When we say sport and fitness is at the heart of everything we do here at U Perform, we don’t just say it; we live it! And that’s why we are proudly celebrating the return of Saturday morning Parkrun events across the UK and the return of fun, friendly and accessible sporting events for everyone.
Because it has been absent for so long, we know that for a lot of you, getting back into the swing of things again, or perhaps after a bit of a break from running; might be cause of worry and not to mention that end of lockdown anxiety that lots of you may be feeling too.
We welcome the return of sporting events in all their glory and sincerely hope that this is enough to put to bed that anxiety you may be feeling about large crowds. But one thing that will always be a challenge for runners of all ability levels is… NUTRITION.
Nutrition for running is one of the biggest barriers for runners of all ages and ability levels. This is quite simply, the food and drink we consume every day to fuel our daily activities, in and out of sport. Which you would think is pretty simple right? WRONG.
And because of that, everyone has an opinion about NUTRITION and DIET. Which makes perfect sense, as the food we eat is what keeps us alive after all! For those wondering why we have separated nutrition and diet here, this is actually because they are two very different things contrary to way many people use these terms interchangeably.
To clear things up then… DIET is the food we choose to eat, and this is different for everybody for so many reasons.
NUTRITION is what that food is made up of when you break it down into its component parts.
What they do have in common though, is that fuelling correctly is always going to be a game of checks and balances. But no matter what your fitness level is, or how far or how hard you run, not fuelling correctly for every step of the run can be the difference between getting the absolute best out of our minds and bodies on your runs and it not being a very comfortable or enjoyable experience at all. After all, fitness is meant to be fun, right!
Everyone has an opinion about nutrition for running. But there is a massive difference between what you hear on the start line of a Parkrun and what is actually sound scientific advice. And it’s not just in the real world where false or misleading information prevails. That’s right… we’re looking at you social media! For all the good that social media can and does do for us every single day; it’s not short of some bad.
It is our mission to educate and empower our U Perform family with only the very best information and advice and this week’s entry into the U Perform blog aims to do just that.
In this blog post, we will highlight some of the most common nutrition mistakes made by every runner and leave you with 5 easy-to-follow nutrition tips that you can trust and that are suitable for runners of all ages and fitness levels.
Nutrition, and especially sport-specific nutrition is incredibly complex and there isn’t one ‘fix-all’ solution to improving recovery and performance.
That’s why we are taking a deep dive into the three main areas of sports nutrition to show just how mistakes are made when addressing these areas. The 3 being:
P is for Protein AND Performance as you simply cannot have one without the other. Unfortunately, protein is sometimes used a bit like a swear word in some beginner fitness or endurance sport communities. And this is simply out of fear that if you consume protein you will turn into Dwayne Johnson… although would you really complain if that did happen?
On the other hand, there are a lot of runners out there who spend an awful lot of time stressing that they simply can’t get enough protein to meet their body’s needs.
Protein is considered as one of the most if not the most essential nutrient for the human body and with roughly 80% of our muscles for example, comprising of some form of protein, you can understand why it is so important for athletic performance.
When we exercise, we damage our body – in a good way of course. We damage muscle fibres in particular by creating micro tears in the soft tissue fibres when we subject them to the contractions, relaxations and strain of exercise. This is supposed to happen in case you were worried, to stimulate those broken muscle fibres to recover, repair and rebuild stronger than they were before.
The saying ‘The pain you feel today, will be the strength you feel tomorrow’ is the perfect metaphor to help describe this adaptation process.
Protein therefore plays a critical role in our body’s response to exercise and should always be included in your post-workout nutrition routine. This is because protein is what is considered an ‘essential nutrient’. Essential by the exact meaning of the word but also because the human body can’t just make it on its own.
We need to consume both the correct quantity and quality of protein in our diet to give our body the building blocks it needs to facilitate adaptation.
As a rough guide, you should aim for roughly 0.4g/kg body weight as protein in your post-workout snack but around 1.5g/kg body weight for the whole day.
What’s important to note is that your body will struggle to process more than about 30 – 40g of protein in one sitting, which is why spreading out your protein requirements throughout the day so that your body has a constant and ready supply of the necessary amino acids to facilitate repair and rebuild of muscles.
If you are out and about and on the move quite a lot, one quick and easy way to kick-start your recovery process and top up your protein levels, is through a protein supplement product like a shake or bar for example.
U Perform’s active whey & collagen is a truly unique blend of whey protein & Bioactive Collagen Peptides®; offering premium quality, enhanced functionality, and maximum performance.
Active whey & collagen is scientifically formulated to increase protein synthesis and muscle growth, speed up recovery and reduce injury risk.
It’s very well known that carbohydrates are the body’s primary fuel source and are also fundamentally crucial when it comes to endurance exercise performance and are also critical in optimising the function of the immune system of physically active people.
