Endurance running demands more than running shoes and a killer playlist. It's not only a dedication to getting up and running, but it is a dedication to your health and your body, inside and out. That said, I find that runners make a lot of mistakes when it comes to their health and nutrition. (I've been there!)
If you want to be successful in the long-term as an endurance runner, you have to keep your diet in check.
These are the mistake you want to avoid.
8 Health and Nutritional Mistakes Endurance Runners Must Avoid
1) Eating whatever.
Beginner runners usually make this mistake, as do many athletes who burn major calories in their workout routines. Because they are burning a lot of calories in a day, they can seemingly get away with eating garbage without consequence. There's nothing wrong with having a treat or a cheat day, but making it habitual or having no diet plan in place is bad news. How you fuel your body has consequences on your performance, your energy levels, your mood, and your long-term health. Just because you aren't gaining weight and you're burning the calories doesn't mean you have a free pass to eat junk.
2) Over-consuming proteins.
Americans, by and large, over-consume proteins by 25 to 50 percent by the standards recommended by the Dietary Guidelines. However, for some reason, we can get it in our minds that we need even more protein to run and exercise effectively. Here's the truth: unless you're doing particularly high-impact endurance or resistance training for hours at a time, you likely don't need more protein. That includes your power bar and protein powder.
It's only during the most intense of exercises that your body breaks down proteins for fuel versus carbohydrates and fats.
3) Overcompensating on carbs, electrolytes, etc.
At the same time, we often vastly overestimate our need for replenishing our bodies after a run or workout. Drinking an entire bottle of Powerade after an hour run isn't needed—especially when you consider the 34g of sugar in a bottle. We can also do this beforehand by carb loading because we go overboard in how much we really need.
The truth is most of us, short of a marathon, don't need to make huge adjustments to our diet to replenish our bodies. We don't need to eat that much more before or after and we don't need to load up on the calories. Doing so can actually lead to weight gain because we're getting so much more than we need because our idea of burn versus intake is skewed.
4) Too many sports nutrition boosters.
Modern sports nutrition is cool. The gels, the bars, the boosters from drinks and powders are helpful in a pinch. When you're in the eleventh hour of a marathon, that extra boost can make or break your run. However, being overly reliant on these things can be so bad for your diet. While it's easy to believe that because they're “nutritious,” they're good, we must keep in mind that these are processed, manufactured supplements that are not real replacements for fresh foods. They work in a pinch, but they're not for everyday training or adequate replacements for real food.
5) Fearing fats.
For some reason, many of us are still afraid of fats in our foods— even healthy fats from fish, olive oil, avocados, and nuts. Fats in moderation are great in that they can help your body absorb nutrients as well as manage your hunger. They help your body function. So don't run from healthy fats.
6) Indulging in post-run cravings.
We all get post-run cravings. I know I've had the desire to down a big plate of pasta right after an intense run or go through a whole bag of chips. Here's the thing: we have to make the choice in how we feed these cravings. We can often justify our cravings with the rationale of calories burnt, but the time we're in is crucial. The post-run state is when we're so receptive to nutrients. It's the time to feed yourself well rather than run for the sleeve of Oreos.
Instead of indulging your cravings for junk food, feed yourself with good, nutrient-rich food that sets your body up for success.
7) You go crazy for caffeine.
Who doesn't love a good cup of coffee? Some days it's all that gets us up in the morning. That said, caffeine isn't great for runners. While we can joke about it being our “fuel,” it's best to avoid coffee and caffeine as much as you can, especially before a run. It's not a dietary need—your intestinal tract isn't a fan, as it can lead to cramping and bowel issues. Best limit your caffeine intake to a handful of times a week, if that.
8) You don't treat your diet as part of your training.
Ultimately, the most important part of nutrition for a runner is to take it seriously as part of your training. The biggest mistake runners make is treating it as disconnected from their endurance running success. Your diet should be part of your training career. While you should leave yourself room to enjoy food and eating, take it seriously, too. The success of your run is so often linked to what you eat.
How do you use what you eat to fuel effective exercise? Share your tips in the comments.