Proper nutrition is a key component in achieving optimal athletic performance — not just for race day, but every day. It is always important to maintain a healthy, balanced diet, but it is especially important now that you’re in training. Just as a car needs fuel to run, so do our bodies. If you’ve ever felt like you’re “running on empty,” it could mean you have not fueled your body with the proper nutrition. By including the right amount of carbohydrates, proteins and fats into your diet, as well as essential vitamins and minerals, you can make the most out of your fitness routine and training by allowing your body to produce energy most efficiently for peak performance and endurance.
Carbohydrates Carbohydrates are a crucial fuel source. The sugars and starches found in carbohydrates are the building blocks your body uses to produce energy. They are the most important source of quick and long-lasting energy. Carbohydrates should make up about 60 to 65 percent of your daily calories. Good sources of carbohydrates include whole grain bread, bagels, pasta, rice and cereal. Fruits and vegetables are another great source of carbohydrates, with the added benefit of potassium, vitamin C and many other vitamins and minerals. Vitamins and minerals can help you use food more efficiently for fuel, as well as keep your immune system strong to protect you from illness.
Proteins Proteins are used to rebuild and repair damaged muscle tissue that may develop during training. Protein should make up 15 to 20 percent of your daily calorie intake. Good sources of protein include poultry, fish, lean beef, peanut butter, beans and tofu. Dairy products are also a great source of protein, as well as carbohydrates. Top choices are low- or non-fat milk and yogurt, and low-fat cheese.
Fats Fats are needed as an alternative energy source, and they perform other functions. However, too much fat can lead to health complications, including heart disease and obesity. For this reason, your fat intake should be limited to 20 to 25 percent of your daily calories. Choose foods that are low in saturated fat, such as canola and olive oil, nuts and avocados.
Hydration Drinking adequate amounts of fluid is vital for proper athletic performance. Drink at least 8 to 10 8-ounce glasses of fluid daily, regardless of your workout plans. Choose water most often unless you are exercising for 60 minutes or longer. For those longer workouts, choose a sports drink with electrolytes.
John A. Lach, M.D., medical co-director for the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon/miniMarathon, talks about the signs and symptoms of dehydration.
Basic fueling guidelines
Drink 14 to 20 ounces of water or a sports drink two to three hours before your run to ensure you’re hydrated.
Drink 8 ounces just prior to your workout or run, especially if it’s hot or humid.
Check the color of your urine — it should be light yellow. If it is dark, you need to drink more.
Two to four hours before your run, have a snack or light meal (200 to 300 g carbohydrates):
High carbohydrate, moderate protein, low fat, low fiber
Good snacks are a smoothie, peanut butter and honey toast, oatmeal with fruit and almonds, low-fat cottage cheese or crackers and fruit
One hour before your run, have a light snack, such as an energy bar or fruit (30 to 60 g carbohydrates). For an early morning workout, eat something smaller, such as half an energy bar or a sports drink.
Hydrating: Drink regularly during exercise to replace fluids lost through sweat. Weigh yourself before and after a run to determine fluid loss, replacing 16 ounces of fluid for every pound lost.
Eating: If your workout will be shorter than 60 to 90 minutes, there is no need to take along a snack. When workouts or distance runs increase to 90 minutes or longer, eating 30 to 60 g carbohydrates every hour is recommended. Sports bars, gels or drinks, or fruit are ideal.
Fifteen to 30 minutes after exercising, consume carbohydrates, protein and 16 ounces of fluid for every pound lost, for example, 8 to 16 ounces low-fat chocolate milk, a smoothie with yogurt and berries, or a sports drink and sports bar.
Repeat 2 hours after exercising.
Eat a carbohydrate-rich meal one to four hours before the race, such as toast, bagel or English muffin with jam or jelly, cereal, fruit, low-fat yogurt, sports bar, fruit juice and skim milk.
Avoid high-fiber and high-fat foods on race day, as they may cause abdominal cramping.
Sample meal plan for training
Breakfast: Bagel or two slices of toast with 2 tablespoons peanut butter, fruit, 8 ounces of milk or 1 cup of yogurt Snack: 1 to 2 ounces of cheese with six to eight crackers
Lunch: Turkey sandwich (3 ounces turkey, two slices whole-wheat bread or bun, lettuce, tomato), pretzels, side salad and 8 ounces of fruit juice
Before working out: Energy bar (200 to 250 calories), peanut butter and honey on toast or bagel, cereal with milk or fruit. For a long run, eat a larger snack/meal, such as a sandwich with lean meat, hummus or peanut butter, an energy bar and 8 ounces juice or a turkey burger with lettuce, tomato, side salad and yogurt parfait
After working out: 2 cups low-fat chocolate milk
Supper: 3 to 4 ounces of lean meat (fish, chicken, lean beef or pork), 1 to 2 cups cooked pasta with marinara sauce or olive oil, 1 cup cooked vegetables or 2 cups of salad
Snack: Two to three fig bars with 8 ounces of low-fat yogurt