I’m a runner. What should I eat?
Erin Stokes, Naturopathic Doctor, MegaFood Medical Director | June 2019
Starting to run, or increasing the mileage you run, requires an uptick in energy reserves. We can often forget that the energy to fuel all of our endeavors ultimately needs to come from the food we eat (not coffee!).
What should we eat to optimize running?
Many people may avoid fat while beginning a running program in order to try to shed pounds. This is not a wise strategy for many reasons, especially in light of current research. A study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition investigated the relationship between dietary fat intake and lower extremity injury in adult female runners. Eighty-six female runners, who were running a minimum of 20 miles per week, completed a food frequency questionnaire. The findings showed that, “Over half the runners in this study sustained a running-related injury in the year following their initial assessment. These injured runners consumed a diet significantly lower in total fat and lower in percentage of total energy from fat.”Footnote 1 It’s now known that not consuming enough fat can impact runners’ health and performance. When choosing the right fats to eat, the term “healthy fats” is widely used, but what exactly does that mean? Healthy fats include monounsaturated fats found in foods such as olive oil, nuts, and avocados, as well as the omega-3 rich foods salmon, sardines, walnuts and flaxseeds. Another healthy fat that’s gained recent popularity is coconut oil, which contains a certain kind of fat called medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). One of the benefits of cooking with coconut oil is that it can be heated to higher temperatures than olive oil without oxidizing.
What’s the skinny on eating protein and running?
Protein is a key component of every cell of the body and is an important building block for muscle tissue. Adequate protein intake speeds up both muscle growth and recovery. Similar to fat, it’s been shown that runners who consume the right amount of protein are less likely to get injured. But what amount is the right amount?
The USDA's Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is .8 grams per kilogram (or .36 grams per pound) of body weight, but people who run regularly usually need more. Generally it’s suggested to get closer to 1.0 grams per kilogram a day (or .45 grams per pound). This amount is consumed throughout the day. As always, these guidelines are meant as a starting point guide, and each individual will find the amount that is right for them. In my experience as a Naturopathic Doctor, the frequency of protein intake is just as important as the total amount per day. So, don’t run out the door in the morning without getting some protein in your body!
Beet root was first cultivated by the Romans. In Greek mythology, Aphrodite was said to eat beets to help her retain her beauty. It’s no wonder when you look at the gorgeous red color of the beet roots due to its naturally occurring pigment betacyanin.
Many runners have become fans of beetroot, and today it’s widely known as a superfood. Why? Beets are a natural source of dietary nitrates, which the body converts to nitrite, and then to nitric oxide. Nitric oxide aids in optimal blood flow and delivery of oxygen to the muscles. In fact, recent research has shown that eating beets or drinking beet juice can help support optimal athletic performance.Footnote 2* Beets can be roasted in the oven, consumed in fresh juice, or added in a powdered form to a smoothie.
If you’re a runner that needs to supplement with Iron, beet root is also a key nourishing ingredient in MegaFood Blood Builder®. This supplement delivers a gentle and effective 26 mg of FoodState® Iron per serving, folic acid and B12 for healthy red blood cell production, and vitamin C to support iron absorption. Blood Builder was shown in an 8-week clinical trial to increase iron levels in individuals with low iron without common gastrointestinal side effects such as nausea or constipation.
B-vitamin rich foods … and a multi to fill dietary gaps
An important team of vitamins for a runner is the B Vitamins, since these are needed to convert food into cellular energy*. When we look at foods that are a reliable source of B vitamins, dark green leafy vegetables are at the top of the list. Depending of the specific B vitamin, legumes, fish and chicken are other foods to include regularly, if these are appropriate for your personal nutrition plan. Yet, even when we eat all of the right foods, nutritional gaps in the diet are prevalent.
In fact, findings reported in July 2015 by the Center for Disease Control demonstrated that 66 million Americans have Vitamin D insufficiency, 30 million are deficient in Vitamin B6 and 18 million are deficient in Vitamin B12!Footnote 3 We’re seeing evidence that nutritional gaps exist even with the best diet, and that’s when a gender-specific multivitamin designed by award-winning integrative physician, Tieraona Low Dog, M.D. can be a powerful ally in your daily routine. A favorite feature among runners is that it can be taken anytime of day, even on an empty stomach. As always, consult your healthcare practitioner before beginning a new supplement program.
A winning combination
Ensuring that you eat a balanced diet with the right mix of healthy fats, carbohydrates and protein will support your body with the fuel it needs. Give your body an additional boost with nature’s superfoods (such as kale and beetroot) to feel your best. And remember the important role that an individualized supplement plan can play in filling dietary gaps.
Looking for new recipes to fuel your runs? Visit our blog for energy-boosting bowls, smoothies and recipes.
Want to learn more about different supplements than can give you the energy you need? Visit our energy-focused webpage.https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-5-1 2 Acute Dietary Nitrate Intake Improves Muscle Contractile Function in Patients With Heart Failure. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1161/CIRCHEARTFAILURE.115.002141 3 The CDC Second National Report on Biochemical Indicators of Diet and Nutrition in the U.S. Population