Elevate Your Performance with the Right Nutrients
Are you a runner looking to boost your performance and achieve your best results? One critical factor that could make all the difference is your nutrition. In this article, we'll dive deep into the nutrients your body needs to help you run stronger and faster than ever before.
The Two Primary Energy Sources
During a long-distance race, your body needs to rely on two primary energy sources: carbohydrates and fat. On top of this, your body also loses vitamins, minerals, and water, making it essential to understand the right nutrition strategy for optimal performance.
The Role of Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are the primary fuel source for your body when working out. They are crucial when racing or competing because they facilitate muscle movements and are responsible for the proper operation of your central nervous system. Carbohydrates are stored in your body as glycogen, with 80-100 grams locked up in your liver and 300-900 grams in your skeletal muscle. High-intensity exercise can deplete these reserves, leading to hypoglycemia, a condition that can cause dizziness, nausea, cold sweats, and even loss of motor skills.
There are three main types of carbohydrates:
- Simple sugars: such as fruit juices, fruits, sweetened cereals, jams, candies, chocolates, sugar, honey, and most sports drinks. These are digested and absorbed very quickly.
- Starches: such as cereals, potatoes, bread, pasta, and rice, which are digested and absorbed quickly or slowly, depending on what they are accompanied with.
- Fiber: such as wholegrain cereals and bread, oatmeal, dry beans, peas, fruits, and vegetables. These are digested very slowly, and certain parts are not even digested or absorbed in our bodies.
We'll discuss your carbohydrate needs before, during, and after exercise in more detail in our next article.
The Role of Fats
Fats are oxidized with carbohydrates, and their role as a predominant fuel source during exercise depends on several factors, such as exercise intensity, level of aerobic physical form, diet, and carbohydrate intake before or during training. Increased fat oxidation results from increased energy, but with higher-intensity exercises (>75% VO2 max), fat oxidation is inhibited, and its relative and absolute speed of oxidation decreases. A study by Atchen et al (2002, 2003) found that the highest rate of fat oxidation occurs between 62 and 63 VO2 max.
Eating fats before or during exercise can increase the presence of fatty acids and fat oxidation to reduce the chance of muscle glycogen catabolism. The fat in our food provides essential fatty acids needed for brain development, inflammation, and blood clotting control. Fats can be either saturated or unsaturated, depending on the amount and type of fatty acid they contain. Saturated fats come from animal sources such as butter, cheese, whole milk, and fatty meats, and from some plant foods such as palm and coconut oils. These fats could increase the cholesterol level in our body, so they should be consumed with caution. On the other hand, unsaturated fats, such as olive or canola oils, and polyunsaturated fats, such as sunflower, corn, and soybean oils, help lower LDL cholesterol. Trans-fatty acids are harmful to health since their intake raises LDL and lowers HDL (good cholesterol). These can be found in hydrogenated oils such as hard butter and margarine.
Regarding protein consumption, most researchers agree that exercise increases protein oxidation to some extent. This increase is accompanied by nitrogen loss, causing a controversy about whether athletes should consume more protein than the non-active. It is a crucial observation that the more trained the person is, the lower his muscle catabolism will be, and therefore the lower his protein oxidation will be.
Protein intake will help the runner to repair and replace any damaged protein due to oxidative stress or mechanical damage in addition to remodeling adaptations produced by exercise and competition, as well as maintaining the optimal function of all the metabolic pathways of amino acids, which plays an essential role as intermediaries in the maintenance and increase in muscle mass. Furthermore, they contribute to optimal immune system functioning and physiological functions.
We should consume high biological value proteins such as meat in general, let it be red (beef, veal) or white (chicken, turkey, fish); and whole eggs, dairy products (depending on tolerances), legumes (lentils, chickpeas, beans) if we are on a meat-free diet. It is recommended that long-distance runners consume between 1,2g-1,6g/kg/d while non-active people should eat 0,8g/kg/d. This also will depend on the needs and exercise performance.
It is also important to note that in addition to the macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, proteins) our body uses, there are micronutrients divided into vitamins and minerals.
Within the vitamins are those with B complex, such as B12. These can be found in meat, fish, eggs, and milk; these vitamins contribute to the normal formation of red blood cells.
Among the minerals, we should mention iron, which tends to decrease in long-distance runners and can be found in meat, fish, and legumes.Lastly, water also plays a significant role during and after exercise, ensuring that sports performance is not negatively impacted, which I will detail in another opportunity.
To conclude, the above information provides a good understanding of the nutrients needed for runners to achieve their best performance. However, it is recommended that you consult with a professional specialized in sports nutrition who can accompany you during the preparation with the design of the nutrition and hydration plan tailored to individual needs and training.