the page there is a file to download that will assist in calculating the exact number of calories you will need to fuel your day.
Simple change 5) Drink enough fluid
It can be difficult to know how much water to drink. But the answer can usually be one simple word. 'More'. Most people do not drink enough water. However you can also drink too much. I've found that just by carrying a water bottle with me at work, I am drinking more, and have noticed the difference. I no longer get headaches, and feel a lot healthier. One of the simplest ways of telling if you're dehydrated is by checking the colour of your urine. It should be almost clear. Dark yellow is a sign that you are not hydrated enough, so go grab a glass of water!
So simple changes in place, let’s have a look at specific sports nutrition:
Before exercise it is important that you have enough stored fuel in your system to begin exercise. A lot of this will come from your diet, however it can be an idea to stock up on carbohydrates, and have a drink beforehand. Something like Myproteins Tri Carb is a great powder that mixes with water, so combines the two. Alternatively, go for something a little more solid, such as an energy bar like these. It all comes down to personal preference when it comes to flavour, so the best thing to do is try a couple of different ones that you like the sound of.
Dependant on the length of the activity, you may or may not want to refuel during your run. Generally, anything less than 45 minutes will not require refuelling. More than this however, and energy gels begin to become useful. They offer an injection of the complex carbohydrates we mentioned earlier to keep your energy levels steady. Gels are easy, and usually fairly palatable. However, many people cannot stomach the sudden ingestion of carbohydrate, and get stomach cramps. To counteract this, you can replace the gels with something a little more solid, such as Sports Beans, or Gu Chomps. These take a little longer to get into your system, as they are a solid, but will produce the same effect as gels. I have found it best to try and take all of these with a little water, just to make it easier to swallow. You can also us powder, such as the Tri Carb mentioned earlier if you don't mind running with a water bottle. And speaking of water, hydrating during your run is important. When you exercise, you sweat. And sweat contains more than water, so you must replace all the minerals lost as well as the water. Using things like electrolyte mixes, or tabs in your water bottle help loads, and taste like squash. When taking any energy products, I've found it best to take the first one on the 45 minute mark, and then every 40 minutes after that. With the more solid foods, take them on 40 minutes, and every 40 minutes after, however again, everyone is different, so play around with a few things on training runs.
When you have finished your run, it is vital that you optimise your body for recovery. By ingesting carbohydrates and proteins immediately after, you give your body the best chance to absorb these nutrients, and therefore recover faster. Within 45 minutes, the body is at its optimum state to absorb these nutrients, so using a recovery drink is ideal, as it is very convenient, and gets the recovery process under way almost immediately. Recovery XS from MyProtein is an excellent powder, as is SIS REGO. After this, a regular meal will suffice. However, again, hydration is a must, and you must replace 150% of what you’ve lost through sweat. For example, if you lose a litre of sweat, you must take on 1.5l of electrolyte solution to ensure adequate rehydration. Again, everyone’s sweat rates are different, so this takes a little playing around with.
Aside from those points, assuming your diet is ok, you shouldn't need any other supplements, but again, everyone is different, so for more information, seek out a qualified nutritionist to assist you. Supplements should also not be used as meal replacements, and only used as exactly what they are; something to supplement your current diet. A lot of it comes down to convenience, and it is more convenient to drink a powder mix than to cook a roast dinner straight after a race.
That's all from me, if you have any questions, please let me know via the contact page
Thanks to nkzs for the photo