Healthy Eating Plan for Runners
A healthy eating plan is important for everyone, but for those of you athletes who expend extraordinary amounts of energy on a regular basis, it's especially important that you provide your body with the proper nutrition to keep you performing at your peak. Runners have some special dietary needs - most notably, small amounts of extra carbohydrates and extra proteins to fuel all that activity!
Any healthy eating plan should have a balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. You'll also want to make sure that the essential vitamins and minerals (especially calcium and iron) are provided for you, preferably through the food you eat, but also through supplements. A good breakdown of dietary needs in a healthy eating plan might look like: 50-55% carbohydrates, 15-20% protein, and 25-30% fat.
You can adjust those as needed to fit your actual exercise profile and fitness goals, but what foods provide the elements is just as important as how much you consume. You'll want to look for high-quality, fresh food as often as possible. Pre-packaged energy bars and the like are great for convenience, but make sure you see some real, fresh food on a regular basis!
Carbohydrates: Complex carbs are the way to go. These are the types found in the starch in plant foods - fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, etc. Fiber is also your friend here - it will slow the rate at which your body can absorb the carbs and therefore keep your metabolism and blood sugars levels more regular, and conveniently enough is also often found in fresh plant products. Simple carbohydrates, like those found in most forms of sugar or sweeteners, should only make up about 10% of a healthy eating plan.
Proteins: Look for protein sources that are low in fat and cholesterol. Good choices include lean meats and poultry, fish, low fat dairy products, beans, and whole grains. The USDA recommends about .36 grams of protein per pound of body weight for non-runners and about .42 to .76 grams of protein per pound for distance runners. It is still possible to get these amounts of protein without eating meat too - just concentrate on protein-rich grains, vegetables, and legumes, which are part of any healthy eating plan.
Fats: Yes, you do also need a significant amount of fat in a healthy eating plan! The trick is to pick the right kinds of fats. Choose foods whose fat comes from heart-healthy sources, typically those found in vegetable, nut, and fish sources.
And the last, but perhaps most important component of any healthy eating plan (especially one for runners), is water. It's important to stay hydrated at all times, and runners put themselves in danger of becoming dehydrated every time they run. Make sure you drink before, during, and after a run. Simple water is your best bet - sports drinks are fine occasionally and you can grab one if your body is craving sodium, but the additives in most are too much to be something that you drink all the time. A good sign of a properly hydrated body is clear urine.