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We like to assume that increased training translates to better health and, thus, more energy. However, when we increase training for a long race, we are sometimes left feeling lethargic, instead of more energized.
For many, proper nutrition throughout hard training is an afterthought. Eating well during your training cycle, not just on race day, is key to optimal performance.
When you increase your training, your body’s metabolism changes. The length, intensity and terrain of your runs are the influencers of your energy needs. In addition to running time, running intensity (think effort) has also been shown to increase excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), which can cause an increase in metabolism. What does this mean? For most runners, it means upping your caloric intake of the right foods, at the right times.
As a general approach, aim for eating at least three meals and two snacks throughout the day focusing on whole foods. On days that you workout at a higher intensity, on more difficult terrain or for a longer period of time, you should focus on higher caloric foods, such as nut butters, avocado, granola, yogurt and potatoes.
Macronutrients, otherwise known as carbohydrates, fats and proteins, are utilized in different amounts depending on the type of training run you are doing.
At a moderate run pace, you are typically burning equal amounts of carbohydrate and fat. As the intensity of the run increases (either because of length or effort), your body reaches a point where it starts to need quicker sources of energy, and it burns more carbohydrate. Throughout all intensities, protein use remains relatively low but consistent.
Your body stores carbohydrates in the liver and muscles in a form called glycogen. Throughout exercise, your body uses the glycogen, and depending on the running pace, will go through glycogen stores (as long as they are full) anywhere from 90 minutes to three hours after.
Keeping this in mind on workout days and long-run days, you’ll want to increase your carbohydrate consumption post run, in order to replenish glycogen stores. In particular, your muscles are most primed to take up carbohydrates up to four hours after a run, so taking advantage of this replenishment window is key to proper recovery. Consider a post-run snack of a banana and peanut butter, fruit and yogurt or chocolate milk.
Amount post run: 0.55g per pound of bodyweight. A 180-pound man will want to replenish 99g of carbohydrates within four hours of a workout or long run. So he might eat one banana (30 grams), one glass of chocolate milk (30 grams) and 10 whole grain crackers (35 grams).
Muscles incur micro tears that can cause soreness and inhibit your ability to recover properly. Post high-intensity and long runs, you can aid your body in a quicker recovery, and combining your protein sources with carbohydrates can optimize that recovery. Muscle-protein synthesis is highest one to two hours after exercise, making this the best time for consumption. Good post-workout protein sources include nuts, seeds, yogurt and eggs.
Amount post run: 0.55g to 0.64g per pound of bodyweight with a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. A 130-pound woman should replenish 71 to 83g of protein after a workout or long run. She might eat yogurt with nuts and berries or a protein smoothie.
In general, your body’s preferred source of fuel at longer, higher intensities is carbohydrate. Fat can produce a lot of energy, but takes longer. Fat adaptation has been shown to help provide more sustained energy and allows for longer lasting glycogen stores, but carbohydrate will always be needed to prevent that dreaded bonk.
Daily consumption: The American Dietetic Association recommends 25 to 35 percent of total daily calories come from fat.
As your training increases, vitamins and minerals need to be increased to help the body repair and recover. In particular, vitamins B and C are not stored in the body and need to be replaced every day.
Minerals such as calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium and chloride, which are lost in sweat, are needed to help prevent muscle cramping and cellular and brain function. These vitamins and minerals can be replaced through fruits, vegetables and lean meats. If needs are not being met, supplementation is a good alternative.
Whole Foods Week-Long Meal Plan
Based on a 130-pound, 5’ 6” woman, training for her first ultramarathon. Relative adjustments should be made for your height and weight.
Breakfast: 2 hard-boiled eggs, berries and yogurt
Snack: Cubed melon, handful cashews
Lunch: Tomato soup, whole-wheat veggie wrap with hummus
Snack: String cheese and apple
Dinner: Maple glazed salmon salad with whole-wheat roll
Dessert: Raspberry sorbet
Note: If you’re feeling hungry from your Sunday long run, include more carbohydrates this day.
Breakfast: Oatmeal w/berries, nut butter
Snack: Smoothie with yogurt, nut milk, greens, berries, coconut, ground chia and flax seeds
Lunch: Whole-wheat tuna salad sandwich, quinoa, veggie and black-bean salad
Snack: Hummus and pita bread
Dinner: Roast chicken with sweet potato and broccoli
Dessert: Chocolate pudding
Breakfast: 3-egg omelet with veggies, 1 piece whole-wheat toast, berries
Snack: Carrot sticks and
Lunch: 1 whole-wheat bagel with veggies and cheese, plain Greek yogurt and honey
Snack: Handful almonds
Dinner: Shrimp or tofu with mixed- veggie stir fry and rice
Dessert: Frozen strawberries and 72% dark chocolate
Note: If feeling hungry from workout, add more carbohydrates this day.
Breakfast: Cinnamon overnight oats with almonds, honey and banana
Snack: Hard-boiled egg with 1 slice of banana bread
Lunch: Bean, cheese and veggie quesadilla, watermelon
Snack: Celery sticks with peanut butter and raisins
Dinner: Chickpea and sweet potato curry with rice
Dessert: Angel-food cake with strawberries and whipped cream
Friday—Hills/easy long run
Breakfast: Whole-wheat waffles with nut butter and strawberries
Snack: Cottage cheese with pineapple and slivered almonds
Lunch: Turkey and Swiss cheese wrap on spinach tortilla, pasta salad
Snack: Banana with peanut butter and granola
Dinner: Fish tacos on corn tortillas with cotija cheese, mango salsa, refried beans
Saturday—Rest/ easy run
Breakfast: 1 slice whole-wheat toast with avocado and fried egg, blueberries
Snack: String cheese with handful grapes
Lunch: Chicken, feta, arugula salad with mandarin oranges and almonds, whole-wheat roll
Snack: Olive oil and garlic popcorn
Dinner: Eggplant lasagna with ricotta and marinara
Dessert: Peanut-butter mousse
Breakfast: Banana, 2 pieces whole-wheat toast with 2 tablespoons peanut butter
Snack: Chocolate milk, 2 fig bars, apple
Lunch:Whole-wheat pancakes with yogurt, berries, nuts and honey
Snack: Handful of cashews, dried fruit
Dinner: Mixed-vegetable pizza with or without meat
Dessert: Coconut-rice pudding with raspberries
—Kylee Van Horn is a licensed Sports Registered Dietitian in Colorado, and is a 2:49 marathoner and competitive trail runner.