Eat poorly in the weeks leading up to an endurance event such as a marathon, experts say, and your performance surely will suffer. Poor food choices can lead to an athlete feeling tired, peckish and unable to train hard, which in turn can lead to a disappointing race. To that end, the best source of energy for long-distance runners are carbohydrates, which should make up about 65 percent of your diet during training.
When it comes to the recovery process during training, some foods are better than others. A daily diet full of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein and only the occasional sweet will ensure that your muscles have enough fuel when you again hit the road running.
The general rule after a long run, dietitians say, is to eat a 300-to-400-calorie snack/meal comprised of carbohydrates and protein in the 4:1 ratio within the first 30 to 60 minutes. That is, 4 grams of carbohydrates for every 1 gram of protein.
Carbs post-workout reset your blood-sugar levels to normal and help shuttle protein and nutrients to the muscle cells.
The reason you need to eat those carb-heavy calories fairly quickly is that your body is most receptive to receiving carbs, converting them into glycogen (depleted during a run) and storing the glycogen in the muscles within the first hour or so after exercise. Some studies, in fact, have shown that muscles store two to three times more glycogen during this period than during a meal eaten several hours after a workout.
And if you're not hungry at the finish? Low-fat chocolate milk is one of the best recovery drinks out there to tide you over until your appetite returns, and you don't even have to worry too much about the added sugar.
You also need a bit of protein to help repair the microtears your muscles endure during training and stimulate the development of new tissue, but not too much or it will start to slow the digestion of carbs.
In other words, that big plate of scrambled eggs with corned-beef hash and toast is a no-no, whereas pancakes are a definite yes.
One good recipe for such is the pumpkin pancakes (see recipe below). Made with whole-wheat flour and canned pumpkin to eliminate oil and cut the fat, a serving of four small pancakes has just 256 calories. And because it meets the 4:1 ratio (12 grams of carbs and 3 grams of protein) and is low on fiber, you'll avoid the dreaded post-run stomachache.
Other healthful options could be something as simple as a bowl of oatmeal with some fruit on top, pumpkin or tomato soup with a piece of bread for dunking, or a plate of pasta minus the fatty meatballs.
Here are some recipes to help your training.
Makes 20 4-inch pancakes. The batter can be kept refrigerated for up to 5 days. And pancakes can be frozen and reheated.
2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 3/4 cup reduced-fat milk, or skim milk
1/2 cup pureed pumpkin, canned works fine
2 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
With a hand beater, beat eggs until fluffy. Then beat in all other ingredients until smooth.
Using a hot, nonstick skillet (if not you may need to add butter or oil, not included in nutrition facts) pour enough batter (about 2 tablespoons) into the skillet to make a 4-inch pancake. Cook until bubbles appear on the surface, flip, and cook another 1 to 2 minutes or until done. Serve hot. Top with fresh fruit, fruit puree or syrup
Nutrition per pancake: 64 calories, 12 grams carbohydrates, 1.6 grams fiber, 3 grams protein, .8 grams total fat
EGG AND BEAN BURRITO WITH AVOCADO AND YOGURT-LIME SAUCE
Serves 4 to 6. Great to wrap in foil as a to-go breakfast.
1/4 cup low-fat Greek-style yogurt
Juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 red onion, cut into small dice
1 small jalapeno chile pepper, cut into small dice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
4 eggs, mixed with a fork
dash of salt
4 whole-wheat tortillas
1/2 cup shredded Monterey jack or cheddar cheese
1 avocado, sliced
1 cup salsa or pico de gallo
In a small bowl, mix together the yogurt and lime juice.
In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and chile pepper and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes, or until soft.
Add the cumin and beans and stir. When the beans are hot, add the eggs and cook until fluffy, stirring with a fork. Season with salt. Turn off heat.
Toast tortillas for 1 to 2 minutes in a dry pan over medium heat, or place them under the broiler until they puff. Lay out tortillas and divide the egg mixture evenly among them.
Top with an even amount of the cheese, avocado and yogurt mixture. Roll up and top with salsa or pico de gallo.
Nutrition per serving: 445 calories, 47 grams carbohydrates
QUICK AND SPICY GINGER-PEANUT NOODLES WITH CUCUMBERS AND TAT SOI
Serves 4 to 6. You can make this easy peanut sauce ahead, though you won't want to dress the noodles until just before serving. For added protein, toss with cooked, shredded chicken or top with a sliced hard-boiled egg.
1/4 cup toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
1 teaspoon Asian chili-garlic paste
1/2 pound whole-grain or whole-wheat thin spaghetti or angel hair
3 to 4 cups tat soi leaves, or any other baby green, washed and dried
1 medium cucumber, peeled, halved, seeded and cut crosswise thinly (about 11/2 cups)
In food processor, combine sesame oil, soy sauce, peanut butter, maple syrup, ginger, rice vinegar, lemon juice, garlic and chili-garlic paste. Process until well mixed and smooth, scraping down sides once or twice. It will be emulsified but fairly liquidy. Refrigerate dressing if not using right away.
Cook pasta in a large pot of salted water, following package directions. Drain (but don't rinse) the pasta and let it sit in the strainer, tossing occasionally, until it's no longer hot and wet, 15 to 20 minutes. It should be bouncy but sticky.
Put pasta in mixing bowl and season with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add most of the greens and all of the cucumbers.
Drizzle with about 7 to 8 tablespoons of the dressing and mix well. Taste and add more dressing if necessary. Serve at room temperature, garnished with the remaining greens.
Serves 6. Quick-cooking quinoa, a source of complete protein, gives this chicken soup a healthy upgrade. High in carbs, it's especially good for runners looking to restock their energy stores after a tough workout; the amino acids in the chicken also will help rebuild broken-down muscle tissue.
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 onion, sliced
2 carrots, sliced
1 pound boneless chicken thighs, thinly sliced
1 cup sliced mushrooms
2 ribs celery, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups chicken broth, homemade or canned
1 cup water
3/4 cup quinoa
2 teaspoons fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
Salt and ground black pepper
Chopped fresh parsley
Hot sauce (optional)
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and carrots. Cook, stirring frequently, for 6 minutes. Add chicken, mushrooms, celery and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes.
Add the broth, water, quinoa and thyme. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Raise the heat to high and bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes, or until quinoa is tender.
Ladle into bowls and top with parsley and hot sauce, is using.
Nutrition per serving: 214 calories, 18 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 19 grams protein, 7 grams total fat