There’s a lot to think about when it comes to eating a healthy, balanced diet to support your running and recovery. Food is about so much more than calories. In fact, the old “calories in vs calories out” argument is losing popularity as more and more people understand that it’s not so much how much you eat, but what you eat. Quality is more important than quantity, and we need to think less about the numbers, and more about what’s in our food.
Food contains macronutrients and micronutrients. In this article we’ll give a quick overview of macronutrients – or “macros” as they are commonly known.
If you’ve ever looked at a food label (and you really should!), you’ll notice that the information given always includes amounts of protein, carbohydrate and fat. Those are your macros.
Protein – which means “of primary importance” in Greek, is the most important macronutrient, as the body needs it for cellular repair and almost every function. Protein is essential. There is protein at some level in almost all food stuffs but, to get a serving of protein, you should look to meats, fish, eggs, dairy and protein powders (such as whey protein). 1g of protein equates to 4 kilocalories (calories).
Fats are important in your diet and too many people avoid them for fear of gaining body fat. Fat is a great energy source and is necessary for hormonal function, cellular repair and good health. Of course, too much can lead to excess caloric intake but the same can be said for any macro. Choose good fats including those in red meat and oily fish, nuts, seeds, full fat dairy, avocados and oils (coconut oil is a great choice). Avoid trans fats. 1g of dietary fat equates to 9 kilocalories (calories).
Carbohydrates are a useful energy source, but it’s worth remembering that the body can and does run on fat for energy, too. In fact, it’s interesting to note that whilst there is such a thing as “essential fats” and “essential protein”, there is no “essential carbohydrate”. Use carbohydrates to refuel after exercise. Choose natural, unprocessed sources like potatoes (and sweet potatoes), oats, quinoa, rice and starchy root vegetables and some fruits (fruit is a good choice for after a run). Try to limit or avoid breads, pastries, and baked goods. A tip for reading labels is to look for words ending in -ose, as this means a sugar (sucrose, fructose, dextrose, glucose, etc). Yes, even milk is a carbohydrate and contains sugar (lactose). Load up on vegetables, which are a source of carbohydrate but carry a much lower load than other carbohydrate-based foods. And vegetables have plenty of other benefits, like vitamins and fibre, which bread and pasta just don’t have! 1g of dietary carbohydrate equates to 4 kilocalories (calories).
It’s not a macronutrient by any means, but it’s interesting to note where alcohol sits on the scale of “calories per gram”. The answer: 1g of alcohol equates to 7 kilocalories (calories). Almost as much as fat!
It’s great to educate yourself about what’s in your food and how it affects your body. After all, your body is a hard-working engine, so you need to fuel it correctly!