by Jen Rawson, RD
As runners, our schedules and timelines revolve around our training cycles. After a major goal race, runners are advised to take an off-season where the body is allowed time to rest and recover before the next challenge. While most runners have charts and schedules detailing their training plan, mileage, and splits, many forgetto consider how their nutrition should vary during different stages of the training cycle.
A high carbohydrate diet is the accepted standard diet for a runner. While that’s the best approach during train-ing, adjusting the diet with training cycles can help achieve optimum performance on race day and recovery during the off-season.
To add high quality complex carbohydrates to your eating patterns during training, try:
- Adding quinoa, barley, or brown rice as salad toppers
- Choosing fruit and yogurt as a snack combination
- Increasing portions of whole grains at mealtime
- Cooking with beans and legumes, which are a source of carbohydrate and protein. They can easily be added to casseroles, soups, stews, and salads.
- Blending sweet potato into your smoothie for a unique energy boost and flavour
- Making homemade energy bars or balls with whole grains, fruit, nuts and seeds
- Packing up some dried fruit for a quick and portable snack
Eating during a training cycle
During the buildup phase for a major race, mileage increases weekly and so does the body’s demand for energy to fuel the muscles. To provide this source, an increased proportion of your diet should come from carbohydrates as you build further into your training plan. For example, a marathon runner should be eating up to 65% of their diet from carbohydrates. But before you go running out to pick up a box of doughnuts, it’s important to consider the quality of the carbohydrates you’re choosing.
Think of your body like a car. You can fuel it with “regular fuel” comprised of simple carbohydrates full of added sugar (such as doughnuts, cookies, and pizza) or you can choose to fuel your body with “premium fuel” com-prised of complex carbohydrates like quinoa, brown rice, sweet potatoes, and fruit. The regular fuel is cheaper and will get your body where it needs to go, but the premium fuel will make your body run better with fewer breakdowns or health consequences in the long term.
Eating during the off-season
After a goal race, training volume will drastically decrease. Without the added demands on our muscles, our bodies do not require as much fuel. That means reducing your carbohydrate intake to around 45%. You’ll want to focus more on protein for recovery and healthy fats while still maintaining a smaller portion of complex carbohydrates. Changing your eating patterns in the off-season isn’t always easy. You may have gotten used to eating a high carbohydrate diet and allowing yourself a few more indulgences. But with a few simple tweaks, you can prevent weight gain and maximize your recovery. Here are some suggestions for eating in the off-season:
- Switch up your breakfast. Typically, runners’ breakfasts are high in carbohydrate but low in fat, fibre and protein to speed up digestion. Switch your breakfast from bagels to more satiating and complete meals like oatmeal with nuts and fruit, a fruit yogurt parfait or vegetable omelette with whole grain toast.
- Consider your portion size. You aren’t burning as much energy anymore with hours on the road, so your body requires less fuel. Pay attention to your hunger and fullness signals to guide your eating pat-terns back into a normal routine.
- Slow down. A runner’s schedule can make mealtimes hectic. Feeling the need to refuel immediately af-ter a run or having other life engagements can make for quick meals. Take the time to slow down and enjoy your meals again. Enjoy the extra time you have to spend with friends and family. These moments are just as important as eating.
- Cook more. A busy training schedule may mean higher reliance on convenience foods such as power bars and shakes. Now that you’re not training as much, spend your extra time in the kitchen cooking up wholesome meals.
- Refocus your plate. Fill half your plate with vegetables before adding protein and carbohydrates.
Your diet doesn’t need to drastically change between your training cycle and your off-season, but being aware of your energy demands and adjusting your daily routine can ensure you’re fuelled up properly for both your training and recovery phases.
Jen Rawson is a Registered Dietitian from Calgary who works in a private practice specializing in intuitive eating, sports nutrition and gut health. She is passionate about running and travelling, often combining the two at destination races.