Ever heard someone talking about their macros set-up when talking about nutrition? Regardless of whether you’re clued into macros or not, runners (and anyone working out) have a lot to gain by examining their macro intake. So what are macros, and why should you care about them? “Macros,” or macronutrients, are the building blocks of our diet. All foods are composed of three different types of macros: carbohydrates (carbs), protein, and fat. As a runner, getting your macro ratios right (or at least being aware of your macro intake) can help guarantee that you are providing your body with the right energy needed to optimize your training and recovery.
Carbs are used primarily as fuel, especially in high-intensity training. Carbs are stored in muscles and the liver in the form of glycogen, but they need to be replaced regularly since stores are limited and deplete quickly. They’re ideal for immune system strength, building muscle, and aiding recovery (1).
There are two types of carbs: simple carbs and complex carbs. Simple carbs should be eaten before and after scheduled exercise, as they are digested quickly and supply fast energy. Post training, they provide energy to refill your glycogen stores, which is vital for the best recovery (2).
Examples of simple carbs include bananas, dried fruit, jam, juice, rice/corn cakes, oatmeal, cereal, sweetened dairy products, white bread, pasta, potatoes, white rice, etc.
Complex carbs, on the other hand, provide smoother and longer-lasting energy. Fiber and whole grains in complex carbs make you feel satisfied for longer, are important for your gut health and are more nutrient dense than simple carbs (3). However, since they take longer to digest and delay stomach emptying, which increases the risk of stomach and intestinal problems when training, they should be included in meals in between workouts.
Examples of complex carbs include whole grain pasta or bean pasta, brown rice, root vegetables, legumes, whole grain bread, crisp bread, berries, fruit, oats, etc.
Protein builds muscles and other tissues, as well as aids in recovery (4). With a good protein balance, we can limit muscle breakdown and stimulate muscle building (5). For a runner, while the goal is typically not to build muscle, it is important to include a protein source in each meal to feed the muscle mass you have in order to prevent muscle loss and optimize recovery.
Just like simple carbs, protein should also be included in meals before and after training. We recommend that when you are preparing for a race, you are in an energy balance, hitting your calorie goals, and have a diet with at least 15% protein. However, if you are in an energy deficit and are eating under your calorie requirements, it’s beneficial to eat more protein, since muscle might be used as fuel if you are eating below your energy needs.
Example of protein sources include, chicken, turkey, beef, ham, eggs, qorun, tofu, quinoa, quark, cottage cheese, etc.
Fat is used for fuel, but it takes longer to extract energy from fat than it does from carbs. As a result, it’s mainly used as an energy source for low-intensity activities (1). Fat is vital for hormonal balance, and consuming food with fat is important in order to meet the needs for essential fatty acids (Omega 3 and Omega 6), as well as for the body to be able to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K (6). Like fiber, fat delays gastric emptying, so it’s recommended to include fat in meals between workouts (1).
There are two different types of fat: saturated and unsaturated fats. The difference between them is how the fatty acids are structured. We want to eat more unsaturated fats (mono and polyunsaturated), as they have a positive impact on the body and health. We want to eat less saturated fats as they can have a negative impact on our cardiovascular health (7).
Examples of unsaturated fat sources include avocado, salmon, nuts, seeds, nut butter, rapeseed oil, olive oil, and olives.
Examples of saturated fat sources include high fat meat, sausage, bacon, full fat dairy products, butter, coconut oil, pastries, chocolate, and ice cream.
If you find it difficult to reach your daily energy recommendation, simply increase the amount of healthy fats in your diet. Per gram, they contain more than twice as much energy as protein and carbs.
If you’re running a few times a week or training for a shorter race (< half marathon), the following will supply you with the right macro ratio: Carbs 50%, Protein 20% and Fat 30%.
If you are doing multiple high-intensity workouts each week or are training for a longer race will place higher demands on your body. In this case, a slightly higher carb ratio is excellent for fast energy, as it makes sure your glycogen stores are full. If this is what you’re doing, we’d recommend you change your macro settings to: Carbs 60 %, Protein >15%, Fat >25%.
1. Sveriges Olympiska Kommitté/SOK. Kostrekommendationer för olympiska idrottare. 2016.
2. Burke, L., Deakin, V. Clinical Sports Nutrition. 5th ed. New York: Mc Graw Hill Education, 2015, 425.
3. Sonestedt, E. Kolhydrater. I Näringslära för högskolan, Abrahamsson, L., Andersson, A., Nilsson, G (red.), 37-54. Stockholm: Liber AB, 2013.
4. Livsmedelsverket. Protein. 2019.https://www.livsmedelsverket.se/livsmedel-och-innehall/naringsamne/protein#Hur%20mycket%20protein%20är%20lagom? (Hämtad 2019-09-11).
5. Burke, L., Deakin, V. Clinical Sports Nutrition. 5th ed. New York: Mc Graw Hill Education, 2015, 102.
6. Burke, L., Deakin, V. Clinical Sports Nutrition. 5th ed. New York: Mc Graw Hill Education, 2015, 104.
7. Livsmedelsverket. Fett. 2019. https://www.livsmedelsverket.se/livsmedel-och-innehall/naringsamne/fett (Hämtad 2019-09-11).
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