Diet, Hydration and Body Monitoring: Crucial Complements to Your Workout Plan

Whether you’re a current cross country runner or a former athlete whose career is over but is still looking to stay in shape, diet is an extremely important component to go along with your workouts. Diet and exercise complement each other; if you have one without the other, your goals will be much more difficult to achieve. The equation is quite simple, if you burn more calories in a day than you consume, you will lose weight, and if you take in more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. There is no exact way to figure out how many calories you should consume per day to maintain your weight, but the Harris-Benedict calculator on gives you a fairly accurate estimate based on your weight, age and gender. Your daily caloric intake will also rest heavily on activity level; for example, I am 5’11”, 187 pounds and 22 years old, and my recommended intake if I’m moderately active is about 3,100 calories per day, compared to only 2,400 if I’m sedentary. The MyFitnessPal app for smartphones is another handy tool which allows you to set a weight goal and tracks your daily caloric intake by the food and exercise you enter into every day’s journal.

If you are already at a healthy weight, you should probably be trying to maintain that weight, but many of us have overindulged at least a few too many times at this point in the summer and this can throw you off track from your goals. For a cross country runner, diet should be closely monitored especially at this time of year with the season only about a month away. First of all, avoid snack foods high in sugar, such as soda, candy and ice cream. Treating yourself once in a while is OK, but these foods are simply empty calories that can become a bad habit after a meal. Also, watch out for hidden calories in various foods especially when you’re eating out. For example, you may think you’re eating a light, healthy meal when you order a salad, until you coat on the ranch dressing, which packs around 140 calories in just two tablespoons. Eating at home is the best way to go as it allows you to easily portion out your meals and ignore those tempting and fattening choices on the menu. Even if you aren’t looking to lose weight, counting your calories can be an effective way to keep your diet under control as cross country season approaches. With only about a month until the start of the season, now is the perfect time to set a healthy diet plan that you will maintain throughout the season and into the winter off-season.

Staying hydrated throughout the day as well as through your workout and during recovery is another important aspect of cross country training. Water is the best way to stay hydrated as it has no calories as opposed to some sugary sports drinks. If you’re looking for a healthy alternative to plain water all the time, Gatorade Propel has just 10 calories per 8 oz. serving, and Gatorade G2 carries only 20 calories per 8 oz. serving. During a workout, you should always have some form of hydration nearby, whether it is one of these drinks or a water fountain. Hydration is especially crucial around this time of year, as the temperatures in some areas are approaching the 90s and 100s. You should always take any precautions to prevent the serious effects of dehydration by knowing your body’s limits and hydrating often before, during and after a workout. If you’re an experienced competitive runner, you probably have a good idea as to what your body can handle and when you should rest, but regardless of experience, it wouldn’t hurt to consult a coach or trainer if you have questions about fatigue and hydration.

A great way to check your body’s fatigue level is by measuring your pulse rate. An easy way to do this is to put your finger on any one of your major veins (the systematic vein on your wrist usually works best), count the number of beats in a six second period, and multiply this by 10. It helps to have someone else time the six seconds so you can be fully concentrated on counting the beats; my coach would always have us check our pulse rate before, during, and after a workout. Your pulse rate during or after a hard workout should be around the 160-180 range for your body to be effectively tested. A pulse rate under 150 probably means you aren’t working hard enough and you should kick it up a notch, and a pulse rate over 185 means you are crossing your body’s limit and you should stop and rest immediately. Stay aware of your body’s condition and check your pulse often during workouts, especially if you begin to feel extreme fatigue.

Develop a healthy diet plan, remember to run safely by adequately hydrating and knowing your limits, and keep striving toward those goals!