Friday, May 12, 2006

Running and Nutrition

It's a relatively ignored fact that nutrition is one of the most important parts of a running regimen, be it a regimen for a 10K or one for a marathon. Eating the right kind of food at the right times is very essential. Another key element of a successful exercise program is hydration i.e. drinking the appropriate fluid at the right time. In general, runners should try and get about 55-60% of their calories from CARBOHYDRATES, about 25-30% from FATS and the remainder (about 10-15%) from PROTEINS. These terms will be discussed in detail below. When you eat is almost as important as what you eat. Running on an empty stomach, especially during the longer runs, will not make for a good run. It is advisable to eat something like a bagel etc. a few hours before a run. You will need to experiment with food that works best for you. It is also advisable not to eat too close to the start of your run. Wait at least an hour or so before setting off for a run.

As a runner, your daily caloric intake should not be less than 2000 caloris. If you are running more than 25 miles per week, raise that number to 2500 calories.

Let's now talk about food groups, vitamins and supplements and hydration.

Carbohydrates, the fastest way for the body to get sugar for energy, are the body's primary source for energy for running or any other form of aerobic exercise. Carbs, as they are often referred to, are converted by our bodies to glucose. This glucose is either immediately used for energy by the body or stored away into muscles as glycogen. It is these very glycogens that our bodies use when running. The longer one runs, the more the glycogen reserves get depleted. Once they are gone, we hit what is traditionally known as the "wall". Another term is "bonking" i.e. I bonked at mile 20. For your information, every gram of carbohydrate needs

Carbohydrates are either Simple or Complex. Simple carbs are basic sugars and examples are candy, fruits and sodas. Avoid these (except for the fruits) as far as possible. Complex carbs, unlike the simple kind, provide energy for a longer period. Common foods that are classified as Complex carbs are cereals, pasta, breads, rice, potatoes, and vegetables. It's important that you maintain a diet high in complex carbohydrates to support your running program and meet your sports nutrition needs.

Everything that you eat that is not used by the body gets converted to fat and is stored away. Excess carbs get converted to fat as do excess proteins.

Fat comes in three types:

Saturated Fat
These are fats that remain solid at room temperature. Common examples are red meat and dairy products. These fats, required by our bodies, should make up at most 10% of the overall caloric intake.

Poly-unsaturated Fat
These fats stay semi-solid at room temperature e.g. margarine, butter, vegetable oils. These fats are definitely better than saturated fats.

Mono-unsaturated Fat
Mono-unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature e.g. olive oil and most other natural oils. Recent studies have shown that diets with a higher proportion of mono-unsaturates seem to reduce the risk of heart disease. It is recommended that one obtain 25 to 30% of one's daily calories from fats with the majority of those coming from mono-unsaturated fats.

Proteins are needed to repair and build muscles that suffer micro-tears when running. These tears are repaired using proteins. In addition, proteins expedite the absorption of carbs into the muscles.Meats, eggs, beans and nuts are common examples of foods that contain significant amounts of protein. Runners need to get 10 to 15% of their daily calories from protein.

Generally, if one eats right, one does not need additional vitamins or supplements. Eating right means getting plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables in addition to non-processed foods every day.

Studies have shown that runners tend to benefit from consuming anti-oxidants like Vitamin C and Vitamin E.

Is water the best fluid to drink when running?

Water makes up 60-70% of our bodies. It does not provide any energy but is extremely vital in the functioning of our bodies. Our muscles work very hard when we run, producing large amounts of heat. Water helps to regulate the core temperature of the body.

As a runner, you will need to replace large amounts of fluids and salts lost through sweat. If you are thirsty during a run, it is generally too late. It is imperative that you drink 6-8 ounces of water every 15-20 minutes when running. The danger of relying solely on water during really long runs is that the large amounts of water imbibed can lead to a condition called hyponatremia (low sodium). This happens because the concentration of sodium becomes dangerously low with the additional water. It is recommended that you drink a sports fluid like Gatorade, Powerade or Cytomax when running to replenish the electrolytes lost during exercise. The hotter the weather the more you will need to drink in order to replenish the lost fluids and electrolytes. You will need to keep hydrated even if the weather is cool. You will not sweat as much but do not let that fool you. Hydration during a run AND after is very important.

Glycemic index is a measure of the rapidity with which a carbohydrate food will affect levels of blood sugar. Foods that get digested fast and release sugar into the bloodstream are said to possess high GI while those that take a lot longer, i.e. a slower rate of sugar release into the bloodstream, are said to have low GI. The ranges for GI levels appear below.

Range of values
Less than 55
56 – 69
More than 70

GI is significant because of the following reasons:
Low GI foods lead to a lower blood sugar rise
High GI foods lead to post-meal sugar spikes which can be bad for blood vessels
Low GI food keep a person fuller for longer
Low GI food make for longer endurance activities
High GI foods help replenish muscle sugars also known as glycogens

In general, one is advised to eat carbohydrates that have low GI values than those with a high GI rating. GI values appear in the table below. One can move to low GI foods by following simple guidelines like
eating oats, barley or bran for breakfast
substituting white bread with “grainy” bread
increasing the intake of fruits and vegetables and cutting back on potatoes

White bread has been assigned a GI value of 100.

GI value
Chana dal
Milk, full fat
Kidney beans (rajma)
Chick peas (garbonzo beans)
Pear, fresh
Peach, fresh
Rice, parboiled
Ice cream, low fat
Orange juice
Rice, white
Porridge (oatmeal)
Ice cream
Table sugar

A Heart Healthy Diet for Indian Runners
Do you know that South Asians are more likely to suffer from heart attack or stroke than any other ethnic group? About 2 in 5 of South Asian male deaths are linked to heart attacks.

