Look, I’m not saying you’re not eating healthy. I’m sure you’re getting in all your whole grains, all your avocados, and all your chicken. That’s great!
The question is… is that what you should really be eating?
Like I said, it’s not that those foods aren’t great choices… they are! But healthy doesn’t always mean it suits your lifestyle: more specifically, your performance.
I’m sure you’ve heard the metaphor that food is to your body what gasoline is to a car. It’s important to put the right fuel in the right car, isn’t it?
Can you imagine what would happen if you put regular old gasoline in a giant semi truck which needs to lug a 25,000 lb trailer up a 5% grade? I can’t because I’m not a car guy, but I would bet money that that trailer isn’t getting up the hill.
Similarly, can you imagine running an ultramarathon on a nutrient deficient diet? Maybe you can. Maybe you’ve experienced races where despite being properly conditioned and strong enough, the race seems to drag on. You hit a wall and although your mind wants to compete, your body just doesn’t have the energy.
It’s important to match the fuel to the task.
Not enough fuel = burning out early.
Incorrect type of fuel = problems for the machine (you).
What’s the Difference between Healthy Eating and Eating for Performance?
Most athletes, whether they are runners, weightlifters, basketball players, or swimmers eat healthy. There aren’t a whole lot of runners who go out for a 10-mile recovery run and have a diet of mainly cheeseburgers and ice cream.
That lifestyle tends to demand some level of dedication to nutrition. Even if it just means staying away from junk food, but not actively seeking kale and salmon.
On the flip side there are athletes who are dedicated to their job or hobby and eat just shy of perfection. They read up on anti-inflammatory foods, they know the latest health juice blends. No pizza, no soda.
Could they do any better? Sure they could.
Eating healthy and eating for performance tend to overlap a little bit, but there is a degree of specificity needed to boost your sports performance.
What I mean by that is that it may be less important to stick to a 100% whole food diet as a runner, than to ensure you are getting enough energy from the right nutrients.
This might include:
- Correct amount of daily carbohydrate intake
- Meal timing
- Pre-workout nutrition
- Post-workout nutrition
- Intra-workout nutrition
- Correct amount of protein for recovery
These are just a few components of nutrition that can affect how well you perform. Each of those listed above will vary depending on what sport you participate in (endurance running, ultra-endurance running, strength training, etc.) your age, your gender, your muscle mass etc.
Manipulating these variables is very important if you want to gain an edge on the competition, whether that means racing competitively or racing against yourself to hit new personal records.
These are very individualized factors as well. The same thing isn’t going to work for everyone. Some people may do well eating a large meal 1-2 hours before running and some people may find that they need to eat 4 hours prior to running to avoid upsetting their stomach.
It’s not uncommon for people to take advice from articles on the internet that tell you to eat a certain way or eat a certain amount or you won’t be maximizing your potential as a runner. Again, though, the same thing doesn’t work for everyone.
There is of course, some overlap between general healthy eating and eating to fuel performance. Both require you to consume mostly whole unprocessed foods. However, eating for a specific purpose is a little more tailored and may even go against some rules that apply to someone who may be eating a certain way for a health condition or to improve overall health.
For example, in some cases runners may need to eat upwards of 500-600g of carbohydrates a day. Not all of this is going to be consumed in the form of low digesting, high fiber carbohydrates. In fact, these athletes may be encouraged to eat foods that contain fast digesting carbs or sugars.
So What Can I Do?
Since nutrition plays such a huge role in how you perform and can literally make the difference in personal records or placing in the single digits, we’ve created something for you.
We’ve put together a runner’s nutrition program here at the Med Gym to help you take your performance to the next level. Whether you’re a casual runner who wants to expand your knowledge of fueling for performance, or an ultra-marathon runner looking to squeeze out every potential boost in performance you can, this 8-week nutrition program can help.
After signing up, you’ll receive the 8-week nutrition program. Each week will have a specific focus and lesson to go along with it. You’ll then be able to test what you’ve learned in any runs that you complete for that week. We’ll look at sleep, hydration, recovery, nutrition and more: all of which are essential in athletic performance.
If you’re interested, we have some brand-new resources on macros for runners that details what kind of macronutrient split usually works best and what doesn’t. Fill out our contact form by clicking the link below and receive the “Macros for Runners” guide!
Chris attended Shippensburg University and obtained a degree in exercise science in 2019. He has worked at the Carlisle Med Gym since the summer of 2019.
He took an interest in nutrition early on and would take any opportunity to learn more about the relationship between exercise and nutrition any time he could. His interest in nutrition transitioned from something he enjoyed learning about to implementing what he knew to help others.
His interest and personal experience with nutrition prompted him to continue his education and became a certified nutrition coach in 2020 and is currently PN1 certified.