Unlike other sports people, distance runners need carbohydrates for their nutritional needs in the endurance sport of distance running. While other sports like, say weightlifting that rely mostly on proteins, runners depend heavily on carbohydrates.
The main reason, of course, is that different sports have different goals. Weightlifting, for instance, puts a heavy premium on proteins because proteins help build muscles and bulk up a person’s body better and faster than other food. Distance running needs food that builds stamina and strength.
One of the most studied topics is the role of carbohydrates in sports performance. Most practicing sportsmen now know that carbohydrates are best for strength and endurance.
Scientists are now also taking a look on the link between low carbohydrates intake and exercise-induced free radicals that leads to impaired muscle function. Every athlete knows that carbohydrates can improve endurance, while the lack of it reduces glucose supply to the muscles which, in turn, leads to fatigue.
Fatigue is normally seen as the loss of the body’s overall force-generating capacity. This may be caused be a lot of reasons, but scientists believe it is the loss of muscular ATP, a high-energy molecule that fuels muscle contraction generated by glucose.
A high-carbohydrates diet while training ensures a good store of muscle glycogen long before competition time. Glycogen, the body’s carbohydrates store, is the fuel for endurance. The carbohydrates could be taken in as fluids (such as juices) or in solid forms (fruits or starches).
However, a long and hard exercise sometimes drains the muscles of stored carbohydrates (glycogen). Eating right away (the best time is within the first hour) food rich in carbohydrates combined with protein is best. The proteins would help in muscle repair broken by he strenuous exercise.
Commercial energy bars both have carbohydrates and proteins but they are expensive and mostly tasteless. A peanut butter sandwich is okay, washed down with some sports drink. Best, of course, would be some cereal with nuts and dried fruits in them.
No other factor is more important in the success of a distance runner than maintaining enough fluids in his body.
Running, in training or in competition, produces body heat more than in normal circumstances. This heat is then released through sweat, which in turn, depletes the body’s fluids. When the body is dehydrated, general fatigue sets it.
To maintain the body’s water status, runners should develop the habit of regular and fixed fluid consumption (every 10 to 15 minutes) during practice runs, whether thirsty or not. The amount is around one-half to one liter of fluid per hour on mild conditions. (The amount should be more, of course, if conditions are more severe.)
In hot and humid conditions, a combination of water and sports drinks (to provide carbohydrates and electrolytes like sodium) is best.
During scheduled runs (practice or competition), many runners suffer from bowel problems. One way to avoid this is to stay away from food high in fiber content as well as those rich in fat.
You can also buy commercial liquid meals formulated for athletes and convalescents. Make sure they have high carbohydrate content. You may also make your own formula using skimmed milk powder, fruits, and regular milk.
It is not very clear how caffeine appears to enhance endurance performances in athletes. It could be that it is a central nervous system stimulant. It stimulates the release of adrenaline that increases heart rate and blood pressure, blood flow to muscles and the release of glucose by the liver.
Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, and chocolates (cocoa). It is also added to cola drinks and other beverages. Normally, caffeine is a natural diuretic (with a 31% hike in urine production.) During competition, however, it loses its diuretic effect but may improve your capacity to have that extra kick at the end of the race.
All in all, the two things distance runners have to remember about nutrition is carbohydrates and fluids. These are the top two important nutrition needs for the sports.