It has been observed that Indians tend to get about 40% of their energy from fat. Reducing it to 30% will make a huge change in their health and longevity. A heart-healthy diet coupled with exercise is the best way to effect a positive change in the quality of one’s life. Avoid the “bad” fats i.e. saturated and hydrogenated fats and eat more of the “good” fats i.e. monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Ways to reduce your fat intake:
Avoid/minimize spreading ghee/butter/margarine on your rotis
Replace full fat or homogenized milk with 2%, 1% or skim milk
Reduce your consumption of fried items like puris/bhaturas and snacks
Limit the intake of high cholesterol foods like eggs, cheese shrimp etc.
Avoid pickles preserved in oil or drain the oil before taking a helping of the pickle
Choose good oils like canola oil or olive oil over other cooking oils

Our traditional diet is generally healthy since it is rich in fiber and complex carbohydrates. We can supplement it by eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and wholegrain products. Soluble fiber like those found in dals and oat bran appear to lower blood cholesterol. In order to increase fiber and complex carbohydrate intake one can
Use whole wheat flour to make rotis
Mix a tablespoon of oat bran for every cup of flour while making the roti dough
Steamed or boiled rice is better than pulau or biryani. Eat brown rice occasionally
Substitute fruit juices with raw fruits, preferably unpeeled

Heart Healthy Recipes
Here are a few recipes that are healthy and have a reasonable balance of the three food groups.

Penne Pasta with Vegetables
8 oz. Penne pasta
3-4 ripe tomatoes, chopped up into cubes
1 head of broccoli, cut up into individual florets
2 carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
4-5 mushrooms
5-7 leaves of basil, finely chopped
5-7 leaves of spinach, finely chopped
1 teaspoon minced garlic
15-20 pine nuts
5-6 tablespoons Olive oil
Red pepper flakes (optional)
Salt to taste

Serves 2-3

Cook pasta as directed on the packet. Ensure that it is cooked al dente. Drain the pasta. While the pasta is cooking lightly sautee the garlic and the pine nuts in a saucepan on medium heat. Once the garlic has turned golden brown, toss in the red pepper flakes if desired and then add the tomatoes. Sautee until the tomatoes have turned pulpy. Now add the carrots and the broccoli and sautee for a couple of minutes. Add the mushrooms and sautee for another minute or so. Add the spinach and basil to the saucepan and sautee for a minute. Finally add the pasta to the saucepan and toss it gently with the cooked vegetables. Serve hot with grated parmesan cheese on top.

Alcohol is a diuretic and inhibits the absorption of oxygen into the blood. In excess it will affect the heart negatively. Limit yourself to no more than two drinks a day if you must. Dilute the drink with low-sodium mineral water.

There is so much talk of cholesterol and its effect on the heart and lifestyle these days but what is cholesterol?

It is a waxy, fat-like substance produced by the liver. It also enters our bodies from animal foods we eat like meat, whole milk, cheese, butter and eggs.

Cholesterol is essential for developing cell walls and in aiding other bodily functions. Too much of it can be harmful and lead to heart problems.

In order for cholesterol to travel through the blood, it is coated with a layer of protein to make a lipoprotein. Two types are High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) and Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL). HDL is called a “good cholesterol” because it is believed to aid in removing cholesterol from the body. High levels of HDL may help reduce the risk of heart disease while low levels may increase that risk. LDL or “bad cholesterol”, in excess, builds up inside the arteries and may lead to heart disease. Triglycerides are another type of fat carried in our blood. Most of the body’s fat tissue, coming from fat in our food, is in the form of triglycerides which are stored for energy. High triglyceride levels can increase the risk of heart disease.

Blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels are measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) and are reported as
Total cholesterol levels
“Good” cholesterol
“Bad” cholesterol

How High?
The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) has determined that a total cholesterol number above 240 is considered high. To put this number in perspective, a person with a total cholesterol level of 240 has twice the risk of heart disease than someone whose cholesterol is 200 mg/dL. A value between 200-239 is termed borderline.
It is desirable to have a total cholesterol level below 200.

The reasons for having high cholesterol are
Unhealthy diet
Lack of physical exercise
Being overweight

Lowering Cholesterol
One of the easiest ways to lower cholesterol levels is to change to a healthier diet (outlined above) and to introduce an exercise program into your lifestyle. By eating more fruits and vegetables, decreasing the intake of saturated fats and exercising at least 30 minutes on most days can significantly reduce cholesterol levels.
Substitute the oil you are using currently with extra virgin olive oil. Olive oil does not alter the taste of Indian food
Eat a few nuts every day – peanuts, almonds, walnuts etc.
Cut down on alcohol intake
Avocados are known to contain HDL and can be beneficial
Avoid stress as far as possible
Control your body weight. One way is to avoid large meals (portion control). Avoid going hungry for long periods of time. That causes one to gorge during big meals. Instead, consider snacking on healthy foods between meals. For example, after eating a hearty breakfast, eat a few raw vegetables (carrots, broccoli, green peppers, celery) or a whole wheat sandwich with jam around 10:30-11:00 am. Eat lunch and then another small snack around 3-4 pm – a lowfat muffin for example. Eat dinner early.

These diets should not be adopted without consultation with your physician. If you intend to go on one of these diets, please inform your physician that you are currently training for a marathon. These next 5-6 months are carbohydrate friendly months. Your body will need carbs and to deprive it of the fastest source of energy during a run will make the training sessions very hard and could have unwanted repercussions.

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