Everyone needs to consume a wide range of nutrients to maintain a healthy body. That’s especially true for runners, because running adds an additional level of stress to the system. Getting the right nutrients is imperative to not only helping you run better, but also feeling strong and healthy in your day-to-day life.
It’s generally better to get all your nutrients, including vitamins and minerals, from real food as opposed to taking supplements in powder or pill form. Unprocessed foods deliver beneficial nutrients more easily to your body’s various systems. Real food is also less expensive than powders and supplements. Even so, runners with dietary restrictions may want to use supplements to make sure they’re covering all their nutritional bases.
Here’s a closer look at the specific nutrients that are vital to keeping runners healthy.
What’s a Nutrient?
Nutrients include carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Nutritionists and dieticians refer to carbohydrates, proteins, and fats as “macronutrients” because they’re the main sources of fuel for the body. Vitamins and minerals are classified as “micronutrients” because, while also important, they’re required in smaller quantities.
These are the major nutrients that the body needs. Here’s a look at why they’re important for runners.
Carbohydrates break down into glucose, and glucose is what your body uses for energy (which is why energy foods, like gels and chews, mostly deliver carbohydrates over other macronutrients). Simple carbohydrates are the easiest for your body to break down, which is why simple carbs are recommended as pre-running fuel. Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, take longer to digest. Your body needs both. If you don’t have enough carbohydrate stores, your body starts burning fat and protein, which can lead to injuries and other health problems.
Sources of simple carbohydrates: plain breads, bananas, dried fruit
Sources of complex carbohydrates: whole wheat or whole grain breads, brown rice, legumes
Healthy fats—monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, including omega-3 fatty acids—lubricate your joints and help your body absorb other essential nutrients. Fat also helps you feel satiated, and can help you recover—those same omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to reducing inflammation. Even runners looking to lose weight should keep some fat in their diets for a healthy balance.
Sources of fats: nuts and seeds, olive oil, avocados
Protein is what your body uses to build and repair muscle—that’s why it’s important to ingest protein following your runs, especially after particularly long or hard efforts. It’s also important to consume some protein throughout the day to constantly support your tissues, keep cells healthy and build new ones, and maintain energy levels. Protein powders and pre-mixed recovery drinks can be an effective way to ingest protein post-run; they also tend to contain beneficial micronutrients. Powders will be either made of whey protein (animal-based), or soy protein (plant-based).
Sources of protein: meat, fish, beans