I love running. To me, there is nothing more relaxing than lacing up my sneakers, venting to my teammates, and pushing my body to it's limits. I love the surges of endorphins after a grueling workout and the camaraderie that comes with being part of a team. 

That said, I know that running is really hard on my body. Pounding out miles isn't the best thing for my legs, and my workouts burn tons of calories. In order to prevent injuries and do my best at practices and races, I need to make sure I'm fueling my body properly. Luckily, I knew just who to ask for recommendations.

Since my cross country coach is also a teacher of sports medicine and anatomy, I asked him for helpful advice that I could share with all of the athletes in the Spoon-sphere.

General Nutrition Guidelines

My coach was very reluctant to give specific advice about what he'd tell his athletes to eat and the amount of each. His experience has shown him that girls take whatever he says very literally and often to it's extremes.

As athletes, we burn a lot of extra calories, so we need to replenish our energy by increasing the amount of food we eat. This does not only mean increasing the number of calories you eat, but making sure to eat more carbohydrates, fat, and protein.

People tend to fear fat, but it is necessary to absorb the nutrients and vitamins from everything else you eat. Don't fear carbs, either! They're your body's main source of energy. 

My coach emphasized the importance of focusing on your individual needs and that there is no "right way" of eating. If you give 100% effort in your workouts and let your body recover, there is nothing you can change in your diet that will make  a substantial difference in your pace.

Each athlete's body works differently. The best way to stay healthy is to listen to your body and give it what it needs to succeed. 

Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate

Molly Gallagher

For my coach, one of the most important things athletes can do is stay hydrated. Keeping hydrated is much easier to do if you always have a water bottle handy. Dehydration causes exhaustion and decreased performance, and contributes to joint and muscle damage. Drinking water is an easy way to prevent injury and feel good.

Nutrients That Runners Need to Replenish

Running impacts your body's chemistry in more ways than just burning calories. The constant pounding kills blood cells, which can lead to anemia, and creates lots of free-radicals in the body. Free radicals can cause damage to your body and lead to disease in the future. 

meat, barbecue, sirloin, tenderloin, broil, beef, steak
Ellen Gibbs

My coach recommends seeing your doctor to test your iron levels. Tell your physician about your level of activity, and ask them if they'd recommend taking a supplement to keep your iron levels from dipping too low. Don't self-diagnose, though; taking too much iron can have negative impacts too. 

Eating antioxidants are a great way to combat the free radicals that running creates. Here is a list of foods that are high in antioxidants, with some of them being fruits like blueberries and pomegranates. Incorporate antioxidant-rich ingredients into smoothies, salads or dessert (yes, chocolate is an antioxidant).

cheese, peanut butter, peanut
Alexander Furuya

Directly after you run, my coach recommends eating a snack with carbs and protein in it. Eating right after you get back will help your muscles recover faster and rebuild themselves stronger than they were before. Carbs are important to restock your stores of energy, and protein is vital for muscle growth. Here is a list of post-workout snack ideas. 

Finding What Works for You

My coach recommended developing an eating routine that works for you. After all, you know your body better than anyone!

Experiment with different routines to find one that works and stick with it. It's especially important for race days, so you can know that your breakfast won't be the variable that makes or breaks your big race. Unfortunately, there is no formula for this. The only way to find out what works for you is through trial and error.

Eating Disorders Are a Problem

Team sports can be a high-pressure environment. There's constant motivation from coaches, teammates, and the competition to continually improve and become the best athlete you can be. The best athletes are often determined, disciplined, and willing to punish their bodies in the name of reaching goals.

Unfortunately, these characteristics are the same traits that can lead to eating disorders. My coach raised the point that teams can struggle when coaches and athletes aren't on the lookout for the red flags of eating disorders. A safe environment is crucial in order  for avoidance of eating disorders.

My coach emphasized that a wide range of body types can be successful athletes. You don't have to be a certain size to be victorious. In fact, being a strong athlete often requires building up your muscles and adding a little bulk. Being skinny- especially by means of depriving your body of vital nutrients- doesn't necessarily help you become a better athlete.

Coaches and athletes need to build strong, personal relationships to make sure that they don't miscommunicate. My coach made it clear that he can only give accurate advice when he knows enough about an athlete to assess their particular needs. Poor communication is a gateway to dangerous misinterpretation. 

If a coach doesn't have a strong relationship with their athletes, the pressure they put on their athletes can seem like they have negative feelings toward them. However, if both understand each other's motives, they can work together towards their individual and team success.

It's All About You

water, beer
Molly Gallagher

My coach wanted me to be very clear about one thing: Every athlete has different needs. The pre-race routine that works for one runner might be disastrous for another. Beyond eating more protein, carbs, and fats and incorporating antioxidants, there isn't anything that every athlete can do to improve their performance.

The most important step is to figure out what works for you. Talk to your doctor about getting your iron levels tested, and find a routine that meshes with your lifestyle and fitness goals.

Most of all, don't worry about it too much. There is nothing you can eat that will make or break your athletic career. If all you want after a hard workout is pizza, eat it! You have cravings for a reason, and trying to ignore them will drive you crazy. Now go on out there and become the best athlete you can be.