Training for Summer Race Season? Why Nutrition Matters

The dry summer months are the perfect time to run outdoors, so it’s no surprise that a high concentration of races and marathons are scheduled during the season. If you're preparing for a big race, you should be paying close attention to what you eat, not just how you train your body.

Nutrition plays a major role in your overall athletic performance. After all, you need proper nutrients to build muscle, gain stamina, and ultimately improve your race time. Understanding the role nutrition plays in getting you across the finish line can help motivate you to follow a healthy diet.

Even if weight loss is one of your goals while training, it is critical that you get enough of the right foods. Carbohydrates provide the fuel for your athletic performance. Proteins help your body build and repair muscle tissue. Healthy fats ensure your body functions at its optimal level. Eating a varied diet with enough calories to keep you healthy and energetic is a critical part of training for peak physical performance.

Not all calories are created equal

To some people, a calorie is a calorie. Truthfully, however, nutrition is about so much more than the number on a nutrition label. It's about repairing your body and replacing critical components that are used up every day. Vitamins, trace minerals, and macronutrients like carbohydrates, fats, and proteins all play a part in how our bodies function. Eating a variety of fresh foods (from all colors of the rainbow!) can help your body receive necessary vitamins and minerals while you're training.

A good, basic rule of thumb is to seek about 50 to 65 percent of your calories from carbohydrates, which provide your body with quick-burning fuel. Many fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains, are high in carbohydrates. Complex, natural-state carbohydrates are always a better choice than simple, highly refined carbohydrates. Protein-rich foods such as meat, eggs, dairy products, legumes, nuts, and protein powders or bars, should comprise between 15 to 25 percent of your daily caloric intake. Finally, between 15 to 30 percent of your intake should be “good” fats, including avocados, oils, and nuts.

Follow the 20 percent rule

You may not feel up to consuming a lot of calories shortly after a major workout. But if you're exercising hard several times a week, it could impact your overall nutrition. Try to plan your workouts at times when you'd normally be fasting anyway, such as mid-morning or mid-afternoon. Bring a light snack to eat after you exercise. Aim to replace at least 20 percent of the calories you burned within a few hours of your workout. Doing so helps your body recover more quickly and also helps maintain a healthy metabolism while you train. Good luck out there!

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