Good nutrition is an important part of every healthy lifestyle. Food is fuel, and as runners, we need healthy choices to insure we are getting the nutrients our active bodies need. View your daily intake as a “to do” list with your most important items on the top. Whole grains should be on the top of the list (meaning you eat the most of those per day), next fruits and vegetables, followed by lean protein, soy, legumes and 3 servings low-fat dairy, finishing with heart healthy fats and minimizing unhealthy fats.
How much you should eat each day is very individual. Men generally require more calories than women due to a larger amount of muscle mass (which burns more calories.) In general, active women should consume at least 1600 calories and men 2400 calories (up to 3400 calories) each day- even if weight loss is the goal. Keep in mind that weight management is a simple equation. Calories consumed need to be less than calories expended for weight loss. Calories consumed need to be equal for weight maintenance. And, calories consumed need to be more for weight gain. The more active you are, the more calories you will be able to eat and the more good nutrition for your active body!
All food is made up of three macronutrients called carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. For runners, a healthy diet is made of approximately 60 percent carbohydrates, 15-20 percent protein, and 20-25 percent fat. Let's look at each individual component.
Carbohydrate: Whole Grains, Fruits, Vegetables
Carbohydrates are used for energy in our bodies. Carbohydrates are converted to glucose which are used by the body for energy or stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen, which is used later for energy. The human body can only store limited amounts of glycogen, so we need to consume carbohydrates on a daily basis.
When glycogen stores become low, you will feel fatigue and have difficulty running. Carbohydrates should make up 60 percent of your diet. This should primarily be from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. A good way to know you are getting the right amount is to eat about 8 to10 servings of grains, minimum 3 servings of fruit, minimum 4 servings of vegetables per day.
Note: a serving of grains is 1 piece of bread, 1/3 cup oats, rice or pasta, 1/2 cup cereal. A serving of fruit or vegetable is the size of a baseball or 6 oz of juice.
Protein: Lean Meat, Soy, Legumes
Our body mass (muscles, tendons, skin, blood, etc…) is made of protein. Protein builds muscles and tendons, repairs broken down muscles, and regulates hormones. Active individuals need more protein than sedentary people because they are breaking down muscle on a daily basis which needs to be repaired. To get enough protein each day, you should consume approximately 6 to 8 ounces of lean meats, legumes or soy products. Try to include heart healthy fish (salmon, tuna) with omega-3 fats twice a week. Including 3 servings of low-fat dairy products should help with your protein intake as well.
Monounsaturated Fat: Olive Oil, Avocado, Nuts
Monounsaturated fat helps lower LDL levels (bad cholesterol) and helps raise HDL levels (good cholesterol.) Monounsaturated fats may also reduce risk for several kinds of cancer. Monounsaturated fats are found in olives, olive and canola oil, avocados, and nuts.
Polyunsaturated Fat: Corn oil, Safflower oil
Polyunsaturated fat has been found to lower LDL, which is bad cholesterol. Polyunsaturated fat is found in corn, soybean, safflower, and cottonseed oil, as well as in fish.
Trans Fat and Saturated Fat: Margarine, processed foods, butter, cheese
Trans fat and saturated fat raise LDL (bad cholesterol) and lower HDL (good cholesterol.) Trans fat is found in most margarines, fast foods, and vegetable shortening. It is also found in many prepackaged and processed foods. Avoid processed foods and baked goods which list “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” as an ingredient. Saturated fat is found in whole milk, butter, cheese, ice cream, highly marbled red meat, and coconut products. Saturated fat should not be more than 10 percent of your diet. Trans fat should be kept to the smallest amount possible.
The Bottom Line
• Eat adequate calories to achieve weight management goals
• Include 60% carbohydrates, 15-20% protein, 20-25% fat
• 8-10 servings of grains
• Minimum of 3 servings of fruit
• Minimum of 4 servings of vegetables (1/2 cup)
• 6-8 oz. of lean meat, soy or legumes
• 2 servings per week of a fatty fish
• 3 servings of low-fat milk products
• Choose Monounsaturated fats, avoid Trans fat and Saturated fat
• Enjoy! Food is fuel!