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Daily Nutrition

How To Fuel With Purpose

Fueling for maximum trail running performance doesn't just include your mid-run snacks. Here's how to always fuel with purpose.

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When choosing your next meal or snack, Amanda Carlson-Phillips, Vice President of Nutrition and Research at Athlete’s Performance in Phoenix, Arizona, recommends focusing on the following five principals. Depending on what type of training day you have and whether you’re fueling for a run or recovering after it, your nutritional needs will vary. Here are some guidelines to help you stay maximally fueled.

5 Principles of Daily Nutrition

1: Fuel.

Choose high fiber, minimally processed carbohydrates with three grams of fiber or more per serving (one serving is roughly the size of your fist).

Examples: whole-grain breads/English muffins/bagels; high-fiber cereals; oatmeal (with toppings like almonds, walnuts, dried cranberries, dried cherries, bananas, brown sugar); breakfast potatoes, whole-grain pancakes or waffles; grains like quinoa, rice, or barley; beans and chickpeas, sweet potatoes

RELATED: More Carbs = Less GI Distress In Runners, Study Shows

2: Build.

Lean proteins supply the body with amino acids necessary for building muscle and revving the metabolism. One serving is about the size of your palm.

Examples: eggs and egg whites, yogurt, milk, grilled and baked meat or fish (focus on cold-water fish to boost healthy fats)

3: Prevent.

Fruits and vegetables supply the body with important antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes, providing an immune boost.

Examples: Oranges, spinach, pineapple, mixed berries, smoothies with protein powder or milk/yogurt, dried fruits, steamed or roasted veggies like asparagus, broccoli, bell peppers, carrots, Brussels sprouts, squash, greens

recovery foods for trail running
Yogurt with berries and granola makes a great recovery snack because it combines fat and protein with carbohydrates and key minor nutrients. (Photo: Amirali Mirhashemian/Unsplash)

4: Protect.

Healthy fats reduce inflammation, stabilize energy, maintain heart health, and improve brain function. The tip of your thumb (up to the first knuckle) is a good measure for a serving of healthy oils and butters.

Examples: peanut or almond butter, walnuts, almonds, avocados (most of which also fall into the “fuel” category above), low-fat salad dressings with olive, walnut, or avocado oil

RELATED: How To Not Screw Up Your Pre-Race Breakfast

5: Hydrate.

Water lubricates the joints, delivers fuel to the body, gives cells their shape, and regulates internal temperature. Your activity level and the weather dictate how much you’ll need during the day:

Low End (cool environment, low- to no-activity level): half an ounce per pound of body weight

High End (hot environment, high activity level): one ounce per pound of body weight.

But beyond those five principles, fueling properly for endurance sports needs to be a little bit more intentional, especially after you run, race, or work out.

Examples: Water (naturally), but also fruit juice, tea or coffee in moderation, milk or alternative milks

endurance running fueling
(Photo: Getty Images)

3 Steps To Dial In Recovery Nutrition

After a run your body must repair itself. You’re often slightly dehydrated, and your muscles and hormonal systems have been taxed. If you can, eat a meal or snack that contains a 2:1 carbohydrate-to-protein ratio within 45 minutes of completing the run to be ready for the next workout. Use these equations to determine your own post-workout carbohydrate and protein needs.

RELATED: How To Refuel Properly After A Race

1) Determine your weight in kg = (Your weight in pounds) / 2.2

2) Protein needs = (0.3g) x (Your weight in kg)

3) Carbohydrate needs (which vary based on the type of run you completed) =

  • Light Run = (0.6g) x (Your weight in kg)
  • Moderate Run = (0.9g) x (Your weight in kg)
  • Heavy Run = (1.2g) x (Your weight in kg)

Carlson-Phillips recommends creating post-run snacks ahead of time so you’ll have an easy option for recovery fuel as soon as you walk in the door.

Pre-Make Your Recovery Foods

  • Trail mix (almonds, walnuts, high-fiber cereal, sunflower seeds and soy nuts, dried fruit)
  • Yogurt parfaits with granola and fresh or dried fruit
  • Your preferred sports drink, recovery shake, or bar
  • Chocolate milk
  • Beef jerky
  • Pita chips with hummus
  • Individual packs of peanut butter or almond butter