Feeling slugging on your runs? 4 ways your diet may be to blame.
Is what you're eating (or not eating) to blame for how sluggish or energetic you feel when you're running? It is normal for not every run to go perfectly, where you're feeling energetic and awesome and able to run fast and far. However, if you're always feeling run-down and fatigued during a run, it might be time to check what you're eating.
Read on for 4 ways your diet could be contributing to your sluggish runs... and what to do about it.
👟 Not eating carbs or not eating enough carbs.
Your muscles store carbohydrates as glycogen, which is broken down and used for energy when you're active. If you don't replenish those glycogen stores, your performance is going to start to be impacted -- you'll feel sluggish and fatigued, you'll struggle to hit your paces, you won't feel recovered or refreshed.
👟 Not eating enough, period.
If you're always feeling tired no matter what types of foods you eat, make sure you check the amount of food that you're eating. Running burns a lot of energy, and you need to fuel properly in order to keep it up. Even if your goal is weight loss, you still need enough calories to fuel your runs.
👟 Eating too many high fat or processed foods.
I'm not trying to say that you can never have pizza or take-out, but you need to balance all the "junk" or fun foods with nutritious ones. You can't expect to eat out at every meal and drink sugary beverages instead of water all day and expect to perform at your best level.
👟 Not eating at the right times.
While it is important to fuel properly before a run, eating a large meal an hour before you attempt a speed session is probably going to result in nausea, side-stitches, and feeling heavy. On the other hand, if you don't eat well after a run (within 60 minutes), you miss out on an opportunity to replenish your muscles with glycogen, which will help you out tomorrow and on later runs this week.
Okay, so now you've hopefully identified a trigger (or two!) that could be leading to your sluggish runs. Now, what do you do about it??
👟 Make sure you're eating enough carbohydrates.
Even though you might not be intentionally restricting carbohydrates in your diet, it is possible you need more. Your carbohydrate needs can change a bit from one day to another day, especially if you're running harder or longer, running (or exercising) more than once per day, starting to carb load for a race, or looking to change your body composition.
As runners, we need more carbohydrates than the average Joe out there. So just because your officemate ate the same amount of crackers as you did and they were fine, doesn't mean you will be.
Curious as to whether or not you're eating enough carbs? I wrote a post here about how to use your plate as a guide to help make sure you're eating enough carbs.
👟 Make sure you're eating enough.
Runners need fuel. You can't skip a bunch of meals or snacks and expect to run well. You can't expect to spend all day hungry and then go for a run and expect to hit it out of the park.
In general, runners should be eating 3 meals a day. You might do better eating 4-6 small meals/snacks, and that's okay too. Your meals should contain carbohydrates (like fruit, grains, legumes, starchy vegetables, and milk), protein (like meat, fish, eggs, tofu, tempeh, or legumes), non-starchy vegetables (like greens, tomatoes, broccoli, and peppers) and healthy fats (like avocado, oils, nuts, and seeds). These are all necessary for a healthy, nourished body!
If you are physically hungry, you need to eat!! Check in with your body. Where would you rate your hunger on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being famished and 10 being so uncomfortably stuffed that you want to go take a nap (and 5 being neutral; you're not thinking about food). If your hunger level is at a level 1 or 2, you're over-hungry and need to eat sooner than later. If you rate it at a 3, then now is a perfect time to eat!
👟 Eat a balanced diet.
Just like in the above situation, make sure that you're eating regularly and that your meals contain carbohydrates, proteins, vegetables, and healthy fats.
If you want to indulge on pizza night, then eat a salad on the side instead of breadsticks. If you're at a fast food place, get the grilled or baked chicken or fish option instead of the fried version, and share a small fry with a friend instead of eating it all yourself.
Remember, your diet doesn't have to be perfect. You're not going to go through life without a piece of cake or a pint of beer someday (or insert your favorite food/beverage here). The point is to get back into the habit of eating healthy if you "fall off the wagon" rather than giving up and eating the whole cake or drinking the whole 6-pack of beer.
👟Eat at the right times
If you have less than 2 hours before your run, you probably want to skip a big meal. You should still eat if you're hungry, but you'll want to eat foods lower in fat and fiber (as these take longer to digest and cause GI distress) and are higher in simple carbohydrates (like white rice or bagels) because they're easy to digest. Try a sandwich with turkey, a banana with peanut butter, or some rice with chicken and a few veggies.
If you just finished a run, then eat a meal (with carbohydrates and protein, of course!) within an hour. If eating a meal isn't possible that quickly, make sure you have a small snack within 20-30 minutes (like some chocolate milk, a fruit smoothie, or something like an RxBar or PickyBar) and then eat a balanced meal as soon as you can.
Do any of these scenarios relate to you? Let me know in the comments below. If you want to dig deep into your eating habits and how they might be impacting your running performance, schedule your runner's nutrition strategy session to find out how to get started.