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Runners Guide to Sports Nutrition

Publish date: 20/07/2013

As a runner, you have specific nutritional requirements.  Sports nutrition plays a vital role in helping a runner maintain good health and performance. Proper nutrition greatly affects what the runners think, feel and do. So it is important to follow nutrition tips to get the best performance, stamina, speed and recovery from your body.

  • Getting your Nutrition Right: For the right nutrition, you should eat a balanced and healthy diet. Eat fruits and vegetables. The body needs only a certain amount of fat, so avoid fatty food where it is possible.
  • Right food at the right time:  For a serious runner, eating the right food and that too at the right time is very important. Eat correctly and take the right amount of calories so as to get the most out of your workout.
  • Optimal and healthy sports diet: Take adequate calories for the day. To lose weight, do not under eat and overeat. Eat adequately to remain healthy.
  • Spread your diet: It is best to distribute your meal over the course of the day. Do not set your daily calories for a single meal. Divide your calories equally throughout the day. Eat evenly planned and equally sized meals. Eat after every four hours. Consult a sports dietician who will make an estimate of your calorie needs. Take your diet properly.

For a healthy runner, a balanced diet should include carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Consume a lot of fresh vegetables and fruits. You can also take fruit smoothies, which provide an excellent and rapid source of nutrition. A runner should also consume water evenly throughout the day to keep their bodies hydrated as they will sweat more than an average person. Take about 2 litres of water every day. You can also consume herbal teas, sports drinks, and fruit juices while avoiding caffeine and alcohol.

Carbohydrates: Generous amount of carbohydrates should be taken when you are training for running events, such as marathon or ultra marathon for a better race performance. A runner should take about 60 to 65% of carbohydrates in his total calories intake. There is no doubt that the carbohydrates are the good source of energy. Carbohydrates provide rapid and long lasting energy to the body. And the body works very efficiently with carbohydrates as compared to other essential nutrients such as proteins or fats. The good sources of carbohydrates are steamed or boiled rice, whole grain, unrefined pasta, whole breads, fruits, starchy vegetables, potatoes and whole grain breads.

Glucose drinks taken in the first 15 minutes after completing your run will be best absorbed and utilised by muscles looking for fuel sources.

Protein: Proteins give some energy and are used to repair tissues and muscles damaged during workout. It is also necessary for regulating hormones. Protein is an essential nutrient and keeps you feel full for a longer time and helps you in the process of losing weight. Protein should be taken in the proportion of about 15% to 20% of the everyday intake. Long distance runners should take proteins about .5 to .75 grams per pound of their body weight. You should take those proteins that are of high quality and have low fat and cholesterol level such as fish, lean meats, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, poultry and beans.

Fat: Take about 20 to 25% of fats in your total diet. Try to eat food with less cholesterol and saturated fats. A runner should consume monounsaturated fats including olive oil, canola oil, flax seed oil and avocados. Nuts and cold-water fish are the other few food items that provide essential fats such as omega-3s, which are very important for good health and prevent various diseases. It is recommended by most experts that one should take about 3,000 mg of omega-3 fat in a day.

Vitamins:  Vitamins also forms an important part of a runner’s diet. Free radicals are produced in the body through exercise. They can damage the cells. There they should take vitamins C, E, and A, which are antioxidants in nature and can neutralise the free radicals. They should take whole food for vitamins.

Minerals: Minerals play a vital role in the running performance and staying power of a runner.

Calcium: The runners should take a calcium-rich diet which is very essential to prevent osteoporosis and stress fractures. Low-fat dairy products, dark leafy vegetables, calcium-fortified juices, eggs and beans are the good sources of calcium. You should take about 1,000 to 1,300 mg of calcium every day.

Iron:  Iron provides oxygen to the cells in the body. If you do not take iron in your diet, you will always feel weak and tired, more importantly when you are running. Men should take at least 8 mg of iron in a day and women should take about 18 mg of iron. Lean meats, nuts, leafy green vegetables, scallops and shrimp are all good natural sources of iron.

Sodium and other electrolytes:  When you sweat while doing exercise, you lose some amount of sodium and the other electrolytes. Your electrolytes are replaced when you take a balanced diet. If you feel yourself longing for salty foods, it means your body is in need of getting some more sodium. Drink some sports drink or take some pretzels after taking your exercise. When you are running for more than 90 minutes and you sweat, then there is need for you to replace the lost electrolytes by drinking some sports drinks or taking some salt. Hydration is very important for runners for their optimal performance.

Nutritional Drinks: Commercial protein drinks, carbohydrates drinks and sports drinks are useful nutritional drinks before starting a run.

Author: Susie