We'll start with the right foods and quantities needed to achieve peak performance. A balanced diet should include the following essentials: carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals.
- Carbohydrates - Carbs equal energy. As a runner/walker, carbs should make up 60-65% of your total calorie intake. Carbs supply a steady stream of energy to your body and if you cut them out of your diet you won't have the energy you need to complete your workouts. Carb loading is not necessary, because the body can only store so much energy before it converts it to fat. The key is to keep up your energy levels by eating carbs on a continuous basis. Research has shown that for both quick and fast lasting energy our bodies work more efficiently with carbs than they do with proteins or fat. Good sources of carbs include vegetables, potatoes, fruits, whole grain breads and pastas, and rice.
- Protein - While providing some energy, protein is mainly used to repair tissue damage due to training (to help repair and heal sore muscles). Proteins should make up about 15-20% of your daily intake. Ideally, you should consume .5 to .75 grams per pound of body weight depending on your physical activities. Try proteins that are lower in fat and cholesterol such as lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, and low fat dairy.
- Fats - There is a lot of confusion regarding how much fat should be consumed and what kind of fat is healthy. Remember not all fats are created equal, but they are all okay in small amounts. Your dietary fats should be 20-30% of your daily calories with most of your fats being the mono unsaturated form. Here are the three types of fats and what purpose they serve in your diet.
Poly Unsaturated Fats - Denoted by their semi-solid form, these fats are usually found in margarine or butter substitutes
Saturated Fats - Denoted by their solid form at room temperature, these fats include items such as lard, butter, and cheese. These fats are fine to eat but should be consumed in small doses.
Mono Unsaturated Fats - Denoted by their liquid form, these fats are usually found in foods such as olive oil, peanut oil, and other natural oils. Diets with higher portions of mono-unsaturated fats help lower the risk of heart disease.
- Vitamins - Runners/walkers may not get energy from vitamins but they do aid in repairing cell damage caused by running. Exercise produces free radicals which can damage cells making you immune to colds or injury. Luckily vitamins A, C, and E are antioxidants and help neutralize these free radicals. Food such as oranges, nuts, sunflower seeds, and leafy greens provide a great source of natural vitamins.
- Minerals - your body needs minerals such as iron, calcium and electrolytes/sodium to help aid in the following ways:
Calcium - helps prevent stress fractures and osteoporosis. Good sources of calcium are low fat dairy, vegetables, beans, leafy greens, and eggs.
Iron - delivers oxygen to your cells. An iron poor diet will cause you to feel fatigued and weak. Men need approximately 8mg daily of iron, whereas women need 18mg daily to maintain good health. Great Sources of iron are nuts, shrimp, scallops, lean meats, and leafy greens.
Electrolytes/Sodium - these are lost through sweat during exercise and are usually replaced by eating a balanced diet. If you do find yourself craving salty food, this is your body’s way of telling you it needs more sodium.