Whether you're running to keep fit, training for a marathon or just looking to tone up, exercise and running can dramatically change our bodies.
This is why it's important to properly fuel before a big run and refuel afterwards, particularly for muscle repair, hydration and energy levels.
"When you begin exercising regularly, your body undergoes several physiological and neuromuscular changes, and the changes will vary according to the frequency, duration and intensity of your training program," Robbie Clark, dietitian and sports nutritionist, told The Huffington Post Australia.
According to Clark, one of these changes can occur in the muscle fibres.
"Our body has two different types of muscle fibres: fast-twitch for anaerobic or sprint-type activity, and slow-twitch for endurance activity," he explained. "Training for speed and power develops and maximises the fast-twitch fibres, while training for endurance develops and maximises the slow-twitch fibres.
"It's important to note that these changes take time (usually four to eight weeks) and all beneficial adaptations will disappear when you stop training."
The changes happening in our body when we run frequently, or we start running more, include:
- Improved cardiovascular fitness -- blood is pumped around body more effectively;
- Fat loss may occur as we are using energy stored in fat for running energy;
- Increased muscle breakdown, wear and tear;
- Increased muscle mass, if fuelling correctly;
- Dehydration and changes to electrolyte balance;
- Improved mood due to increased endorphins ('runner's high');
- Knee/joint pain from repeated impact on hard surfaces
"Training also causes major changes in your muscles," Clark said. "During exercise, muscle oxygen consumption increases up to 70 times above resting values. This enables more oxygen, nutrients and hormones to be delivered to the muscles, and allows for better removal of heat.
"Aerobic (endurance) training also increases the muscles' ability to use oxygen to produce movement and improves their ability to store glycogen."
So, although it might seem like the only things you feel after a big run are sore muscles and a red face, the changes occurring in the body are significant, which is why it's important to make sure we eat properly to help support these changes.
"Selecting foods which offer a high nutrient density is important, as strenuous exercise takes a toll on the body," celebrity nutritionist Zoe Bingley-Pullin told HuffPost Australia.
"One of the clear-cut ways to do this is looking for colour. Colourful foods are naturally rich in antioxidants such as sweet potato, strawberries, berries, purple cabbage, capsicum, leafy greens, tomatoes and carrots."
Increasing your energy (calorie) intake is also crucial to keep up with the amount of energy burned off while running.
"The most important thing to recognise is that as your training (running) distance increases, so do your calorie needs, especially calories from carbohydrates," Clark said.
"Depending on the frequency and intensity of the training, and the distance covered, runners require approximately 5-10 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight during training and closer to the upper end of this range before long runs.
"The reason for the requirement of high amounts of carbohydrates is to saturate the muscles with glycogen, the storage form of carbohydrate that fuels endurance exercise. The regular training diet should be at least 55 percent carbohydrate during daily training and 55 percent to 65 percent before an endurance event or long training run."
The choice of carbohydrates, however, is important. (You guessed it, doughnuts and croissants are not the ideal type of carbs.)
"When talking carbs, opting for whole grains which are rich in minerals and vitamins, especially B-vitamins for energy, is the way to go," Bingley-Pullin said. "Good options include brown rice, wild rice, red quinoa, barley and brown rice noodles."
As running -- particularly long distance running -- is strenuous on your muscles and bones, Clark recommends to help reduce inflammation through diet.
"The more frequent your training, in addition to longer distances, the more likely your body will experience inflammation due to the repetitive nature of running and damage to your musculoskeletal system," he told HuffPost Australia.
"Runners should try to increase their consumption of oily fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, swordfish and anchovies due to the inflammation-fighting properties of omega-3 fatty acids, which help alleviate muscle soreness and boost immunity. An alternative is to consume a high quality fish oil supplement."
Hydration is also key in helping to both fuel and re-fuel your body when running.
"Hydration is one of the most important components of a runner's diet," Clark said. "Staying well hydrated is going to help your body's performance, as well as reduce your risk of muscle cramping during and after your run or competition."
The reason why hydration is crucial is because as we sweat, our body loses important electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium.
"If you are prone to sweating heavily then your body may lose greater amounts of electrolytes," Clark said. "Adding electrolytes to your water or consuming a beverage with added electrolytes may be beneficial when you are on your longer runs -- for example, greater than 60 minutes."
So, it's leading up to the big day -- maybe you're going to run the marathon, or perhaps you're about to run your biggest distance to date. Here's what you need to do to help you fuel correctly, avoid intense hunger pangs and help you achieve body composition goals.
- Maintain adequate hydration leading up to the event/exercise session;
- Eat consistently during the days leading up to the event and ensure sufficient calorie intake is maintained;
- Stick to clean and lean foods avoiding excess salt, refined sugars and preservatives;
- Focus your diet around complex carbohydrates (e.g. whole grain bread, rice, sweet potato, quinoa, etc.) to build up a glycogen supply to tap into during the event;
- Avoid heavy fatty foods which may cause feelings of being weighed down
On the day
"The time of an event or when you choose to do your training runs will dictate how much you eat and at what time," Clark told HuffPost Australia.
"Most races or events are conducted in the morning, so it doesn't make sense to sacrifice sleep in order to eat and digest a full meal, which would usually take 2-4 hours. However, you should aim to eat a light carbohydrate-based snack 1-2 hours before competing (or training, if you train early in the morning) to top up the body's glycogen stores."
Clark recommends opting for low fibre meals and snacks to help prevent stomach upset or discomfort.
"Easy to digest options include toast or crumpets with jam or honey, a protein shake, small bowl of cereal, or yoghurt and fruit," he said. "For runners that suffer from nerves or butterflies before a race, they may find a liquid meal supplement such as a homemade smoothie or sports drinks, gels and bars a better option."
After the big run
"During recovery mode we want to replenish the body and make sure we supply enough energy to prevent muscle breakdown," Bingley-Pullin told HuffPost Australia. "We also want to avoid blood sugar dips and feelings of fatigue the next day."
Rest and recovery is absolutely vital to allow your body to repair from the micro muscular damage that occurs during training and competition.Robbie Clark
While there is no one size fits all post-workout snack or meal as it depends on workload, weight and duration of training completed, Clark says we should focus on a macronutrient balance.
"The focus should be on the composition of the snack or meal when it comes to macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats), fluid and electrolytes," he explained.
"A general rule of thumb according to the latest sports nutrition guidelines when it comes to carbohydrate intake post-exercise is to consume 1.2g per kilogram of body mass per hour for the first four hours (e.g. 85g carbohydrate for a 70kg person).
"The greatest benefits are seen when paired with protein and consumed within 30-45 minutes after completing your run. This immediate delivery helps with the replenishment of glycogen stores in the muscle."
When it comes to protein, Clark recommends consuming 20-30 grams of protein (or an equivalent of 9 grams of essential amino acids if you're supplementing) after running, which can help maximise muscle protein synthesis in the first hour of post-exercise recovery.
Some examples of post-workout recovery meals and snacks include:
- Two slices toast with avocado, tomato and fresh leg ham
- Chicken, vegetable and brown rice noodle soup
- Handful of raw nuts and a piece of fruit (for a snack)
Rest and stretch
After a big training session or marathon, both Bingley-Pullin and Clark recommend stretching and doing a proper warm down.
"Rest and recovery is absolutely vital to allow your body to repair from the micro muscular damage that occurs during training and competition," Clark said.
"By allowing some rest days, especially if you are a beginner, it will reduce your risk of injury and allow you to perform optimally during your training sessions.
"Make sure you have plenty of quality sleep. Aim for at least seven to eight hours a night."
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