Athletic nutrition is a subject that a lot of different people have a lot of different opinions about. And athletes do need to eat more and have a generally stricter diet than most people. But they still need a balanced diet.
So, the answer is “both”. Runners need a healthy and balanced combination of both carbohydrates and protein. Carbohydrates provide runners with energy. And protein helps in the repair and growth of muscles.
Why do marathon runners need carbohydrates?
As mentioned above, carbohydrates are necessary for energy. Carbs have long had a bad reputation. Especially when it comes to health and weight loss. But this is a reputation that they do not deserve.
Carbs are absolutely essential for every diet. They can be found in a wide range of foods. But most in wheat based foods such as bread and pasta. Complex carbohydrates, most commonly found in foods such as brown rice, brown bread, and wholewheat pasta, are generally considered to be healthier than white carbohydrates. This is because they have a higher fiber content.
But carbohydrates are not a bad thing. And they are absolutely essential for athletes. Running a marathon is an endurance sport. And so it requires a great deal of energy. One of the best sources of this energy is carbohydrates.
This is where the phrase “carb loading” comes from. Consuming a lot of carbs before a marathon to maximize the body’s storage of glycogen. Glycogen is a form of glucose that serves as a form of energy. Essentially, marathon runners eat a lot of carbohydrates as they are creating energy stores in their bodies. So that they will have enough energy to exercise longer.
What are the primary sources of energy during a marathon?
Carbohydrates are the primary energy source in the human body. So, carbohydrates are the main source of energy for runners during a marathon. Runners also get their energy from sugar and water.
For a well-balanced diet, lots of different components are necessary. This includes both carbohydrates and protein. But slightly more are needed for runners, especially before a marathon.
A lot of people interested in athletics, especially weight training, claim that protein is the most important factor of a diet. But that isn’t necessarily true. Excessive protein is not healthy. So it’s important to ensure that balance and health are at the heart of any diet.
Do runners need protein?
Protein is necessary for the repair and building of muscles. When people run, they put a strain on muscles. So muscle repair is necessary. There is not as much strain placed on muscles as during targeted weight training. But protein is still necessary.
Consuming protein, both before and after running, is necessary for repairing and rebuilding muscle. So, runners need protein in order to prepare muscle after working out. This is especially important after running a marathon.
As during a marathon, muscles, especially leg muscles, will experience a lot of strain. Protein is useful for helping to rebuild the muscle.
Can you be a runner on a low carb diet?
As mentioned above, diets which encourage a low carbohydrate intake have long been encouraged for weight loss and health. But this is not a healthy diet. Carbohydrates are absolutely essential for general health.
Running on a low carb diet is possible. But it is inadvisable. Running on a low carb diet means that you won’t be able to run very far or very fast before you get tired.
If you want to keep to a low carb diet, then it’s still important to consume carbohydrates before running. Then, after running, you can continue a low carb diet the next day. (Although, as mentioned above, this is not especially healthy.)
Consuming carbohydrates before running, especially long endurance running, it is important to consume carbohydrates. This will give you more energy. And allow you to run faster, further, and for longer periods of time.
After running, it’s a good idea to continue consuming carbohydrates to replenish your energy. Then, you can begin consuming more protein than carbohydrates. This can help to rebuild muscle after putting strain on the body during running.
What foods should runners avoid?
This is a difficult question to answer. A balanced diet is important for all people. No matter how much or what kind of exercise they do.
But, there are some foods that should be consumed in limited amounts. Especially for people who do a lot of exercise. As they do not help store energy nor rebuild muscle. These foods are:
- Sugary drinks, such as soda
- Spicy foods
- Energy drinks
These foods and drinks are not all inherently bad. But they do not help people to run well. Even energy drinks are unhelpful as they put a strain on the body. This is due to extremely high levels of caffeine.
A well-balanced diet is necessary. But these foods and drinks should be consumed in smaller amounts.