Elite runners have perfected the optimal diet to ensure the best running performance, writes Nandini Reddy.
Eating like an elite runner doesn’t mean you have to be on a special diet. Although several experts and websites will tell you that they eat special food, in most cases they would be eating local cuisine and nothing exotic. A recent research also found that very few elite runners are on a special diet.
You are more likely to find world class runners eating a normal diet. Their experience helps them determine which foods work to improve their performance and which foods to avoid. If you look at the diet of African runners you will find that they eat a lot of cornmeal and European runners do not eat any corn. But that doesn’t mean cornmeal is ideal for all runners. Japanese runners eat more fish. Essentially this means that eating like the elite means eating right for your body and not only a certain type of food.
Instead of trying to copy and elite runners exact diet, you need to learn a few best practices that they use to ensure that their body is at peak performance. Here are a few guidelines
Eat the Food Pyramid
There are six categories of food you need to eat including protein, vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains and diary. Based on where you come from these options can be combined any way possible. An elite runner would ideally include all these meals in their diet everyday. Proteins and vegetables with whole grains are the most important inclusions in every meal. Do not eliminate any category unless it is based on medical advice.
Focus on Quality of Food
You can get the same category of foods in the natural or processed format. If you are eating refined and processed foods then you are not getting the right kind of nutrition. Elite athletes keep the consumption of these kind of foods to the minimum. You need to ensure that you never fall into the trap of ‘any food works’. All foods are not equal so it is important to have a high quality diet.
Don’t avoid Carbs
New runners tend to lower their carb intake and up their protein intake as a way to get higher performance. But this is an erroneous move. In fact lower your carbs will reduce your energy and could also have the affect of making you feel fatigued. Carbohydrate intake has a clear connection with endurance performance as established by Ahlborg in the 1960s. When you reduce carb intake there is a greater stress on your body and your performance will dip. This has been studied across various runners and research doesn’t recommend that you go for a low carb diet. You can get the right carbs from whole grains and high quality foods instead of opting for bad carbs from fast foods and refined foods.
Fill your Stomach
You cannot perform on an elite level on an empty or half-full stomach. Cutting calories will drastically reduce your running performance. This means along with high quality food you also need to eat enough quantity. It is fine to eat a bit extra rather than pinching the calories and ending up being fatigued. Less calories doesn’t mean you will become a lean running machine. You might end up damaging your running career and health. If you want to judge the right quantity for yourself ensure that you are eating enough at first to fuel your runs. After that you can adjust the quantity if you feel it is excessive and affecting your running weight.
Personalize your Diet
Diet history, food preferences, regional food habits and body’s fuel needs should dictate your diet. It is important to personalize your diet because there is not diet that follows the one size fits all. Every individual needs to eat according to their body, needs and normal diet history. A few runners may eat wheat, a few may be vegetarian or vegan and a few might like sugary treats.
If you are getting advice to eat Paleo diets or gluten free diets then it might just be a fad and nothing more because the elites follow a simple diet of local produce and foods instead of exotic diets.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
An irregular runner who has run in dry, wet, high altitude and humid conditions. Loves to write a little more than run so now is the managing editor of Finisher Magazine.