In just a few weeks I will be able to check off a bucket list item: complete a half marathon. I was encouraged to sign up by a coworker and have been hitting the pavement for long runs on the weekends. On days when I really push it, I feel like I deserve to reward myself with a delicious meal. I burned calories running so I can enjoy a burger and fries, right? Wrong.
While serious athletes such as marathon runners require additional calories to refuel and rebuild throughout the day and especially after a workout, it can be easy to fall into the “now I can eat whatever I want” mode and overdo it. This, of course, leads to stalled or decreased performance and could even result in increase fat mass.
There are a few things you can do to make sure you are supplying your body with the additional nutrition is needs without taking it too far:
1. Choose the right kinds of foods to add to your daily routine as training increases.
Because endurance athletes engage in low to moderate intensity exercise over a long duration, they rely largely on the glycogen (or stored glucose) within muscles to produce energy. That’s often why higher carbohydrate diets are touted for endurance athletes–it helps replace glycogen in the muscles. By including fruit, vegetables, and grains, you can provide your body with the carbohydrates it needs. Optimal amounts of high-quality protein (such as whey protein) are also important to repair muscle that becomes damaged from the prolonged bouts of training. Shoot for about 30 grams of protein per meal.
2. Be realistic about the amount of additional calories you need.
Just because you ran for 30 minutes doesn’t mean you can scarf down two pieces of pizza and a soda guilt-free. If you are casually jogging on a flat surface without much of an increase in heart rate, you aren’t going to be burning the hundreds of calories you think you are.
3. Listen to your body, not your mind.
Are you really hungry or does that maple-frosted donut just sound good? Our bodies are amazing creatures and have all the mechanisms in place to let us know when it needs sustenance. Unfortunately, many times we let our brains can take over and we eat to satisfy a craving rather than our hunger. Listen to your body and grab food when your body is really asking for it.
Serious endurance athletes need to provide their bodies with adequate nutrition, but remember that it doesn’t give you a get-out-of-jail-free card. You still need to eat healthy, balanced meals and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Don’t let exercise make you fat.
Hulmi JJ et al. Effect of protein/essential amino acids and resistance training on skeletal muscle hypertrophy: A case for whey protein. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2010 Jun 17;7:51.
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