“Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it.” Oprah Winfrey
Spring is marathon season in Europe and as the daffodils appear, they are urged on by the pitter patter and pounding of runners getting into shape.
If you are a casual jogger who has decided to take the plunge and sign up for a long-distance running event, then there are a few small things you can do to make sure your endurance and recovery are the best they can be. Running a marathon or half marathon is a real push for the body, and what you eat can make a massive impact on your endurance and recovery.
A little bit of biology to set the context...
Your body uses energy from food to keep you alive, much like a car uses petrol to run. And, the process of using that energy results in by-products called free radicals which cause oxidation – think how exhaust fumes are the by-product of running a car.
As with exhaust fumes, oxidation is not good for us and too much causes damage. These damaging free radicals are also called ‘oxidants’. An this is where ‘antioxidants’ come into the picture. Basically antioxidants stop oxidants doing damage to your body. Think about cutting an apple. If you expose it to the air for a time, it goes brown, but if you squeeze a little lemon juice over it, you prevent the browning. The browning is the process of oxidation and the lemon juice is an antioxidant.
So, where am I going with all of this? Oxidation is a natural process and a normal, balanced diet should provide the right amount of antioxidants to counteract natural oxidation from expending energy. However, when we exert ourselves, we produce much higher levels of free radicals. High levels of free radicals cause tissue damage, so it’s important to ensure that we have good levels of antioxidants to ‘eat up’ the free radicals. (By the way, smoking causes serious amounts of oxidation, so the same principle applies to smokers.)
Antioxidants, antioxidants, antioxidants
Antioxidants are key. Without them, those nasty free radicals can start to do some serious long-term damage to our health.
A study published by the American Journal of Physiology found that if the production of free radicals is excessive, as during strenuous aerobic exercise, or if antioxidant defences are severely hampered, the balance between free radicals and antioxidants is lost. This may lead to tissue damage and thus there is a paradox between the benefits of heavy aerobic exercise on cardiovascular risk factors and the potentially harmful consequences of free radicals generated during heavy exercise.
So, to get back to the main point of this post – if you are training for an endurance event or do high levels of physical exercise, then you need to ensure that you are consuming foods that are high in antioxidants. These come from brightly and deeply coloured vegetables and fruit.
An adequate intake of antioxidants isn’t the only nutritional consideration when training for a marathon (or other big event). Magnesium is also important.
More and more, magnesium is being recognised as critical to overall good health and is often depleted – especially post-exercise. Magnesium might be one of my ‘favourite’ minerals. It plays a role in so many bodily functions and is a great therapeutic aid to many conditions. It is particularly useful during times of physical and emotional stress and anxiety. From a sports perspective, magnesium will aid in energy production, help your muscles recover and protect you from inflammation.
The good news is that it is easy to get through your diet – spinach, almonds, cocoa and sesame seeds are all excellent sources of magnesium.
So, if you’re a novice runner or regular exerciser, make sure you are getting your antioxidants and magnesium! Of course hydration, protein and the right balance of carbohydrates will positively impact your endurance, but these ‘feature nutrients’ will help you recover and prevent any long-term damage your outdoorsy ways may set you up for.
Here is a perfect for post-training smoothie: an antioxidant, magnesium and electrolyte-packed shake. Even better, it’s chocolate. Yes a delicious chocolate shake that is good for you. Happy days!
A marathon run increases the susceptibility of LDL to oxidation in vitro and modifies plasma antioxidants
Magnesium and exercise