Shiny Surendran, the city’s leading sports nutritionist, talks to Radhika Meganathan about what is important for runners to ensure adequate fuelling.

Shiny Surendran wears many hats. Not only is she a certified nutritionist and a published author, she also is the first Indian to be awarded Graduate Diploma in Sports Nutrition from International Olympic Committee, possesses a masters in food service management and is the Chairperson of the Website team of Indian Dietetic Association. Today, she speaks to The Finisher Mag about the kind of foods to eat and avoid when it comes to running

In your opinion, how does an avid runner err in terms of nutrition and eating habits?

I have often noticed that a group which runs together usually has a team breakfast post run. Sometimes with all the group energy, they might eat more than they have expended during the run! Portion control is a good thing to keep in mind if you’d like to maintain your peak running stats.

Some runners overeat carbs and not include enough protein. Another point to ponder is not getting adequate Magnesium and Omega 3 fats. These mistakes can be easily rectified by mindful awareness about nutrition, and more effectively, by consulting a nutritionist who will analyse your body type, health stats and suggest the best diet for you.

What is your recommended power foods for pre or post run?

A fruit milkshake such as apple / banana milkshake (use almond milk if you are lactose intolerant) is great for pre workout / post workout drink. For pre-/post-run meal, keep to complex carbs such as oats or Multi grain porridge mix, with fruits and/or nuts in it. Since most of our climate is tropical, watermelon and pomegranate juice are good for anti oxidants, aids recovery with phyto nutrients. And then there is the affordable and nature’s bounty coconut water which is excellent for hydration plus electrolytes.

What kind of food is best avoided by runners?

I’d have to say, fibre rich foods, raw salads, and sprout salad, especially before a run. Runners should also avoid legumes like peanuts, rajma, white channa, gas producing foods like cabbage. As a general nutritional guideline, athletes are recommended to avoid white sugar, maida, food with artificial colors and flavours. And I recommend avoiding fruit juice, ice cubes made from tap water, raw chutneys or raw salads if you are in a new city for a run. Chances of food poisoning or gastric infection is very high, so be on guard!

What is good for recovery nutrition?

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Hydration is very important to replace the salts lost and vital for recovery. I advise runners to drink at least 1 litre of sport drink after the run, especially if you live in a city which is hot and humid. In case you have high sweat loss, it is a good idea to include pickle, papad, and salty seafood dishes which have high levels of sodium.

Recent opinion is that low carb diets like paleo or keto are harmful for runners, since runners need carbs for fueling. Is this true? 

A former colleague and a fitness professional would eat a full south Indian meal 2 hours and run very well at long distance events. Somehow when he implemented the sport nutrition principles of eating 4 hours before the run, did not work well for him. The fullness / satiety helped him run well. He defied all principles of sport nutrition!

The reason I am mentioning this here is to stress that we are not all cut from the same cloth. Body types and their response to carbohydrate rich food are different. Our body has large amounts of fat which could be tapped for energy. People who are insulin sensitive can eat carbs in moderation but the ones with insulin resistance will benefit from Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) diets. This will have NO adverse affect on their running efficacy.

You mean, runners do not need carbs at all?

As I always say, everything in moderation. My stance is that carbs are not indispensable, nor is it a bad word. Do consult a certified nutritionist before changing your diet or training, and find out what kind of body type you have. People have varying levels of insulin resistance – the ones who really struggle to lose weight in spite of eating healthy complex carbs and good dose of protein and fibre – they will benefit a lot from LCHF diets. During off season they could try LCHF until they reach ideal weight and then before competition training, they can reload carbs moderately.

 Did you notice anything interesting while training runners or athletes? 

While working in YMCA sports medicine department, I observed physical education students drinking aerated drinks with glucose added to it for that extra boost of energy. Little did they realise, they would have sugar levels crashing after 20-30 minutes. I of course told them to avoid this type of stimulating drinks.

A recreational runner that I knew got severe stomach pain while running. She experimented and found better results with electrol than the commercial sports drinks. My brother’s friend would consume fermented rice mixed with buttermilk every morning and run marvelously well. He was the best runner in school. Simple carbs worked well for him. One needs to experiment to find what suits their body types.

 Can you give some nutrition tips for our runner readers?

  • My first tip would be to eat real food. Not the one that comes in plastic or dripping in additives/sauces, but the food that is closer to what has been made in your home for years. Freshly made, with local ingredients and love and care.
  • Experiment during non-competition days. Figure out what works to optimize your running. Create a template of foods that enhances your running. Stick to it.
  • Pure vegetarians (lacto vegetarians) should consider whey or plant protein options to pep up recovery and build muscle mass
  • Calcium, Magnesium, Iron and B complex, Omega 3 fats are very important. Eat lots of red- and green-coloured locally available greens, such as radish and turnip greens, agathi keerai, drumstick leaves (moringa leaves), spinach, manathakkali, etc which are all excellent source of Magnesium, calcium and iron. Especially if you are a vegetarian who does not eat much vegetables (sadly this is more common than you’d think, many vegetarians consume a lot of carbs at the expense of vegetables) you MUST pay attention to your daily meal plan.

Balance is the key. You don’t have to deny yourself your favorite stuff, just make sure you enjoy all foods in moderation. Do not ape latest trends!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Radhika Meganathan is a published author who is an advocate for healthy living, she practices sugar-free intermittent fasting, all-terrain rambling and weight training.

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