Top Ten Distance Runners Diet Mistakes

By Rick Morris

We all eat the perfect training and racing diet, right? Not a chance! Distance runners are notorious for their nutritional mistakes. There is a misconception out there that distance runners can eat any portion size of any food that they would like. Some believe that a distance runners metabolism is so revved up that they can eat anything for fuel. That would be nice, but in reality there is nothing further from the truth. As a distance runner you need to eat the proper portion sizes of the proper foods at the correct time to maximize your running performance and keep your body healthy.

Here are our top ten diet mistakes among distance runners.

Too Much Carbo Loading

One of the most common diet mistakes involves a distance running tradition, the pre race carbo load dinner. The traditional pre race carbo load dinner is a good idea that has gotten out of control. At every pre race carbo loading supper you will see plates piled to the moon with pasta, sauce and breadsticks on the side. And then, most runners go back for seconds and thirds. That much food the night before a race is neither necessary nor wise. Too much food can make you sluggish and fatigued on race day morning. Concentrate on high carbohydrate eating the night before your race but stick to normal portion sizes.

Carbohydrate Avoidance

On the flip side of too many carbs are the runners that try to avoid carbohydrates, believing that they will make them fat. Carbohydrates are your energy foods. Running without a sufficient supply of carbs is like driving a race car with a nearly empty fuel tank. You will have to slow down and eventually stop. So don’t avoid the carbs if you want to keep running.

Junk Food Mania

Another of the more common diet mistakes is junk food. You’re a  distance runner; you can eat anything because your running will keep you slim and healthy – right? Wrong! There is a never ending stream of distance runners heading to the fast food joints for some tasty junk food. They are sabotaging themselves. Distance runners need the high quality whole foods, not low quality, high calorie junk foods. Distance running uses up a lot of your body’s vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. You need to replace those with high quality nutrition. So, don’t head for your local junk food restaurant, go to your natural grocer for some high quality, high nutrient whole foods that will strengthen your body, not tear it down.

Color Blindness

Many runners are color blind when it comes to food. The color selection of their food is rather limited. Usually to whites and browns. Limited colors equal limited nutrition. Try to branch out and include a wide variety of food colors, focusing on the dark greens and brightly colored fruits and vegetables. Dark greens and brightly colored foods generally contain more high quality nutrients per calorie. You will get more bang for your buck.

Size Matters

Portion sizes are out of control in today’s world of eating. Most restaurants serve portion sizes that are three to four times a normal portion size. As an athlete and a distance runner you burn more calories than the average person and also require more calories, but you don’t need four times the calories. To run a peak efficiency you really need to be at your ideal running weight. You won’t do that when you are overeating. So watch those portion sizes. Eat enough to properly fuel your running, but don’t over eat.

Building Blocks Blues

Protein provides the building blocks for your muscles. Hard or long training runs break down your muscles and you need those protein building blocks to rebuild and strengthen your muscles. Many runners focus so exclusively on replacing lost carbohydrates that they forget about protein. You don’t need to overdo the protein in your diet. Just make sure you are getting a bit of high quality protein in each meal. Another good time to include protein is in your post run recovery plan. The addition of protein after a hard workout or race will help you recover faster and more completely.

Tech Food Junkie

The most nutritious and effective type of food is natural whole foods. But, in today’s high tech world, it seems like many athletes are on high tech overload. They are ignoring the benefits of whole foods and are instead consuming large portions of sports energy bars. Yep, I know. Those energy bars are quick and easy to eat, but over reliance on energy bars and foods means you are almost certainly missing out on a number of important nutrients. Use the energy foods for their intended purpose; quick and easy energy replacement when eating whole foods isn’t a reasonable option. Stick to eating real food for your normal meals. Your body will thank you by reaching new PR’s.

Water Overload

This is one of the diet mistakes that is common in marathon racing. It seems like everywhere I go, I see people carrying water bottles. I agree that it’s important to stay properly hydrated, but the key here is “properly” hydrated. Over-hydrating can cause a potentially dangerous condition called hyponatremia or low blood sodium. One of the most common causes of hyponatremia is drinking only water, rather than a sports drink with sodium, during a long run or race. Stay hydrated but don’t overdo it; and always consume a sports drink with sodium and other electrolytes during a run or race of more than one hour.

How Dry I Am

The polar opposite of the over drinker is the under drinker. Running in a dehydrated state is a really bad idea. First of all your running performance will drop drastically when you become dehydrated because your body’s has a hard time maintaining proper operating temperature and your blood becomes thicker. Second, running when you are dehydrated can cause a variety of heat related illnesses including heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Tardy to the Party

This is one of the diet mistakes that is very easy to make. I have pet peeve concerning the distribution of energy foods at most marathons. Did you ever notice that many marathons only have food during the last half of the race? One of the most common and most costly marathon nutrition mistakes is not refueling early enough in the race. You should be taking in as many carbs as you can from the time the starting gun goes off. You shouldn’t wait until mile 15 to start eating. By that time you are already carbohydrate depleted and are playing catch up. The idea is to avoid carbohydrate depletion by eating throughout your race. So, if your marathon doesn’t have food in the first half of the race, consider carrying your own early race food. It will pay off with less pain and more speed in those final critical miles.