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Fuel Your Run With Nutrient Density, Not Quick Carbs

For years, runners were told that carb-loading before races and long runs was the way to go. The premise behind this was simple — runners require a lot of energy to keep up with their bodies’ demands so carbohydrates were considered the most suitable, quick energy foods.

However, thanks to advances in modern food and sports science, we now know that a runner’s body needs nutrient-dense food, not just lots of bread and pasta.

What Are Nutrient-Dense Foods?

Simply put, nutrient-dense foods are those that deliver generous amounts of one or more nutrients in relation to the number of calories per serving. Take for example a bag of pretzels and an apple. While they both contain roughly the same number of calories, the apple has higher nutrient density since it also provides vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. Eggs are another good example since they supply vitamins, minerals, and protein in proportion to their calories.

How This Relates to Runners

As a runner, you probably know that your body has a high energy demand (some runners require up to 4000 calories a day). Since there’s only a limited amount of food you can put away in a day, it makes sense to spend your daily calorie budget wisely. If you follow outdated beliefs, you would opt to bulk up on bread, rice, and pasta. Unfortunately, these aren’t the best choice for a runner’s diet.

Your body doesn’t only need carbs to function. You need foods that provide calories as well as vitamins, minerals, proteins, and fiber. For example, B vitamins are vital sources of energy during a run while minerals and electrolytes help to ward off leg cramps. You also need to include adequate fiber in your diet — and at the right time — if you want to avoid digestive tract issues that plague many runners.

Foods to Consider Before Your Run

To get the right dietary balance to fuel your run, you need to focus on consuming nutrient-dense, low-carb foods. Keep in mind that not all carbs are created equal. Bread and pasta might be excellent sources of carbs but they also have a high glycemic index. This means that they are quickly digested and absorbed into the bloodstream, causing rapid changes in blood sugar levels.

In order to prevent this and to give your body a stable supply of energy, steer clear of highly-processed and carbs as well as refined sugars. Instead, choose whole, nutrient-complex foods. This will help you cut back on the simple sugars in your diet as well as cutting down on your processed carbs.

Other nutrient-dense foods to fuel your body include:

  • Greens. Think kale, spinach, broccoli etc. taken raw or lightly steamed.
  • Nuts or seeds. Peanuts, almonds, macadamias, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds etc. are healthy snacks and make great additions to any meal.
  • Eggs. They store well when boiled and are perfect snacks after a workout.
  • Avocado. This tastes delicious when spread over whole wheat toast and is a vegetarian source of protein and healthy fats.
  • Greek yogurt. Add this to your protein shakes, smoothies or yogurt parfaits for a tasty, high-protein treat.
  • Fish. Especially fatty fish like salmon for all the omega-3s you need, as well as protein.

Gone are the days of carb-loading. Now if you want to maximize your performance, to fuel your run and achieve your goals, you’d do well to include nutrient-dense foods in your diet.

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