By Andrea Cespedes/Livestrong.com: Distance runners have different nutritional needs than recreational exercisers. The rigors of running more than 25 miles per week, with some runs lasting well over 90 minutes, requires a lot of energy. Although distance runners burn a significant number of calories during workouts, they cannot eat just anything and expect to maintain their weight and optimize performance.
Distance runners need a diet high in carbohydrates to support their energy needs for training and races. The Institute of Medicine recommends consuming between 45 and 65 percent of daily calories from carbohydrates. A distance runner should aim for the 65 percent level at the very least, and may consume as much as 70 percent of calories from carbohydrates daily. Round out a daily meal plan with 15 to 20 percent protein and 10 to 15 percent fat.
IMPORTANCE OF CARBOHYDRATES
The body uses carbohydrates to make glucose, which provides the body with energy. The body stores some of the extra energy, or glucose, in the liver and in muscles as glycogen. When you engage in short periods of exercise — lasting 90 minutes or less — the body can use these glycogen energy stores. Exercising for longer periods of time, however, requires extra energy. A diet that regularly includes a higher amount of carbohydrates can slightly increase the stores of glycogen in your muscles, making you last a little longer during training or events.
The amount of calories you consume depends on your age, weight, gender and training regimen. A runner training about 20 to 25 miles per week, gearing up for a half-marathon race, needs an average of about 2,500 calories per day, says renowned running coach Hal Higdon. If you are completing more mileage weekly, you may need even more to maintain adequate glycogen stores.
TYPES OF FOOD
Quality carbohydrates should form the foundation of a distance runner’s meal plan. Whole grains like brown rice, oatmeal, whole-wheat pasta and breads, quinoa and barley provide fiber and optimal nutrition while offering the carbohydrates a runner needs. Fruits and starchy vegetables are other healthy sources of carbohydrates. Lean proteins, such as chicken breast, fish, beans and extra lean beef, help with muscle development and recovery. Unsaturated fats found in olive oil, avocados and nuts offer support for hormone production, healthy skin and hair and adequate vitamin absorption.
A 2,500-calorie distance runner’s meal plan could begin with a breakfast of a whole-grain bagel, measuring 4-½ inches across, topped with 2 tbsp. peanut butter, a medium banana and an 8 oz. glass of skim milk for 625 calories. As a pre-training snack, enjoy an energy bar for about 230 calories and during a 90-minute run drink 20 oz. of a sports drink for 120 calories. At lunch, have 1 cup of brown rice mixed with 1/2 cup of black beans, salsa and 1 oz. sliced avocado. Enjoy an apple for dessert to total 550 calories. A mid-afternoon snack might include 1 cup of plain, low-fat yogurt with a 150-calorie oat bran muffin for about 300 calories. At dinner, enjoy 4 oz. of broiled salmon with 2 cups of whole-wheat pasta tossed with a tsp. of olive oil, 1 tbsp. parmesan cheese and 1 cup of steamed broccoli. After dinner, enjoy two fig bar cookies for dessert to total 615 calories. This meal plan contains 2,460 calories with 65 percent carbohydrates, 16 percent protein and 19 percent fat.