The goal for every runner is to become faster and fitter. As a runner myself, I am constantly trying to chip away seconds off of my mile personal best, and with hard work and a determined mindset, improvement will indefinitely follow.
However, in order to reach optimal performance levels, it is fundamentally important that runners are supplying themselves with nutrient-dense foods that enhance strength and augment endurance. In addition to feeding our bodies with powerhouse foods, I argue that it is even more important that we runners remove foods that demote stamina and impair muscular regeneration.
Common misconceptions about calories
The most common ideology regarding nutrition and running can be pinpointed to two major directives: (1) It doesn't matter what you eat, just get calories in because you’ve been training really hard, and (2) eat lots of carbs because runners need carbs for fuel.
Sorry to be the one to inform you, but pretty much everything you’ve been told about nutrition and its impact on running is wrong. The erroneous line of thinking that only attributes the quantity of food rather than the quality of food to running performance is misleading runners to a place where their maximum athletic potential will be unfounded.
The truth is that pasta, donuts, potato chips, and chocolate milk are adding seconds to your race times by paralyzing your body from performing at its finest.
Let’s take a closer look at the nutritional worldview that has been regurgitated by the running community for the past 60+ years.
Not all carbs are created equal
Runners are repeatedly told to carb-load prior to a big race or workout because carbs are “fuel for your muscles”. This mantra prompts runners to overeat foods that are debilitating athletic potential. This isn’t an all-out assault on carbohydrates but rather a caution to avoid ultra-processed carbohydrates that impair immune function, vandalize vital organs, and obstruct muscle recovery.
The carbohydrates that comprise a classic pre-race meal- pasta with garlic bread and cookies- are metabolically cheap compared to a meal featuring whole, unaltered carbohydrates. By metabolically cheap, I mean that the nutrient density of ultra-processed carbohydrates is nearly worthless. Yes, the meal mentioned does contain a plethora of carbohydrates.
However, the benefits of eating 200 grams of ultra-processed carbohydrates are insignificant and the negative consequences are extremely significant.
Ultra-processed carbohydrates are derived from whole foods but through the refinement process (typically to prolong shelf life), any valuable nutrient that was found in the whole food is stripped from the end product.
Furthermore, additives such as preservatives, food coloring, and synthetic vitamins are then joined into these products and then labeled and marketed to appear as real food. Our minds may be convinced by these enticing marketing strategies, but our bodies recognize these products as wolves in sheep’s clothing.
The physiological response that occurs when we consume ultra-processed foods should be concerning to anyone - especially runners who want to prime their bodies for athletic success.
Just because you’re a runner and burn a lot of calories doesn’t mean that eating these foods won’t affect your long and short term health.
Numerous studies attribute the consumption of highly-processed foods with increased chances of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. And before you say, “Yeah right, that won’t happen to me, I’m active and fit! ” It’s important to note that no matter how many miles you’ve put in, the damage from a poor diet will inevitably consequent in underperformance and chronic disease.
Health isn't defined by age
Many often associate unhealthy foods with onset heart-attacks when you get old. While this association is fairly accurate, it also delays the repercussions of unhealthy habits into the “one-day” category as if one morning you’ll wake up with chronic heart disease.
Chronic diseases take years to develop and transpire so what seems like a sudden heart attack, is often caused by years of unhealthy dietary habits that lead to a disease state. With that being said, what you eat today affects tomorrow’s health and athletic performance.
If you eat a McDonald’s Big Mac today, your next physical exercise output will be stunted by the corrupt food-like substances that constitute a Big Mac.
The micro nutritional decisions we make on a daily basis may seem insignificant when we’re prioritizing getting miles in on the track, roads, or trails. Nevertheless, the foods we consume compound and result in either negative or positive health consequences.
It’s essential that success-seeking runners renounce ultra-processed foods that down-regulate endurance and tarnish muscular energy while welcoming nutrient-rich foods that initiate the body to expand aerobic endurance and increase muscular potential.