Food is Body’s Fuel
Preparation for a long run such as a marathon requires a well-defined feeding plan. Basically, a long distance running diet plan should be a diet similar to those recommended by many nutritionists. A healthy diet plan should include a high amount of high carbohydrate, low fat and high protein content. Have you ever heard the phrase “I am what I eat”? For my part, I’m still not sure what it means, but one thing is clear to me: Food is our fuel.
First of all, you need to know your caloric needs. A solution could be to consult a dietitian to get a clear idea of your needs. But rule of thumb is that you should count 16 to 18 calories per pound of your weight if you train for 30 – 60 minutes. This means that if a runner weighs 160 pounds, the number of calories to ingest for his training day should be around 2560 and 2880. If this same runner trains for 1.5 hours, between 3040 and 3360 calories will be needed to meet his energy needs. 2 hours? Between 3520 and 3840 calories. After 2 hours, it will take between 4000 and 4800 calories!
The principle is rather simple to understand: The more you train, the more you are gonna need to eat calories. But eating calories doesn’t mean running to the nearest fast food restaurant and ordering the biggest “poutine” on the menu! To guide you, let’s look at the big families of foods to eat when you do long runs.
Carbohydrates should represent no less than 60 to 70% of your calorie intake, Carbs are stored largely in the muscles, which makes them a crucial element to perform over long distances. If your supply runs out, you will hit the “Wall”. If you are unfamiliar with this expression, it refers to what happen to a lot of us when we are victim during a competition of a lack of muscle glycogen.
You also need to know that if you are in need of carbs, your body will draw on its reserves of fat and protein, which will not provide enough energy for your long run.
Here are some good choices of high carbohydrate foods:
An average banana counts for 100 calories and contains about 27 grams of carbohydrates in addition to containing more than 400 grams of potassium. Potassium helps to regulate muscle contraction and prevent cramps. In pre-run mode, you can eat a banana one hour before your run because the banana is not very susceptible to cause you gastrointestinal problems. In post-run mode, you can eat a banana by adding it to a serving of Greek yogurt.
Whole grain Pasta and bread
Whole grain foods are less processed so it contains more nutrients than foods made with white flour like white bread, white bagel, etc.
One slice of whole bread contain 69 calories and give around 12 grams of carbs. One cup of whole pasta gives about 35 grams of Carbs and counts for 174 calories. A simple and nutritious meal choice if you add a lean protein such as turkey, chicken or fish and vegetables.
A cup of brown rice is 216 calories and provides 44 grams of carbohydrates and is a good source of fiber, vitamins and minerals.
One cup of mashed Sweet potatoes provides no less than 58 grams of Carbs and contains about 250 calories, which should give you enough energy to your muscles to last an hour of running! They contain several nutrients including vitamin A, which is a powerful antioxidant and boost the immune defenses (the intensive training phases before a competition represent periods when the risk of infection is even greater). We also find a good dose of vitamin C (powerful antioxidant), manganese (support healthy blood sugar levels and play a role in bone metabolism), potassium and iron.
Yogurts are a good source of both carbs and protein as long as the yogurt is Greek, unflavored and low in fat. Yogurt also contains a good dose of calcium, which can prevent the risk of stress fracture. A cup of yogurt will provide 8.4 grams of carbs and 338 calories
Quinoa gives you the best of both world. One cup of quinoa provides a good dose of carbohydrates (39 grams) and protein (8 grams).
Protein is king! The proteins are the “bricks” of the body. Although protein represents only 15% of your calorie intake, it’s essential for your health. They make muscles, bones, skin and every organ but also hormones, enzymes and antibodies. After hard training, proteins have the role of repairing muscles and reducing the effect of cortisol (Hormone related to stress and contributing to muscle breakdown).
There are 2 categories of proteins: complete and incomplete proteins. Complete proteins are those that contain the 9 amino acids essential for the proper functioning of our body. Incomplete proteins… well the name says it all, they do not contain the 9 amino acids that complete proteins provide us.
But make no mistake about it, incomplete proteins are not inferior to complete proteins. Simply combine them with another food containing incomplete proteins to meet your amino acid needs. For example, when you put natural peanut butter on whole wheat bread, eat pita bread with hummus or incorporate beans with rice, you get a complete protein.
I will not go into details because the experts agree on the principle that if you eat different healthy foods every day, you will meet your amino acid needs without having to think about it! But if you feel the need, you can find out exactly what amino acids a food will provide by consulting the USDA Food Composition Databases.
Here are some examples of good protein choices to add to your diet plan:
100 grams of chicken gives 31 grams of protein and only 165 calories!
Beef or pork
100 grams of ground beef or pork gives you about 26 grams of proteins and contains 217 (Beef) and 297 calories (Pork) respectively.
Salmon is one of the most protein-rich fish. 100 grams of salmon gives 20-30 grams of protein and only 2 grams of fat. Farmer salmon has 206 calories per 100 grams and wild salmon has 182 calories per serving of 100 grams.
A large egg provides about 6 grams of protein. By eating an egg, you will also get about 30 percent of your recommended amount of vitamin K, which is crucial to bone health.
A 28 grams serving of almond contains 161 calories and 6 grams of protein. Studies show that eating almonds increases the feeling of fullness (like Barley). Almonds should be included in your diet if you are a victim of Runger’s phenomenon (relentless hunger that happen with you train for long distance run).
One cup of milk (2%) contains 122 calories and 9.7 grams of protein. 200 g of plain nonfat greek yogurt contains 8 grams of protein and accounts for 117 calories.
32 grams (2 tablespoons) contains 190 calories and 7 grams of protein.
One cup of soybeans provides 298 calories and 28 grams of protein.
Around 20 to 30 percent of your calories should come from fat. Fat is an important source of energy, especially for endurance training. This is also the back-up source of fuel if your carbs are consumed. Fat is found in butter, red meat, avocado, fish, olive oil, nuts, etc.
Now, let’s see what can be a long distance running diet plan look like.
Training For A Long Run
Most runners focus mainly on what they need to eat in the last days before the race but in reality, it is just as important to pay special attention to what you eat every day.
Training day meal plan
Milk oatmeal with a few nuts and fruits (strawberries, blackberries) or a slice of whole wheat peanut butter bread with a banana.
Chile made with lean ground meat and beans with a good vegetable salad.
Fish or chicken with brown rice and vegetables
Rest day meal plan
Vegetable omelet with smoked salmon
Couscous salad with merou or other white fish
Stir-fried beef with plenty of vegetables.
The key to success is to vary your meals. To give you some ideas, you can for example replace rice with quinoa or pita bread. You can replace chicken with fish or pork. Milk can be replaced by Greek yogurt. As you can see, it is not that difficult to create meals that are both balanced and tasty!
Before A Long Run (Carb-Loading)
The term Carb loading is used to refers to the period during which runners will increase their Carbohydrate intake and thus fill the body’s Glycogen reserves. The Carb-Loading period should start 2 to 3 days before your long run. We calculate about 8 – 10 grams of carbohydrates per kilograms. To succeed, you will of course have to prioritize carbs in your food choices but also plan to eat about 3 carbohydrate-oriented snacks of your choice!
Several possible choices of snacks:
- Bagel with peanut butter
- Dried apricot
- Fruit juice
- Bananas, oranges or other fruit.
You should note that during this period, this is not the time to try or incorporate new foods that you are not used to it,
In clear terms : Stay with familiar food!
Makes sure to eat a recovery snack within 30 minutes after your long run (You could take a fruit smoothie or a glass of chocolate milk). Around 90 minutes after the race, eat a recovery meal (chicken sandwich, greek yogurt with granola and topped with berries).