But even after all that, it still doesn’t stop so many out there misunderstanding their importance, how much they actually need every day as well as the dangers of under-fuelling.
And when we say crucial, we mean as a way to fuel our body ready to perform before, during and after exercise. Everyone is different and will respond differently to carbohydrate intake but as a general rule of thumb we are looking at roughly 5g/kg body weight for someone who may be running upwards of 60mins on any given day. With this figure increasing exponentially for those completing longer and of course multiple running workouts.
If you are running for 30 minutes or less, taking on fuel during is probably unnecessary whereas if you are running an hour or even 90 minutes or more, fuelling should definitely your number one priority. And then of course we are looking at the 30 minutes to an hour immediately post exercise as the very best time to kick-start that recovery process.
It is highly unlikely that if you are training regularly that your natural glycogen stores will be full. (Glycogen is how carbohydrates are stored in the muscles and is easily broken down into something called ATP which is the body’s primary energy source). As a result, and just like we should do with protein, we recommend that you consume enough quality carbohydrates at every meal or with snacks throughout the day.
The last thing you want to do is devour an enormous meal before heading out for your run and likewise you don’t want to perform fasted exercise too often either as this puts a lot of unwanted stress on your body such as a weakened immune system, higher risk of injury and illness and also a down regulation of key hormones. In the long term these will actually negatively impact your performance more than positive boosts fasted training can bring.
You should try to include a good variety of nutrient rich carbohydrate sources with every meal or snack. Things like whole grains, oats, potatoes and even some fruit or yoghurts. One thing that sometimes trips people up is using vegetables as a source of carbohydrates. Whilst there is a carbohydrate content in vegetables it is certainly not a majority share. So, avoid using vegetables to replace other better sources of carbohydrates such as pasta, rice and other grains.
We know what you are thinking… SUGAR!!! Really. Yes really. Sugar is something that we are all concerned about and quite rightly so but used correctly, sugar can actually be incredibly beneficial for runners both in training and of course competition when you are looking for a quick acting boost to energy levels and performance.
When we are running, the body is under a lot of stress and the action of running can also cause a lot of distress for our gut and immune system if we try and consume large amounts or simply just dense food.
Our body therefore needs a source of carbohydrates that is quick and easy to digest and allows us to continuously top up our glycogen stores as we run. Think half marathon and even full marathon; you are going to be running for a considerable length of time and to maintain your target pace you are going to need to fuel your body to do that.
Sports specific energy gels are the first thing that spring to mind but let’s not forget that bananas for example are a great source of both simple sugars and complex carbohydrates too. Jelly babies are a personal favourite of ours and work out considerably cheaper than energy gels for example.
So what do you know, turns out sugar can be good for you after all!
Now before you go, we have compiled our top running nutrition tips to help you in training and on race day too. Check it out below…
Our Top 5 nutrition tips to improve your running performance and recovery:
- Kickstart your recovery! Exactly that. Kickstart your recovery as soon as you can. More recent studies have suggested that not hitting the traditional 30 minute ‘anabolic window’ isn’t the be all and end all. Instead opting for a more leisurely 2-hour window to consume the necessary nutrients to facilitate repair. Try also getting a good source of carbohydrates into your post-workout nutrition too. A mixture of complex and simple sugars will raise your insulin levels and allow carbohydrates and most importantly protein to be drawn into the muscles to start the recovery process.
- Find what works for you and YOU only! It’s all well and good copying what your best friend or running buddy does. A bowl of porridge for every meal might work great for them. But it probably won’t for you. Find what fuels YOU and stick to it but never forget to experiment a little too.
- Beware the fad diet! We’ve all been there. Willing to try anything to improve our performance and recovery. But focus on the big 3 first (we’ve just talked about those so you should be covered) and master your training. These are your fundamental building blocks and should be priority number one and will make the biggest difference to your running times and enjoyment.
- Practice makes perfect! If you are stepping up to be a bit more competitive in your running or perhaps taking on longer distances, then practicing your nutrition AND hydration strategy in training is a must. It can be tempting to just turn up on race day and hit each aid station hoping for the best. Our body whether you realise it or not, is a highly tuned and complex machine that is very sensitive to even the smallest of changes. And will be especially so when you are already under a lot of strain on your run.
- Please sir, can I have some more? A little movie reference there for you to hammer home just how important eating enough and fuelling correctly for you really is. Take all the learnings from the tips above and be consistent with your nutrition just like you should be with your training plan. Consistency = Progression and who doesn’t like the sound of that. Not many people get to wake up each day confident that they are better than they were yesterday.
Thanks for checking out the U Perform blog this week. Don’t forget to leave a comment if you have any questions or want to share your top tips with us. Share this with a friend or running buddy who you know would benefit from reading this. The U Perform family loves sharing ideas and encouraging each other.