A proper running diet will help you boost performance, prevent electrolytes imbalances and hydration, increase energy, fix GI distress issues, and optimize recovery so you are reaching your running best.
There is no way around it.
With that said, it pains me to say that I see runners make some serious diet mistakes that end up costing them a lot, compromising their training effectiveness and results—for both the short term and long term.
In fact, for many a runner, nutrition is the missing link in their training.
So what are these mistakes? And how can you fix them?
Read on for the answers…
1. Not Eating Enough
This is a common mistake that most weight-conscious runners make.
Depriving yourself out of vital nutrients can actually undermine your progress. That’s why you got to be careful here—especially if you are serious about losing weight the HEALTHY way.
Truth be told, you’ll be setting yourself for failure by going for over-the-border and unrealistic calorie goals.
I strongly urge to eat appropriate size portions of healthy food. As long as you are eating healthy, and not starving yourself from the good stuff—mainly vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, and some fruits—then you are in a in the right place.
As a result, aim for at least 1800 calories per day if you are a man and 1500 calories a day for a woman. Feel free to skip this rule on hard training days—when the needs for more nutrients are much higher than normal.
As a general guideline, aim to lose no more than two pounds per week. Weigh yourself on a weekly basis to keep your body weight in check and never let things get out of control.
2. Eating Whatever you Want
This is the other side of the coin. Some runners overestimate the number of calories they burn while running while underestimating the amount they consume.
And what makes it more dangerous is that most don’t even know that they are making it. It’s really easy to lose balance and perspective here.
Just because you are a runner and running for miles and miles every day does not give you the license to eat everything under the sun.
As a result, be aware of your eating habits and learn to recognize telltale satiety signals so you won’t end up overeating.
Of course, feel free to have your treats every now and then, but don’t let it get out of control. Instead, plan for it. Have a cheat meal—or a couple of meals—per week, but do your best to have every other meal under control.
In other words, practice the 90/10 rule, by which you do your best to healthy and clean for 90 percent of the time while dedicating 10 percent to cheat meals and occasional indulges.
What’s more? Get a better estimate of your daily calorie burn with a GPS watch or an online calculator to keep tabs on your calorie burn, body weight, training intensity and other valuable stats.
3. Not Enough Protein
Just because you are a runner and not a bodybuilder does not mean that you should skimp on protein.
In fact, as a runner, you might need more protein than a strength training buff. Protein is an integral part of any diet. It can help keep feeling full for longer, speed up recovery from running and ensure optimal health.
To consume enough protein, and to avoid muscle loss, aim for at least one to 1.5 gram of protein per pound of body weight—even more if you need more.
How can you do this? It’s actually quite simple: Aim for at least 15 to 20 grams of protein every time you eat.
Some of the best sources of protein include lean meats, such as poultry and fish, eggs, milk, yogurt and almonds and nuts.
4. Addicted to Sports Nutrition
Sports nutrition—things like sports drinks, gels, chews, mid-workout snacks and other grab-n-go snacks—has its place in a running program, especially if you are doing any sort of long distance running.
Also, eating too many energy bars can lead to all sort of nutrition imbalances.
As you already know, whole foods are always the better option. And when you substitute whole and natural foods with the processed stuff, you end up sacrificing vital nutrients such as vitamins, carotenoids, fiber, and other key ingredients found in natural food such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
First of all, know when you’ve to go for those snacks.
For instance, for short runs—anything less than 50 to 60 minutes—there is no need for sports drinks and gels, so skip them. All you need is water.
On the other hand, if you are planning on going for longer—a long run for instance—then aim to consume 40 to 50 grams of carbohydrates—that’s the equivalent of a 16 to 32 ounce of sports drink or one or two energy gels—per hour of exercise.
Next, never consider energy bars as a meal replacement. Instead, be sure to eat high-quality foods, such as veggies, lean protein and fruits, and also drink plenty of water to keep your body well hydrated.
Also, go for energy bars made with whole foods whenever you are opting for an energy bar. Some of the best products include:
5. Running Away from Fats
If you are in the habit of skimping on fat, then you are doing yourself a big disservice.
Get this: Eating fats won’t necessarily make you fat any more than eating money will make you rich, period.
Au contraire, skimping on might backfire and hinder your progress. So be careful here.
Why are fats important?
This essential ingredient help the body absorb vitamins like A, D, and K. Also, fats can help control hunger since they take longer to digest than carbs and protein. This regulates blood sugar levels and keeps hunger pangs at bay.
Not only that, the healthy fats reduce cholesterol level, aid digestion and regulate metabolism.
Here is what you need to do here to get the most out of fats:
First of all, get rid of the saturated fats—the type of fats found in cheese, butter and meat. To avoid like the plague.
