Spring is here and that signals the start of the running and racing season. Training for a road race or triathlon is a terrific goal, as is any attempt to get in shape, and only by taking good care of yourself during the training period will you be able to show up at the starting line feeling prepared and ready. As the intensity of training increases, be sure to fuel your body with all the nutrients it needs.
1. Eat early and often. Your body does best with small bursts of energy (calories) throughout the day. Eating a healthy breakfast not only fuels you with energy for the day, but also helps curb your appetite. People who eat a meal containing protein within an hour of waking are more likely to eat healthful meals the rest of the day.
2. Is caffeine a blessing or a curse? Both. Caffeine, when ingested in moderate doses, ideally via a natural source such as chocolate, coffee or green tea, can help boost metabolism and help with calorie burning during a workout. However, we suggest satisfying that caffeine fix early in the day so as not to disturb sleep.
3. Getting adequate amount of protein during training is important because it is needed for muscle growth and repair and helps satiate hunger. But keep in mind, it is only helpful to a point and should be paired with carbs and fats to provide optimal balance. Endurance athletes should eat 2-3 servings of protein, and protein should be 20-30% of calories per day or approximately 1/3 g protein per pound of body weight.
4. Maximize your metabolism. The thyroid gland regulates metabolism in your body and functions optimally only if you have adequate intake of iodine. As we eat fewer processed foods and use less table salt, many of us fall short on iodine intake. Iodine can be part of a vitamin regimen to help support your thyroid, but consult your physician about the right level for you since too much can cause big problems.
5. Hydrate! When we sweat we lose both water and electrolytes, such as sodium, magnesium, potassium and chloride. Replacing these losses with plain water is not enough. Through osmosis, our bodies actually absorb and hold onto fluids better if they are combined with the right electrolytes.
6. Train your entire body — your legs, core and arms. Many people who train for a race, whether it be a 10K or triathlon, focusing on swimming, biking and running, tend to neglect weight training and flexibility exercises. Be sure to incorporate a mix of exercises from cardio to yoga to weights — the variety will be beneficial for your body and your mind.
7. Build strong bones to avoid stress and compression fractures. Optimal bone health is achieved, in part, with weight bearing exercises, but it is also necessary to get the right nutrients. We recommend, if possible, get most of your calcium through diet (there are many dairy and nondairy sources), and only take a low dose supplement, if needed. Calcium can only be absorbed by your body if you get adequate doses of vitamin D.
8. Minimize cramping and injury with vitamin D, magnesium and certain B vitamins. The amount needed can vary based on diet, lifestyle and health history, so consider taking a personalized multivitamin that ensures you get adequate and safe levels based on your own needs.
Arielle Miller Levitan, MD, is a board-certified internal medicine physician and the cofounder of Vous Vitamin, LLC. She is the author of The Vitamin Solution: Two Doctors Clear Confusion About Vitamins and Your Health. She attended Stanford University and Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, and has served as chief medical resident for the Northwestern University McGraw Medical Center’s Evanston Hospital Program and as a clinical instructor for its medical school. She has a special interest in women’s health and preventive medicine and currently practices general internal medicine on the North Shore of Chicago, where she teaches medical students on-site. She enjoys cooking, cardio tennis, running, being a soccer mom (sometimes) and spending time with her three kids and husband (also a doctor of internal medicine).
Romy Block, MD, is a board-certified specialist in endocrine and metabolism medicine, member of American Thyroid Association, and the cofounder of Vous Vitamin, LLC. She is the author of The Vitamin Solution: Two Doctors Clear Confusion About Vitamins and Your Health. She attended Tufts University and Tel Aviv University’s Sackler School of Medicine. She completed residency training in internal medicine at North Shore University Hospital—North Shore-LIJ and did a fellowship at New York University. She practices on the North Shore of Chicago, where she specializes in thyroid disorders and pituitary diseases. She enjoys travel, food and wine, working out with her personal trainer and spending time with her husband (a pulmonary and sleep specialist) and their three boys.