It can be hard to pin down the age-old dietary wisdom and what you should follow as an athlete. So we asked a sports dietitian: What are some common runner nutrition myths we need for retirement? Here are the top five.
Myth #1: Eating late at night makes me gain weight
Weight isn’t that simple, and timing that late-night snack isn’t the problem. We’ll have to dig deeper into thinking about lifestyle, metabolism, and specific training until we get closer to understanding the full equation for what drives a person to gain weight. Restrictive ideas like this abound in diet culture and can be dangerous, leading to unhealthy restrictions that are not based on scientific facts and are not mentally healthy or physically productive. In fact, One study in Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise It has been shown that eating a protein-rich snack before bed helps increase muscle protein synthesis by 22%, allowing for improved recovery during exercise.
Myth 2: Carbohydrates are bad
This myth may have emerged more recently from the modern, if scientifically inconclusive, ketogenic diet, or from ancient Atkins diet myths. Athletes should be skeptical about any diet that restricts a particular nutrient or component – our bodies need carbohydrates to produce energy. You’ll need readily available carbs if you want to run at a higher VO2max without impacts on performance, and while exercising at a lower intensity, the body uses fat more easily and actually produces more energy per gram than carbs. While eating fewer carbohydrates during certain points in your training can be beneficial, any time a diet seeks to demonize a single ingredient or nutrient, it should be a red flag.
Myth 3: I should be fed with food and water every time
You don’t have to eat and drink your calories every time if you’re eating enough throughout the day. When you need to focus on refueling, it runs for 60+ minutes that our bodies, on average, have enough energy in our glycogen stored fuel to last for 90 minutes to 2 hours. The general recommendation for refueling for workouts longer than an hour is to consume 40 to 90 grams of carbohydrates, 200 to 300 calories, and 16 to 20 fluid ounces each hour. So, while you don’t need to load up on stroopwafels for your jog around the block, you should definitely snack on your two-hour training.
Myth 4: You don’t have to worry about protein
Runners who train constantly will need to pay attention to their protein intake. On average, endurance athletes need 1.5 times as much protein as the average person, and not getting enough protein can lead to an increased risk of disease, injury, mood disorders, and poor recovery.
The amount of protein you need depends on your body weight, but the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) recommends 1.4 to 2 grams per kilogram of body weight. For a 150-pound runner, this equates to about 95 to 136 grams per day. In general, a good goal is to eat 20 to 30 grams of protein at each meal and 10 to 15 grams per snack.
Myth 5: I can only refuel right after running
You may have heard of the “window of opportunity” after a workout, 30 minutes after a hard run or workout that has been described as the best time to eat and refuel. This is due to the idea that muscles are most receptive to replacing lost glycogen (or stored carbohydrates) in half an hour right after a hard exertion, which is important because glycogen is used to produce energy during workouts. Delaying glycogen replacement can impair an athlete’s ability to recover from long or high-intensity workouts and leave them open to increase injury risk.
While many nutritionists still recommend a 30- to 60-minute period for post-workout refueling, previous research has shown that there is an increase in the rate of carbohydrate uptake and glycogen resynthesis in the two hours after exercise. And there may be more wiggle room when calculating what type of exercise you are, how much you ate previously, and what kind of shape you are in.
Eating a type of protein with a carbohydrate source can be beneficial for replacing muscle glycogen, as both carbohydrates and protein work together to return glucose to the muscles. While more specific recommendations can be made for runners based on body weight, the general recommendation is to consume 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrates and 15 to 20 grams of protein.
This story originally appeared in our sister publications, trail runner.