One of the biggest misconceptions I hear from runners and non-runners alike is that athletes are so lucky we can eat whatever we want!
Sure, but... just because you burn over a thousand calories in one run doesn’t mean you’ll replenish your vitamin and mineral stores with a tub of rocky road.
You don’t just need calories, you need iron, vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium, protein, sodium, and potassium. And you should try to get your nutritional requirements met by eating them in natural foods before turning to manufactured vitamin capsules.
Here's how, and why.
Aside from providing you a false sense of camaraderie with your classmates, Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant.
That’s a fancy way of saying Vitamin C helps your body fight off intruding germs and infections, and allows you to heal wounds and blisters. Runners particularly need Vitamin C to protect from upper respiratory infections, which can derail your training by gunking up your lungs.
Vitamin C Super-Duper foods: Citrus fruits and dark, leafy greens: bell peppers, kiwi, broccoli, oranges, tomatoes, mangos, strawberries, kale, Brussels sprouts, papayas.
Random Vitamin C Fact: The “C” in Vitamin C comes from ascorbic acid, which means “anti-scurvy” in old-pirate-doctor-speak.
No bones about it, Vitamin D is pretty rad.
Vitamin D helps your body process calcium, which is vital to grow bones resilient to stress fractures. Vitamin D also fights inflammation. (You know, when your knees get puffy from over-training.)
You probably know the most common way to absorb Vitamin D is by exposing your skin to natural sunlight. Outdoor runners, you're golden. However, if you run on a treadmill, wear protective clothing, or live in a cloudy climate, you might just need some extra.
Vitamin D Super-Duper Foods: Wild-caught, fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, egg yolks, milk products including cheese and yogurt, almond milk, oatmeal.
Sad Vitamin D Fact: Skin also has a harder time producing vitamin D with age.
Ladies, I’m looking at you.
Almost 20% of women don’t consume enough iron, and a whopping 50% of pregnant women aren’t giving their bun in the oven enough iron, either.
Iron deficiency is what’s commonly called anemia, where your body is unable to produce sufficient red blood cells and you’re left fatigued, bitchy, and unable to recover from hard workouts. Iron delivers oxygen to your muscles, which is crucial to building your performance capabilities.
Iron Super-Duper Foods: Red meat, dark poultry, seafood (clams, mussels, salmon, halibut), dried apricots, dark greens, whole grains, soy.
Iron BFFact: Pairs well with Vitamin C. No, seriously, wash that breakfast steak down with your OJ to improve your iron absorption.
DID SOMEONE SAY BANANAS?!?!?!
Potassium hooks up with sodium to balance electrolyte levels in your body—as in the electrical pulses which enable your muscles to move like a smooth machine. If you want your super low heart rate to be steady and kick heart disease to the curb, you need to follow the runner stereotype and eat bananas all day.
Potassium Super-Duper Foods: Bananas with peanut butter, banana smoothies, banana muffins, banana bread, banana splits, banana splits, banana splits.*
Potassium Fun Fact: Potassium makes up 70% of the positive ions inside the cells of your body.
***Also, winter squash, spinach, sweet potato, white beans, yogurt, OJ, halibut, cantaloupe, pistachios, raisins, I guess.
Small fry? Na.
Salt gets a bad rap, given its overuse— hellooo, nachos. Doctors tell most people to limit their salt intake. But as a runner covering long distances or training in excessive heat (here’s squinting at you, Texas), you’re in danger of losing critical levels of sodium through sweat.
As an electrolyte, sodium gives your cells the electrical charge they need to guide impulses through your nerves and make your body run, walk, douggie, etc. This charge is created when sodium pushes into a cell and pushes potassium out of the cell, essentially creating a chain of energy which allows your muscles to contract.
Sodium Super-Duper Foods: Sports drinks, pretzels, black olives, ham, egg yolks, dairy products. My favorite? Salting steamed zucchini and squash.
Sodium Fun Fact: You can overdose on salt. For instance, when this 19-year-old drank an entire bottle of soy sauce. Because freshmen orientation, duh.
OK, there is no real vitamin R. But you need to rest! Getting 8+ hours of sleep a night is just as necessary to your routine as packing in protein. Never skip your rest day. Put your feet up and enjoy it. Need some inspiration for making rest days fun? I've gotcha here.