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Going for a run? What foods should you have three hours before to maximise cardio benefits?

2 Jul 2023

It is necessary to eat specific food items before running to acquire the capacity to cover longer distances without getting tired. Work on your pre-run diet, says holistic health expert Dr Mickey Mehta

Running is considered the best cardio exercise and helps in your overall fitness levels. Just 30 minutes of continuous running every day can have numerous benefits for the body, which can be maximised if you follow a certain regime to increase strength, endurance and stamina.

It is necessary to eat specific food items at least three hours before running to acquire the capacity to cover longer distances without getting tired. Professional runners work seriously on their pre-run diet. All aerobic activities, such as brisk walking, swimming, cycling and running, require energy. The source of energy that is used to power movement and contraction in working muscles is adenosine triphosphate (ATP) – the body’s biochemical way to store and transport energy. However, ATP is not stored to a great extent in cells. So once muscle contraction starts, the body must be in a position to make ATP quickly. Muscle cells have several different ways to produce it. These systems work together in phases.


The three biochemical systems for producing ATP are as follows:a) Using creatine phosphateb) Using glycogenc) Aerobic respirationAerobic respiration takes more chemical reactions to produce ATP than either of the above two systems. It is the slowest of all three systems, but it can supply ATP for several hours or longer, as long as the supply of fuel lasts.The body consumes vast amounts of oxygen during sustained running that is up to 15 times more than at rest. The body uses oxygen to release energy from metabolic fuels, mainly glucose and fat, and powers muscle activity. Everyone who breathes is subject to oxidative stress.But because the body consumes so much more oxygen during running, it also produces many more free radicals, some of which contribute to muscle fatigue, muscle damage and inflammation that make it hard to run again the next day.


This is where diet becomes important. Foods rich in antioxidants reduce oxidative stress, the risk of developing muscle damage and related conditions.The chemical property of any liquid is measured by pH. If this pH is between 1 and 7, the substance is acidic, and if the pH is greater than 7, it is considered alkaline or astringent. An alkaline substance neutralises an acidic substance, which can result in increased oxygen levels and improve your energy and ultimately boost your metabolism. Alkaline foods include green and fibre-rich leafy vegetables like spinach, amaranth leaves, fenugreek, drumstick leaves and mint.

Vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli contain phytochemicals that are beneficial for the body.

1) Tubers like carrots, radishes, yams, beets, corns are rich in alkaline properties and rich in minerals, proteins and starch. They are very good when eaten raw or in salad form. Their nutrients can be lost when eaten by boiling or overcooking.

2) Fruits available in season like fig, apple, watermelon, grape, apricot and pomegranate are alkaline.

3) Cashews, walnuts and almonds belong to the category of dry fruits that are rich in fatty substances but also have alkaline properties. So include some of them in your daily diet.

4) While you’re running, carbohydrates provide you with immediate energy. So go for complex carbohydrates like oats, whole rice, potato, sweet potato, fruits like bananas, mangoes and all the sweet fruits.

5) Protein is just as important as carbohydrates for runners, as they need to fuel the leg muscles, the glute muscles and the back muscles which are primarily engaged in running, along with core muscles. Proteins help in tissue repair, exercise recovery, injury prevention, immune function and the production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells. The more energy you burn off in exercise, the more protein you need to ensure that your body doesn’t break down your muscles to fuel your workouts. Protein sources are pulses, legumes, nuts, seeds, quinoa, dark green leafy vegetables and low fat dairy products.

6) The other raw material that fuels your muscles is fat. It is used during endurance exercise. Dietary fat must be broken down into fatty acids and other components before it can be used by the muscles, making it less immediately available than carbs and less efficient as a fuel, especially during intense exercise.Stored body fat is an excellent fuel source. The good fat sources are seeds like chia seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, nuts like almonds, cashews, walnuts, avocados and low fat dairy products.

7) Many runners are concerned that they are not drinking enough water. The best tip for staying hydrated during a run is to drink when you are thirsty. You can carry a regular-size water bottle in one hand when you run. Keep a check on the weather changes, as your sweat rate changes accordingly.

So adjust your fluids appropriately as the weather gets hotter or cooler.Start preparing from two hours before the run, where oatmeal and a granola bar usually do the trick. One hour before, have some electrolytes and have something easy to digest.  Usually fruits are a good option.

Published in Indian Express

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