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What Should an Athlete Running Track Eat & Drink?

By Sylvia Cochran

Healthy nutrition is a lifestyle choice for an athlete. Proper nutrition is important throughout the training cycle. It is not possible to make up for daily unhealthy food choices the week or night before a major track meet. Instead, seasoned and professional runners carefully build a balanced meal plan that accounts for healthy proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Hydration choices are also important factors in the overall meal planning.

Seafood and Chicken

Salmon is a healthy main course choice for the protein and omega-3 fatty acids it contains. Health benefits of these fats include balancing the body’s inflammatory response, which helps counteract running-induced asthma attacks. Because of the danger of mercury contamination, athletes should choose wild caught fish for extra safety.

A 4-oz. serving of chicken can fulfill as much as half of a runner’s daily protein requirement, which exceeds that of non-runner’s by 50 percent to 75 percent. This protein assists with rebuilding muscles and also a speedy recovery after a particularly strenuous workout or event.

Whole Grains

"Runner’s World" says a runner needs to ingest at least “three to six one-ounce servings” of these grains each day. Keep an eye open for the 100 percent whole-grain notation, which differentiates the product from one that might contain refined flour in addition to whole grain. Remember that this kind of food is a lot denser than refined flour products, and it might take time for taste buds to adjust. Whole-grain products help runners with weight and blood sugar level control.

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Hydration and Sports Drinks

Before the run, fluid intake needs depend on weather conditions. As a general rule of thumb, drink a few cups of cool water 10 to 15 minutes before starting the track workout.

Opt for sports drinks right after a run. These beverages contain sodium, electrolytes and carbohydrates, which assist the body in replenishing these substances that are lost with sweat.

When used during the run—as might be the case for a track runner training for a marathon—as little as a half-cup of sports drink every 15 minutes can potentially help with the energy required to finish strong. Keep a close eye on the carbohydrate solution of the drink; depending on a runner’s individual metabolism, the sweet spot lies somewhere between a 4 percent and an 8 percent solution.

Nutritional Supplements

Athletes ideally derive all the required vitamins and minerals from a balanced meal plan. The University of Illinois Extension agrees that female athletes might—at their physician's suggestion—supplement with iron, but overall the danger of long-term vitamin supplement overuse outweighs the benefits. Only a physician or nutritionist can evaluate an individual athlete’s need for supplementation and make a recommendation.

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