Nutrition is one of the pillars of athletic performance, and its importance for runners cannot be understated. Put simply, if you want to run well day in and day out, you have to fuel your body properly so you can perform to your maximum potential in workouts and races. Elite Canadian marathoners Dayna Pidhoresky and Rachel Cliff and ultra-marathoner Mathieu Blanchard understand this all too well, and they sat down with Canadian Running to offer their advice to runners who want to fuel properly to maximize performance.

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Blanchard explains that runners need to be very attentive to the fuel they are taking in, because it helps their bodies prepare for their training load. It also allows them to maintain intensity during workouts and races and assists in recovery afterward. “Poor nutrition could also make our tissues more inflamed,” he says, “and therefore cause injuries, or even cause gastric disorders during exercise and low energy.”

Cliff agrees and adds that any athlete competing at a high level is following a healthy, balanced nutrition plan. She says that means eating enough calories to support your training, as well as getting a good balance of carbohydrates, fats, protein, vitamins and minerals. As a predominantly plant-based athlete (though not fully vegetarian), Cliff says getting enough protein is her biggest struggle. To improve her intake, she tries to find little ways to include protein-rich foods into every meal and snack.

“A smoothie is a great way to get more protein in because you can add a lot of things like chia seeds, hemp hearts and yogurt,” she says. Cliff also really likes using the Näak Nutrition cricket protein powder, which provides a lot of protein with a low environmental footprint. And before you ask, Cliff says no, the cricket powder doesn’t taste like you’re eating bugs.

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“That’s one of the things I love about Näak, that they find ways to sneak protein into food in a way that you can’t taste it, but it’s there,” she says. “The great thing about the cricket powder is that it’s a complete protein.”

Minh-Anh Pham, co-founder of Näak Nutrition, says they understand not everyone is ready to eat crickets yet, which is why the company has also developed a line of plant-based bars and powders. “Our mission is to make sport nutrition more sustainable,” he explains. “We want to give you maximum nutrition with a minimum impact on the environment.”

“I love this stuff,” says Pidhoresky. “The taste, texture, what they strive for as a company as they aim
to be kinder to the environment…and if you are scared of crickets you can opt for the vegan protein powder or bars!”

Like Cliff, Blanchard also says adequate protein intake is a priority in his nutrition plan, and if cricket protein really isn’t your thing, he enjoys Näak’s vegetarian products, like their protein bars and powders, to help him meet his needs. Both the cricket products and vegetarian products have a smooth brownie texture, no gastro-intestinal discomfort and long-lasting energy. “I love the recovery protein powder because it is vegetarian and digests very well,” he explains. “I have never had an upset stomach like with other protein powders.”

When asked what nutrition advice she would give to recreational and competitive runners, Cliff says the most important thing is to be aware of your training volume and be really cognizant that you don’t put yourself into an energy deficit. “Don’t try to cheat your body out of the nutrients and calories it needs to recover,” she says. “In the long run, it will pay off.”

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In a similar vein, Pidhorseky says runners need to respect the 30-minute window after a workout and fuel appropriately. “You will recover so much better and achieve so much more,” she adds.

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Näak Nutrition holds the values of sustainability and community close, and the company donates three per cent of their profits to the B.C. Parks Foundation, which manages the parks in both B.C. and Alberta. To learn more about the Näak products or the company’s sustainability and community initiatives, head to ca.naakbar.com.