Carbohydrates and energy
Carbohydrates are a runner’s best friend when it comes to energy and getting the most out of your body. As a runner, carbohydrates should make up about 60 - 65% of your total calorie intake. In long distance running (over 10km), our bodies rely predominately on glycogen as fuel. Glycogen is a carbohydrate that is stored in muscles and the liver. Runners, especially those running long distances, should try to consume 6 – 10g of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight throughout the day.
For example, if you weigh 70kg then you should aim to consume 420g - 700g of carbohydrates during your longer running days.
Protein rich foods are important for muscle replacement and recovery, maintaining energy requirements, blood sugar levels and boosting the immune system; especially important for long distance runners. In addition to being an essential nutrient, protein keeps you feeling fuller for longer, which will help with heavy training loads and hunger. Protein should make up about 15% - 20% of your daily intake.
Runners doing long distances, should aim to consume 0.8 – 1g of protein per kilogram of body weight throughout the day. It is a great idea to include a serving of protein at every meal. Try to concentrate on protein foods that are low in fat and cholesterol such as lean cuts of meats, fish, nuts, eggs, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, and beans.
While endurance athletes should try to follow a low fat diet, it is recommended to include ‘good fats’ into your diet as they help with physiological process such as growth and development, skin health, hair growth, metabolism, reproductive system health and cell membrane integrity. Foods such as nuts, oils, and cold-water fish provide essential ‘good fats’ called Omega 3’s. These omega 3’s help with delayed onset of muscle soreness, joint pain and repairing cartilage tissue damage.
It is also very important that runners are well hydrated during and after training sessions. For runs less than 45 minutes, water is adequate for your energy needs. However having a high intensity session, or during a heavy phase of your training (e.g. leading up to an event), you will benefit from either using sports drinks or a readily available source of carbohydrate such as gels, chews or lollies.
How much should I consume on my run, and how often?
- Staying hydrated on your run and keeping up your carbohydrate energy stores is extremely important for your race day strategy. This is too often overlooked by runners and it can result in poor performance, muscle cramping, dehydration and slow recovery times.
- If you are running over 10km you must plan for proper nutrition. To ensure you are comfortable and your body gets the required intake to perform at its best, aim to take 500-750ml of water per hour of running and combine it with the essential carbohydrates (options include an electrolyte sports drink, or plain water topped up with a gel/chew or suitable food).
How often should I drink or eat during my run?
- Plan out your race. Check how many aid stations are on course, and how frequently they are (usually every 2km or 5km).
- Each aid station will have 150-200ml cups of water or sports drink available, so you should aim to drink 3 of these each hour that you run. Calculate how many cups you should consume at each aid station to get your target hydration needs.
- If you need to top up your carbohydrates for energy, then you can consume your food or gel/chew as you run but make sure you keep an eye on your watch so you know if you're taking the correct amount of fuel for every hour that you're running...it is very easy to forget to eat or drink when you're busy smiling for the cameras and enjoying the scenery!
- Even if you aren't hungry, your muscles will thank you for the carbohydrates. Don't wait until you are feeling fatigued, it will be too late to recover. The key is to consume your hydration and fuel before you feel fatigue setting in. So make sure you listen to your body and if you're feeling good, keep up with your nutrition strategy for the rest of the race.
Get a personalised sports nutrition plan
Marewa Kraak is a degree qualified Sports & Exercise Nutritionist and a former elite road cyclist. Marewa regularly consults with clients on personalised sports & exercise nutrition requirements. Find out more about booking a nutrition consultation and receive a written, personalised plan to suit your training, race day or lifestyle nutrition needs and goals.