When people think of the nutritional needs for running, they tend to think first of carbo-loading – taking on board vast supplies of carbs to fuel the muscles during long runs.
Simply focusing on carbs, however, ignores the wider dietary needs of running, and can leave you deficient in key nutrients. Like any sport, running places a variety of demands on the body, and focusing too much on one part of that is unhelpful.
If you are running regularly, you need to adjust your diet to be sure you are eating enough, but also look to be sure that you have a good mix of carbs, protein and fat. All three are essential for good health and maximum performance.
The best sources of carbs are fresh fruit and vegetables, and whole grains. Be careful with sugary foods – just because you are running regularly doesn’t mean you can eat what you want. While a little sugar in moderation is fine, sugar provides nutritionally empty calories and won’t benefit your performance, so keep it to a minimum.
Protein is also essential for runners. Every time you run you cause minor trauma in the muscles – it is essential to repair that damage if you are to progress with your training. The fuel your body needs to repair itself is protein – protein contains the amino acids your body needs to maintain and grow muscles. You can get protein from meat, fish, dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese), and nuts and beans. If you don’t gat enough protein (which is common for vegans and vegetarians) then a whey protein supplement is a good source of protein.
Finally you need some fat in your diet. Although runners want to stay lean, fat is an essential part of anyone’s diet, and around 25-30% of your daily calories should come from fat.