Most competitive runners know that successful races develop from focused training and adequate rest. A third ingredient for success is optimal nutrition. Figuring out your body's physical capabilities and strength is one thing; figuring out the most sensible things to eat, and when to eat them, is another training tactic that needs attention.
Race Training Requires Fuel
Race training demands much from your body and brain, so make sure you provide energy for both. Before workouts, eat something that is easily digested--low volume and low fiber--to stoke your metabolism. You boost your metabolism every time you eat, so a simple banana or some toast will rev your system. The length of your pre-race workout determines whether you should eat on the run; most training runs beyond 10K require fueling during the workout. Post-workout nutrition is critical to recovery.
Train the High Carbohydrate Way
Incorporate carbohydrates into every meal. Even on rest days, your muscles need energy for optimal tissue repair. You also need, daily, sufficient carbohydrate to prevent mental fatigue. According to Wright State University's lectures on brain function, your brain alone consumes 20 percent of your calories, so to feed both brain and body, a full 60 percent to 75 percent of your calories should be carbohydrates. Furthermore, muscles demand protein and fats for growth and repair; a 60/25/15 percentage breakdown for carbs/protein/fat is what Cool Running recommends. This allows plenty of carbs to convert to glycogen, the fuel stored inside the muscles themselves, while fueling concurrent metabolic activity.
5K Race Training Meals: Short and Sweet
Short race training meals can include breakfasts of protein-rich yogurt or cottage cheese with fruit; whole grain, low sugar cereals with low fat milk; toast with peanut butter and fruit spread; or a heart-healthy omelet with vegetables. Egg yolks have complete protein and Vitamin E, and a daily egg is fine for most runners. Lunch and dinner should contain protein from fish, poultry or lean red meat which contains beneficial iron. Healthful snacks in the 200 to 400 calorie-range can be yogurt shakes, a handful of nuts, a half-sandwich or a slice of veggie-topped pizza.
10K Race Training Meals: Double The Stuff
10K race training demands more calories, but do not fall into the trap of turning to junk food. Instead, choose nutritious items and experiment with amounts. Keep in mind that each mile run burns 100 to 150 calories, and research various foods' calorie counts and nutritional content; writing it all down helps track calories and analyze your meal plan's balance. Try adding an extra cup of cereal to your breakfast, and snack several times a day. Incorporate as many fruits and veggies as comfortably possible to retain immunity-boosting phytonutrients.
Marathon Training: HIgh Volume Eating
You need calories not only for basic metabolism but also to keep your immune system healthy and to prevent injuries. Ironman Power reports that endurance training stresses your immune system and that adequate calorie-intake supports both immunity and injury-prevention. Meeting all these higher energy demands may even require you to train your gut to accept increased feeding. Try building on 5K meals by doubling amounts and adding healthy calories from nut butters, trail mix, honey, avocado, starchy vegetables and olive oil dressings. Eat often and emphasize post-workout meals, when your body craves replenishment. Most important: eat healthfully. High performance training demands it.