One of the most important training components is nutrition. Fuel is what makes your body function. Not only does what you eat before, during, and after workouts matter, but also what you put into your body throughout the rest of your day. Whether you are a pro endurance athlete or recreational exerciser, good nutrition is important for performance improvement, and what you eat can either limit you from or help you reach your goals.
The Summer Slump
One often-overlooked factor that can impact your performance is the weather. Unfortunately, it’s a factor that we cannot control, but we can prepare our bodies to tolerate and adjust to it. For runners, the hot summer months can make us feel like we are going backward in our training; and if you live in a place where humidity is the norm, improving our performance can seem impossible.
During the warm summer months, our bodies need to work a little harder as temperatures rise in order to keep our core body temperature optimal. Blood flow is redirected to the skin for this to occur, which means less oxygen is available for the muscles. In turn, more energy is required for runs during hot seasons than in the cold, resulting in higher heart rates and quicker fatigue. This is where nutrition can make the biggest difference.
Less is Not Always More
Since our runs and outdoor workouts require more energy, we need to ingest more calories if we want to perform well. The amount varies from person to person, but it’s not a bad idea to experiment with an added 100 calories per day at a time to see what works for you. Focusing on carb-rich foods like adding a side of toast or oats for breakfast, an extra serving of potatoes or rice for lunch or dinner, or simply an extra serving of sport fuel gel or sports chews before or during runs will most likely make a sufficient difference.
If you’re worried about gaining weight with the added calories, fear not! As long as you are gradually adding a little at a time to make up for the extra energy required for your runs and opting for nutritious foods, it shouldn’t affect your weight loss goals. If you are on a specific diet or you have food sensitivities, like being vegan or gluten-free, stick with your usual foods and just add more of the same.
Drink Up All Day
Hydration is also a big factor during the warm summer months. The hotter the temperature and higher the humidity, the more we sweat, which means we need to replenish the lost electrolytes as best as possible to limit any effect on our performance. Don’t just chug water before and after your runs. Try to stay hydrated all day long, even on rest days. Add electrolytes to your morning glass of water before runs, and consider a salt tablet during long runs—there are several brands that pack all of your electrolytes into one tablet!
Prep for Success
Extra fluids and calories should be a priority for hot summer workouts, but you may also find an added benefit from including a pre-workout supplement. Although not necessary, it may help you push a little more and feel less fatigued when used consistently. Ingredients like caffeine, amino acids, and B vitamins are shown to help increase energy levels, prevent fatigue, and decrease muscle damage. Most brands make pre-workout in powder form that you simply mix with water 30-60 minutes before your workout.
Find What Works for You
With social media being a big part of many peoples’ day, we are often tempted to follow diets that we see from other people. This is a bad idea. Focus on your individual body’s responses to your exercise program and nutrition. You may want to log your calories and macronutrients for a short period of time to get a better understanding of how much you’re eating and the timing of your intake. If you work out in the morning hours and feel depleted in the late afternoons and early evenings, that’s a good sign you need to add in some calories and/or more fluids during the day.
Nutrition is definitely important, but it should not be thought of as a strict diet where you have to limit all of the foods you love. Most of the time, when athletes try to do this, they end up not eating enough and that’s what sabotages their performance. It is better to be a little over-fueled as an athlete than under-fueled.
About the AuthorStephanie Pi is a marathoner, running coach, and physical therapist who specializes in all things running and fitness. Keep up with Stephanie’s training and everyday life when you follow her on Instagram.