We runners focus so much on the way we move and the miles we log, but food has so much to do with our performance. Have you ever noticed how a particular meal can either make for a great or awful run? If not, you could probably teach me a thing or two about diet and exercise — but for the rest of us, getting the right mix of nutrients can be tough.
Here are five common diet mistakes you might be making, along with a few tips for how to fix them.
- You’re not getting enough protein. With running, a lot of emphasis is placed on carbs, those quick-to-burn energy stores we all know and love. But protein is another story entirely. I’m a vegetarian, so this one hits particularly close to home. Protein is responsible for helping muscles recover from the daily damage training entails. If you’re looking to get more in your diet, check out these healthy snacks for runners, homemade protein bars, and vegan and vegetarian sources of protein.
- You’re timing is off. Do you run in the early morning? Or maybe right after work? Regardless, those odd, before-mealtime runs can be made very difficult without sufficient fuel beforehand. A simple fix: make a small snack. Try to stick to simple foods with a good mix of carbs and protein, low fiber and sugar for the best results.
- You’re eating foods that irritate your stomach. I like heat and spice and flavor — the more of it, the better. So, you might not be too surprised to hear I put Sriracha sauce on basically everything. Thing is, it’s horrible for my running, and I know it. Be sure to start a mental list of the foods that don’t jive with your running routine — whether they give you digestive ills like diarrhea or heartburn or other discomforts. For me? It’s anything acidic, like tomatoes, dark chocolate, citrus juice, etc. — ouch!
- Your portions are too big or small. Maybe you’re trying to lose weight or just don’t feel hungry midday, but small meals can surely make running feel difficult, as if you’re moving on fumes alone. Large meals, on the other hand, can upset your stomach or make your tired with all the energy it takes to digest them. Whatever meal you’re eating around your run, be sure to shoot for something in the middle. Aim for over 200-300 calories to have enough fuel, but certainly save that Thanksgiving dinner for after you’ve completed your exercise for the day.
- You’re waiting too long between meals. The best way to feel motivated to work out is keeping energy stable all day. And the best way to keep energy stable all day is by eating frequent, healthy meals. Do you tend to fall into the feast or famine pattern with your eating? I surely have been known to do just that, and it doesn’t feel good when I’m on the track. Don’t skip meals as a rule. Otherwise, try to find a pattern that works for you, whether it’s three classic squares a day or smaller, more regular snacking.
With any of these diet areas, it may take some experimentation to find your personal groove. Eventually, though, you’ll find you’re not only getting in better workouts, but that your mind feels clearer as well. And isn’t half of running just feeling good in your overall health? That’s worth a heck of a lot to me!
Have any nutrition tips for your fellow runners? Let’s hear ‘em!
Written by Ashley Marcin.