Nutrition for trailrunners
Just like your running shoes and gear, the food you consume plays a pivotal role in your performance, endurance, and recovery on the trails. I used to have a let of difficulties with this, but through trail and error I found out what works for my body and I can’t wait to share this knowledge also with you. Let’s dive into the world of trail running nutrition and understand how to fuel your body optimally for your trail adventures.
Why it is so important to fuel properly on the trails
Trail running demands a combination of energy, endurance, and recovery. Proper nutrition (right fueling before, during and after) provides the fuel your muscles need, enhances your stamina, and aids in swift recovery after long runs. Understanding the right balance of nutrients can make a significant difference in your trail running experience.
Lets start with the basics: macronutrients (the nutrients we need in larger quantities that provide us with energy)
1/ Carbohydrates: are the primary source of energy for (trail) runners. It is broken down into glucose, which is stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen, and provides a quick and immediate source of energy. It is important to keep on replenishing the using glycogen storages to delay fatigue and to prevent hypoglycemia (low-blood sugar levels which can cause dizziness, weakness, …)
Many runners (including me in the beginning) think that carbohydrates are only important before and during your training sessions, but they are also needed to improve your recovery AND your brain relies primarily on glucose for energy. So one way of noticing that you are not getting in enough of carbohydrates is when you start to lose your focus or coordination.
2/ Proteins: a crucial macronutrient for runners and athletes, playing multiple essential roles (so not only repairing muscles) in supporting their overall performance, recovery, and overall health.
Proteins are composed of amino acids (=building blocks of muscles) and will help repair and rebuild muscle tissues (& also ligaments and tendons) that are broken down during training sessions. But proteins do much more than only that: they also play a vital role in the immune system (production of antibodies) AND will help you to feel full and satisfied.
3/ Fats: a very important macro nutrient that often has a bad reputation, although it is super important for many health reasons. To start with, fats are energy-dense which means that they provide double the energy of carbohydrates and proteins. When glycogen storages are completed, fats will be used to provide the body with energy (BUT, the conversion of fat to energy (ketosis) is slower so your body will prefer carbs). Furthermore, fats help your body to regulate body temperature (especially important during cold or windy weather), they are also important components of cell membranes (forming the structure and integrity) and are involved in the production of various hormones and regulation of them.
To end with, your brain needs fat to function properly (omega -3 fatty acids) and some vitamins (we will be talking about them in the next section) can only be absorbed properly with the help of fats.
4/ Hydration: the 4th macronutrient is as important as the other ones and is water. Our body consists for 70% of water and even the slighest dehydration can already cause for big disruptions in your body. Making sure that you drink enough when you are in the mountains, but also before/ after your trainings, is therefore super important. In this video I will explain to you a little bit more the ‘why’s’ and I will also be sharing some tricks.
Now we have talked about the ‘main’ building blocks of our body, lets dive into the ‘micronutrients‘ or better known as vitamins and minerals. They are essential for trail runners and athletes for a variety of reasons. While they are required in smaller quantities compared to macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats), micronutrients play critical roles in:
- Energy production: especially the B-vitamins, play a crucial role in energy metabolism (convertion of macro nutrients into energy). These vitamins can be found in meat, seafood, eggs, dairy products, legumes, leafy greens, seeds and fortified foods. Therefore most vegetarians (& vegans) are advised to take some extra B12 supplements to ensure that they don’t have any deficits.
- Oxygen transport & endurance: you probably have already heard about this, but iron is a very important vitamin for runners. It is composed of hemoglobin which carries oxygen to muscles and other tissues. If you notice that you are more fatigued, have a decrease in endurance or you are not recovering properly, then it might be time to get a blood analysis and get your iron levels checked. (PS: women or more prone to iron deficiency)
- Bone health and injury prevention: (trail) running puts a lot of stress on your body so ensuring that you have strong bones through the consumption of calcium (dairy, squash, edamame) and vitamin D (flesh of fatty fish, fish liver oil, egg yolk and sunshine), which helps the absorption of calcium, is important to stay injury free. During winter months, when the sun is not so strong, it is often advised to us vitamin D supplements.
- Electrolytes: you most likely have heard of this term, but what exactly does it mean? Electrolytes is an included term for sodium, potassium and magnesium and help maintain proper hydration, muscle function and nerve impulses. Most electrolyte tablets also have some salt added to them and especially during long runs, I would really advise taking some tablets with you since they will help avoid muscle cramps.
- Immune function: training puts a lot of stress on your body and will weaken your immune system. Therefore consuming enough vitamin C (helps with the absorption of iron) and zinc (vital role in wound healing) will help you to stay healthy during intese training periods.
- Antioxidant defense: stress caused by intense physical activity can be harmful for your cells and antioxidants such as vitamins A, C and E are important to reduce inflammation and will consequently help you recover faster
- Mental health and focus: to have a proper functioning brain and good cognitive function, eating sufficient omega-3 fatty acids is crucial
There are a lot of other vitamins and minerals all with their own functions, but we won’t be diving much deeper into them in this course. If you want to know more about them, I would highly recommend you to visit this link.
BONUS TIP: if you try to eat the rainbow (different colours and fruits/ vegetables) you are very likely to get in all the recommendations.