Cross-country runners have different nutritional needs than non-runners. They require an increase in certain nutrients to provide sustained energy for long distance runs. The best diet for running cross-country consists of a precise ratio of protein, fat, carbohydrates and iron. This mix enables a runner’s body to operate at peak performance.
First and foremost, cross-country runners must remain hydrated. Cross-country runners should consume a great deal more water than non-athletes. When you run, energy is released as heat. Your body uses water to sweat and cool itself to prevent overheating. Water also helps prevent muscle fatigue and cramping. Cross-country runners lose four to eight pounds of water every hour. To find out how much water you need to drink, weigh yourself before and after training. For every pound you lose while training, drink 16 ounces of water.
A cross-country runner’s diet should include iron-rich foods. According to the University of Chicago, iron helps produce red blood cells and carry oxygen throughout the body. This is essential for maintaining athletic endurance. Iron-rich foods include meat, poultry, fish, leafy green vegetables, beans and whole wheat bread. Do not take iron supplements unless your doctor recommends them. Too much iron can lead to constipation and other medical issues.
Carbohydrates: Load up on carbohydrates if you’re a cross-country runner. According to Colorado State University, carbohydrates produce more energy than the same amount of protein. Cross-country runners have more endurance with ample amounts of carbohydrates stored in their bodies. Complex carbohydrates last longer than simple carbohydrates derived from sugar. Cross-country runners should get 70 percent of their energy from complex carbohydrates. A diet that includes whole grain spaghetti, potatoes and whole grain bread eaten two to three days before a race will fill up your glycogen storage spaces. Carb Loading up the night before has little of the same benefits as carbs that are eaten 2-3 days before!
Protein is also essential in the diet of cross-country runners. While the primary energy comes from carbohydrates, protein is burned as well. Protein is also essential for muscle repair and recovery. Runners require more protein than sedentary people because of the intense demands they place on their bodies. At least 15 percent of your calories should come from protein sources like meat, eggs, tofu and low-fat dairy products. Endurance athletes should eat about 2.5 grams of protein per day for every pound of body weight.
Fats: Don’t fear the fats. If you run for more than one hour, your body will turn to fats for most of its energy. Cross-country runners must train their bodies to efficiently utilize fat for energy. To do this, they must consume good fats like omega-3 fatty acids, polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat. These are found in olive oil, fish and vegetable oil. Avoid bad fats like trans fats and fatty red meat. (like Wendy’s – O’Brien)
Having a snack before you run provides your body with fuel and stamina to go the distance. Complex carbohydrates can easily break down in the digestive tract, providing you with consistent energy while running. To maximize performance, have a pre-workout meal of complex carbohydrates with a small amount of protein, such as oatmeal with fruit and nuts or a slice of whole grain bread with peanut butter. Make sure you are drinking lots of water prior to running long distances. Do not eat heavy meals right before a long run and avoid foods high in sugar and fat that can leave you feeling tired due to sudden drops in blood sugar.
Sports nutritionists suggest replenishing your body with a healthy protein-and-carb snack after a long run. Protein shakes with fruit provide you with nutrients to replenish your muscles and re-energize. Tuna on whole wheat bread is also a great post-run snack. It provides you with a healthy source of protein and two servings of whole grains. Other protein-carb mini-meals you should eat after running include yogurt, berries, and turkey, cheese, and apple slices.