Also, make sure to limit saturated fats—typically found in dairy and meats.
Instead, eat plenty of mono-and polyunsaturated fats—found in avocados, fish, nuts, olive oil, and seeds. The good fats protect your heart and promote satiety.
Make sure that fats make up at least 20 to 25 percent of your daily calorie intake, aiming to consume roughly a half gram of healthy fats per pound of body weight per day.
6. Ignoring Post-run Fuel
This is one of those mistakes that can really affect your performance and health.
Post run nutrition is vital; ignoring it will only hinder your progress and results. Eating during the recovery window—the 30- to 45-minute following a run—is crucial because during that time your body is in its most receptive state for energy and the nutrients needed for replenishment and recovery.
Therefore, if you skip post workout eating, your muscles won’t get the needed stuff to repair and build after a run.
The key here is simple: Plan ahead.
Make sure to have your post-run recovery snacks and meals ready beforehand—so you won’t have to think twice about what to eat immediately following a workout—especially when in a time crunch.
Make sure to eat within the 30 to 45 minutes window, aiming for something loaded with carbs and protein to replenish your muscle and hold off hunger and unhealthy snacking later on.
Depending on your preference and personal goals, go for a 3-to-1 or 4-to-1 ratio of carbs to protein.
If you don’t have the stomach for solid food following exercise (which is the case for some of us), then go for liquid options, then have a solid meal later. My favorites chocolate milk, or a smoothie with a protein shake.
7. Running on Empty
This is not a big deal as some experts might suggest, but, all the same, if your running performance is suffering because you are running on empty, then you shouldn’t treat this lightly.
Having a pre-run meal or snack can help fuel your body with the needed energy for a workout.
The good news is that you don’t need a lot of food to make the most out of pre-run nutrition.
Here is how to proceed (with no fail):
If you are planning to go on a short easy run—30 minutes or less—then feel free to skip a pre-run snack.
On the other hand, for quality workouts and long runs, shoot for at least a 100 to 200-calorie snack roughly an hour to 90-minute before you head out the door.
Some of my best recommendation include a piece of fruit—in fact, a banana is perfect—a slice of toast with a spread of peanut butter, a smoothie, or a cup of yogurt.
8. Not Drinking Enough Water
There is a fact that no one can deny: runners who stay well hydrated can run harder, perform better, and have an awesome and enjoyable time doing it.
As you already know, water is essential to almost every bodily function. In fact, a mere 2 percent drop in body weight in fluid can drastically reduce your power and athletic performance.
Plus, dehydration can also force the heart to work much harder and can result in needless fatigue and
I can go on and on about the dangers of dehydration, but I think you get it here.
Dehydration is baaaaad…end of the story.
Therefore, if you usually don’t drink much throughout the day, then you are, without a doubt, setting the stage for dehydration, leading to a plethora of performance and health issues.
Keep your body well hydrated throughout the day.
How much water you need is a tricky question to answer. But as a general guideline, aim to drink plenty of water during the day, shooting for more than 100 to 125 ounces of fluid, from all beverages and foods.
Also, drink 4 to 8 ounces of water right before you start to ensure that you are well hydrated for your run.
If you are planning on a long run—anything more than 45 minutes, then drink on the run. Aim for at least 6 to 8 ounces of fluid every 10 to 15 minutes during your long runs.
What’s more? To better measure your dehydration level, start monitoring changes in your body weight regularly before and after hard runs. For every pound, you lose, aim to replace it and drink at least 16 ounces of fluid.
9. Rushing Results
In my opinion, the biggest mistake you can make when it comes to trying to achieve success with your diet—or in any other area of life—is rushing results.
Truth be told, change takes time, and when you are trying to change something that’s hard and tricky like a nutrition plan, you’ll have to be patient.
Every runner is different and responds differently to different diets and nutrition plans. As a result, the secret to success boils down to you EXPERIMENTING with different methods—and this takes time.
And if you are still looking for a silver bullet that will be the all-answer to your diet prayers, then stop looking for it. It does not exist.
Start with the basics. First of all, aim to eat clean and natural most of the time.
Next, take your time as much as you can, experiment with different foods and diet plans, evaluate each plan for its short term and long term benefits and try finding what works the best for you regarding performance and enjoyment.
Go slow and go small. Make small changes, one at a time. Try to develop a post-run eating strategy, for example. Eat more protein. Drink more water. Don’t skip breakfast, etc. It’s not sexy, but it works.
Therefore, build your diet habits slowly and gradually. Start with one thing, for instance, post workout nutrition, then build on that.
Realize that you are in it for the long haul and that every worthwhile change is worth the effort and may take a lot of time to become second nature.
Featured Image Credit – Chris Hunkeler via Flickr