Mind over matter
I know mental training is crucial for all athletes, but wasn't aware of the specific role nutrition plays here. Fitzgerald notes that the brain contributes more to running performance than any other part of the body. Fatigue is controlled by the brain. While running, your brain monitors the feedback it receives from your body (muscle temperature, amount of glucose and oxygen available) to ensure you're not in any danger.
If your brain determines that you're harming yourself -- for example, if blood glucose or muscle glycogen drops below a certain level -- it cuts electrical signals to your muscles, forcing you to slow down. So it's the brain that causes this slowdown, not your muscles. Consuming carbs during training signals your brain that it's safe to send electrical signals to your muscles to continue running since there's plenty of fuel.
Limiting muscle damage
I also have a better understanding of the importance of post-run fueling. If you don't fuel properly before a run, it's obvious because you feel weak and you don't perform well. If you don't fuel your recovery properly, although it's not obvious at the time, you'll notice it on your run tomorrow or the next day. Because there's no clear cause and effect, you may not realize that the soreness you feel could have been prevented or lessened by proper post-run fueling.
For example, exercise-induced muscle damage causes an inflammation response in order to repair the muscles. Immune cells travel to the muscles and remove cellular debris, but while doing so they release toxins and free radicals that cause further damage. Since it occurs after a workout, it's called secondary muscle damage and can continue for up to three days.
When you take in antioxidants, specifically vitamins C and E, and omega-3 fatty acids you'll limit inflammation and free-radical damage. This is one of many factors that affects recovery, but it's something I can easily incorporate into my diet to gain benefits.
Useful Tables, Charts and Tips
Fitzgerald provides helpful tips on how to incorporate the information easily. For example, the pre-race meal's primary purpose is to fill your liver with glycogen so you'll have enough energy to sustain optimal performance. It should be low in fat and fiber, and should be at least 80 percent carbohydrate. He then provides his favorite top five pre-race foods.
Similarly, he recommends not eating out too frequently for overall weight maintenance since it's more difficult to control your options -- portions tend to be larger and higher in fat and calories than what you'd typically eat at home. So he provides a week's worth of healthy meals to make at home with minimal preparation and cooking.
He also includes tables and charts throughout the book to help simplify important points. A few I found particularly helpful were: examples of three different carbo-loading strategies, comparisons of post-workout recovery drinks, and a summary of dietary supplements for runners that lists what you need to know about each to make an informed decision.
It's All Covered
Fitzgerald devotes the final chapter to runners with special needs, including information for parents of younger runners, women and older runners, and diabetic, vegetarian and overweight runners. He explains what the additional needs are of each group and how to fulfill them.
In addition to nutritional advice, you'll also find some basic strength-training moves with a suggested workout plan and accompanying images of each move, what a marathon taper looks like, and a sample 12-week beginners running program. Since we're talking about improving overall performance, it helps to understand the whole picture.
After reading Performance Nutrition, you'll know what to eat before, during and after a run, as well as how you can change your diet to provide optimal nutrition for running. If you're looking for specific information, the index helps you find it easily. You'll get the facts and the science behind them, and tips on how to incorporate sound nutritional advice.
To purchase Performance Nutrition, visit Amazon.com.