Food & Drink Habits; What Runners Eat & Need


The quality and variation of the food we buy, how we prepare our food, when, how often and how much we eat and drink, and how active we are, it all influences our health and the (non) healthy habits we build.
The food choices you make can slow you down or help you recover.

In Western 24 hour economies people often eat and drink on the go or while we are working, calling and multitasking, not giving nutrition the time and attention it needs and deserves to be properly digested and enjoyed.

Having a meal is about so much more than just fueling up. “Studies have documented that families who habitually eat dinner together seem to raise children with better homework skills, higher grades, greater emotional control, and more confidence,” says Charles Duhigg.

With the internet and social media as a growing accessible source of information, it has becomes easier to find out how to live and eat healthy.
Now it’s becoming more a conscious choice or and how we put the available knowledge into practice.

The problem is when that fun stuff becomes the habit.
And I think that’s what’s happened in our culture.
Fast food has become the everyday meal
Michelle Obama

Balanced runners diet
No matter what you’re food preferences are, it all come down to balance. Wether you’re a vegetarian of a meat lover, you’ll need a variety of food that gives the energy to live, work, sport, sleep, eat, travel.

The more active you are the more you’ll need to refuel.
The more you sweat, the more you need to rehydrate.
The more processed the food and drinks you consume, the less effort it takes your body to get calories out of it, but also the more empty these calories are.

The right amount of carbs, protein and fat varies per person, depending on the lifestyle, height and weight, but also on the quality and variety of the food.

How elite runners eat and what they have in common
Elite runners have all kinds of nationalities and cultural backgrounds:

The best male sprinter in the world, Usain Bolt, comes from Jamaica, while the female World Champion on 200m, Dafne Schippers comes from the Netherlands.

The best Marathon runners are mostly Kenyans, the fastest relay runners come from Japan and elite Ultra runners come from all around the globe.

Each elite runner has his or her own training schedule and diet.
But what these runners have in common, is their emphasis on natural, nutrient-dense food.
The pro’s get their carbs, protein and fats mostly from fresh vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds and legumes.
Some also eat meat, eggs, fish, whole grains and/or dairy.
But they all focus on unprocessed, high quality food.

“You can pick a piece of fruit or you can pick a box of crackers. The carbs may look the same, but the apple is also going to give you essential vitamins and minerals.”

Stephanie Marie Howe
elite ultrarunner and Nutrition & Exercise Physiology expert

Fuel before, during and after a hard training or race
There are several tapering or carb-loading approaches, but in any case it’s better to spread the carbs over the meals during the last few days and have the last big meal the day before race day during lunch.

A light breakfast ca 2 hours before the race with coffee, banana, honey and oatmeal is a safe choice for most runners. Some prefer toast, a muffin or yoghurt.
Choose something you’re used to and that works fine for you and your stomach.

An easy choice during a Marathon race, apart from water, are gels and energy drinks, but if you prefer more natural energy resources, water with honey, fresh and dried fruit are a good alternative.
For longer runs you could add salted sweet potatoes.

After the race you might not be hungry at first, but the general advice is to replace your burned calories within ca 1,5 hour with carbs and protein (3:1 / 4:1).
You could bring a banana with nuts to refuel a bit straight after the finish. Others recommend (fat-free) chocolate milk.

Carb- and protein-rich meals during the first 2 days will help you to recover further.

Resources / further reading:
Fueling Facts: maintain your peak condition with a balanced diet

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