Nutrition is often one of the most overlooked aspects of training, but it’s just as important as running mile after mile, cross-training, or lifting weights. As I’ve been training for the Chicago Marathon (which is in less than two weeks!), nutrition has been one of the biggest things I’ve focused on to stay injury-free. And since it has been a successful training cycle for me I thought I’d share some of what’s helped me along the way. Now, what I recommend is just a guideline but it has worked well for me. Remember, even if you do everything else right, if you don’t have a good diet you are putting yourself at risk for injury or, to put it simply, running a bad race. Sadly, just because you’re running an 18-mile training run doesn’t mean you can eat whatever you want afterwards (I know, its not fair!). Instead, it’s all about balance!
So, what can we eat when training for endurance events such as marathons, cycling events, triathlons, and similar events? How in the world can we know what to eat and what to avoid?! Well, here are a few guidelines to help make it a little more manageable…
Endurance athletes need to focus more on their diets. Excess body fat can slow you down and can contribute to “hitting the wall.”
This means you can eat vegetables, fruits, nuts/seeds, whole grains, lean meats and fish, and dairy. But avoid refined grains, fatty meats, sweets, and fried foods.
Eat a light snack before a run (e.g. banana, peanut butter on wheat toast), on longer workouts eat food every 45 minutes (e.g. raisins, dates, honey), and after a run be sure to have something with carbohydrates and protein for recovery (e.g. low fat chocolate milk, eggs with wheat toast).
For example, veggies, healthy grains such as sweet potatoes and oatmeal, lean proteins such as fish, lean meat, and eggs, healthy fats such as nuts and avocados.
-Take your vitamins!
-Treat yourself every once in a while, but not too often.
In addition to the food that we eat, as athletes we need to ensure that we have adequate levels of vitamins and minerals to ensure our organs function properly and that our body is balanced from within. Think of getting the correct amount of vitamins and minerals as you would think of your running or lifting training plan—you need to follow it daily or its not as effective. Now, a doctor and medical testing can help you sift through all your individual levels, but studies show that calcium and vitamin D reduce the risk of stress fractures and vitamin D may even improve athletic performance (Cannell, 2009)!
Personally, I’ve had ongoing issues with stress fractures for the past few years since I’ve become more serious about nutrition and taking vitamins/minerals. I’ve had several stress fractures and stress reactions over the years in my hip, foot, and tibia (yes, it’s a long list!) and have explored a ton of different options to help keep them at bay. But the most effective things for me have been the following: eliminating processed foods, easing more slowly into my training, switching to neutral shoes rather than over-correcting running shoes, eliminating foods that reduce bone density such as sodas, coffee, and too much sodium, and making sure to get enough calcium, Vitamin D, and magnesium in my diet through food and supplements. This has been a successful formula for me for the past 2 years—no stress fractures!
–Mix it into a fruit/veggie smoothie
-Put it into the bowl with scrambled eggs
-Mix into your morning drink: juice, coffee, milk, water
-Sprinkle a little bit over an avocado, yogurt, eggs
-Put a packet into your morning oatmeal with some fruit
Yes… it’s that easy! And one last thing: if you have a TON of extra apples from apple picking like me, you can also sprinkle Cal-EZ onto baked apples with oatmeal! Healthy and delicious.
Disclosure: Cal-EZ has compensated me for this post, but all opinions are my own and always will be my own. I use Cal-EZ daily not because I was asked to or have to, but because I love it. I am happy to be able to share it with you!
Cannell, JOHN J., et al. “Athletic performance and vitamin D.” Med Sci Sports Exerc 41.5 (2009): 1102-10.