By Brandon Pollock PhD, ACSM-EP-C
When it comes to training for long distance running, two of the most important habits you need to develop are getting regular exercise and consuming a proper diet. You need to make sure you are getting a healthy balance of exercise and food, and of course, plenty of sleep. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) states that physical activity, athletic performance, and recovery from exercise are all enhanced by optimal nutrition. As knowledge and practice of sports nutrition increases, there is a greater appreciation of the fact that all athletes have different nutritional needs. In addition to nutritional guidelines provided by ACSM, this diet plan is tailored with recommendations provided by myself and two other experienced/ well-trained endurance athletes. It’s for anyone that wishes to, or currently is, training to compete in a long distance race.
According to ACSM, during your training, energy and macronutrient needs must be met during times of high physical activity. This ensures body weight is properly maintained, glycogen stores are adequately replenished, and enough protein is available for tissue to repair and build. Along with what you eat, when you eat is just as important. Proper food and fluid should be consumed before, during, and following exercise to help maintain blood glucose concentration and maximize exercise performance. Consuming a healthy diet will also shorten your recovery time. When choosing what to drink, for short workouts consuming water is fine, but sports beverages containing carbohydrates and electrolytes should be consumed before, during and after any exercise bouts longer than one hour. This will provide muscles fuel and decrease risk of dehydration and hyponatremia. Vitamin, mineral, and other exercise supplements should be consumed only if you are unable to get them through proper diet.
Keys points for energy, nutrient, and fluid recommendations for active adults/ competitive athletes:
- During periods of high intensity/ long distance training; Consume adequate energy (nutrients) to prevent muscle/ bone atrophy, menstrual dysfunction, injury and illness.
- Do not weigh yourself or receive body composition assessments daily. This can be discouraging, change takes time.
- Carbohydrate intake: 6 – 10 grams / kilogram body weight
- Protein intake: 1.2 – 1.7 grams / kilogram body weight
- Fat intake: 20 – 35% total energy intake
How many calories? What can I eat?
How many calories you need are based off factors such as your body weight and activity level, and can be more specifically tailored through a comprehensive nutrition assessment provided by a qualified sports dietitian. On the other hand, where you get your calories from can be somewhat personal preference. When I am training, I like to remember what my Dad told me; “Anything in excess is bad”. Try to get a good balance from all food groups and keep all things in moderation. Eliminating one or more food groups from your diet, or consuming an unbalanced diet, may require supplementation, which is costly. Here are some foods that let you get the most out of what you eat: fresh fruits and veggies, spinach, lean meat, yogurt, whole grain cereal, whole wheat bread, cottage cheese, almonds and avocados. Remember, training for this level of competition is demanding on your body, in addition to proper diet and exercise, remember to get plenty of rest.
Before starting any exercise/nutrition regimen consult with your physician/registered dietitian.
American College of Sports Medicine: Joint Position Statement. (2009) Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 41(3) 709-731
Burke, L. (2007) Practical Sports Nutrition. United States: Human Kinetics (1st edition).
Carnes, A. & Burns, K. Kent State University.