Top 10 Eating Habits for Reducing Running Injuries
Can food directly prevent running injuries? Not really, but it can help other fitness factors, leading to less injuries.
Top 10 Eating Habits for Reducing Running Injuries
You weren’t born yesterday, so we’re not going to make recommendations unless they’re based on peer-reviewed research-and the research doesn’t support most of the nutrition fluff that gets repeated online.
However, good nutrition can indeed promote health, performance, and recovery. It will make you feel better while running and after. It will help you get the most out of your runs and out of your recovery days. And if you’re running better and recovering more quickly, you may find yourself somewhat less prone to injury. There are certainly no downsides!
Here are the basics.
Hydration: As a runner, you need plenty of fluids before and after every run. If the run goes longer than 20 or 30 minutes, you need fluids during the run as well. All your body’s systems need water. Especially your cooling system, which works by letting water evaporate off your skin. This can happen at an alarming rate in hot conditions and when you’re exercising hard, so you have to work to keep hydrated.
Be sure to drink before every run. But don’t overdo it; if you fill your stomach with water faster than it can empty into your intestines, you’ll risk the discomfort of it sloshing around with each step. Best to drink relatively small portions over the 30 to 60 minutes before your run.
During the run, continue similarly: small portions, frequently. Experiment while training to find a rate that your body can handle comfortably.
And after the run, drink up! You may be a bit dehydrated despite your best efforts, because in more extreme conditions your stomach can’t keep up with your cooling system. Now is the time replenish.
Electrolytes: These are ionic chemicals that come from inorganic minerals. They include sodium, potassium, calcium, bicarbonate, magnesium, chloride, and phosphate. Electrolytes dissolve in the body’s fluids, and through properties of electrical conduction, they help modulate hundreds of vital functions.
You lose electrolytes in your sweat, especially early in the season when your body hasn’t adapted well to warmer weather. If your electrolyte levels drop too low, you may experience fatigue, spasms, and eventually even seizures and heart rhythm disturbances.
A healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables is ordinarily enough to ensure electrolyte balance. During longer runs in warmer weather, it’s often wise to use supplements. An easy way to supplement is with energy drinks or gels that include a complement of electrolytes.
Carbohydrates: These nutrients have been demonized by nutrition fads in recent years, but they’re literally what you run on. If you’re on a low-carb diet during training or racing, you’re not going to go very fast. So you’d be wise to learn about the sugars and starches that are collectively called carbs.
You’ll need to load up your body’s carbohydrate reserves before any long event, in order maximize endurance. This involves eating piles of starchy foods during the 24 hours before the event. During any run longer than an hour or so, you’ll also need to supplement with carbs during the run to keep your blood sugar up. You’ll need to ingest these even more slowly than pure water, otherwise you can overload your digestive system and get cramps. Generally, a few ounces every 20 minutes is the maximum. A sip of energy gel followed by a few gulps of water accomplishes the same thing.
A carb-rich recovery drink, taken within 30 or 40 minutes of the end of your run, will help replenish depleted carb stores in your muscles and liver.
Protein: Proteins are the building blocks of your muscles. They’re necessary for maintaining and building strength.
What exactly is protein? It’s a less straightforward question than you might imagine. Proteins are actually any combination of amino acids. There are 21 different amino acids used by the human body and they’re not all created equal. While the body needs them all, it’s capable synthesizing 12 of them, so you don’t need these in your diet. The remaining 9 you must get from food.
These 9 are called the essential amino acids. You can get them from meat-based protein, or from a handful of plant-based proteins, including soy, quinoa, buckwheat, and seitan.
Otherwise, to get complete protein from plants, you need to eat foods in combination. Such as:
•Legumes and Grains
(rice and beans, peanut butter on whole grain bread, hummus on whole wheat pita)
•Legumes and Nuts
(salad made with beans and nuts)
You don’t even have to have your rice and beans in one sitting. As long as you have them over the course of a day, you’ll be fine.
Proteins are especially helpful in recovery drinks (often in the form of protein powders based on soy, whey, or spirulina, added to a fruit smoothie). It’s not as critical to consume proteins during a run.
Micronutrients: These are all the vital nutrients that we don’t use for calories or for hydration. You probably know them as vitamins and minerals. Ideally, you’ll get these from a diet rich in green vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes. It doesn’t hurt to include a daily vitamin supplement. Just don’t get suckered into taking enormous doses of vitamins. There is no benefit to eating many times the recommended daily allowance of any vitamin or mineral. In fact, there are health problems associated with each of them when taken in excess. This includes even the most innocuous-seeming water-soluble ones, like vitamin-c.
Fiber: Your body needs fiber for optimum cardiac health and gut health. There are two basic types.
Soluble fiber includes oatmeal, nuts, beans, apples, and blueberries. Benefits include cardiac health, reduced LDL cholesterol, blood sugar control, weight loss, and healthy bowel movements.
Insoluble fiber includes the seeds and skins of fruit, whole grains, and brown rice. Benefits include weight loss and healthy bowel movements.
Probiotics: These are strains of healthy bacteria that join your gut biome and help with digestion. There are small doses of probiotics in yogurt with active cultures. For bigger doses, you can find probiotics in pill form. They may help treat digestive issues that don’t respond to anything else. They’re also helpful to quickly repopulate your gut if you’ve recently been on antibiotics.
Caffeine: this natural supplement, resident in coffee, tea, and chocolate, is so useful to runners that it gets its own category. Caffeine not only acts as a stimulant, helping you to feel more alert and energetic, but it encourages the body to burn a higher ratio of fats to carbohydrates during long efforts. This translates into more endurance.
For years, physiologists were worried that caffeine was a diuretic, meaning that it promoted dehydration. But recent studies have shown that in normal quantities of caffeine don’t dehydrate you. So there are really no downsides to caffeine on endurance runs. Consider starting your hydration before a run with a cup or two of tea or coffee. And look into energy drinks or gels that contain trace levels of caffeine.
Other Supplements: there are dozens if not hundreds of supplements recommended as performance aids (also known as ergogenic aids) for athletes. Almost all of them are snake oil. They go in and out of fashion, and are routinely shown in clinical trials to have no effect. Anyone touting high-dose vitamins or minerals, branched-chain amino acids, CBD oil, or mystery powders is just trying to take your money. We’ve already covered the ingredients that work, if used correctly-namely, caffeine, protein powders, and electrolytes.
There are several varieties of ginseng (a plant root) that may offer subtle, positive effects for performance over the longterm. It’s a difficult supplement to study, because it contains dozens of active chemicals, many of which seem to have opposite effects in isolation. One researcher commented, “we’re not sure what it does, but it seems to do something.”
We hope this helps you eat well, stay hydrated, and run in good health!