Written by Laura Isherwood
Nutrition Tips For Runners
So you’ve started running. You’ve signed up for your next big challenge by entering a race? Or you’ve just decided that enough’s enough and you need to fit in those jeans that are hiding at the back of your wardrobe?
The majority of new runners will focus all their attention on the training aspect of running and whilst this is obviously important, your performance and overall progression can sometimes be held back by your nutrition.
Here are 8 tips to ensure you maximise your training and recover well following each run.
#1 Eat Real Food
The majority of your diet should be made up of real food, not supplements. Fresh food has everything you need to ensure your body is in the best shape for exercise. Supplements are there to, you guessed it, SUPPLEMENT your diet. They can be extremely practical and useful in certain situations but for the most part, you should aim to stick with real food.
#2 Remember to Eat Protein and Fat too
Many runners will bang on about ‘Carb-loading’ and how this strategy is used by professionals so therefore must work. Whilst it is important that you have an adequate amount of carbohydrates to sustain performance, proteins and fats are equally as essential. Unless you’re about to undertake a half-marathon or marathon, the need to carbo-load before running is just an excuse to eat as many carbohydrates as possible.
#3 Cut down on Sugar
Yes I know it’s hard but sugar will only give you a very short burst of energy, therefore won’t be much use when you’re a few miles in. You should aim to consume complex carbohydrates which are released slowly over several hours. Sugary energy drinks or gels should only be used as a back up during a very long training run or race. If you plan ahead and eat a well-balanced diet, you should always have enough energy to last.
You’ve probably started to see a shift in many people’s opinion on sugar and the majority of new research is heading towards cutting sugar completely from people’s diets as the constant spike in blood glucose levels isn’t good. People have often reported that they feel like they have far more energy in their day-to-day life when they have cut sugar out as they have a far more stable supply of energy. So why not give it a go?
#4 Lower Your Alcohol Consumption
Another difficult one but one that will guarantee an increase in results. Unfortunately for us, alcohol slows your metabolism down and is riddled with calories, therefore it massively decreases your performance and your ability to lose weight. By cutting it out completely or just consuming it on special occasions will allow you to continue progressing towards your performance goal. Opting for low-calorie spirits such as vodka or gin and adding diet mixers such as soda water or slim-line tonic will also help.
#5 Pre-Run Fuelling
How much you require before your run ultimately depends on your distance, your personal tolerance to food and the timing of your run. Obviously the further you plan to run, the more you should eat as you will require more energy to get you through the miles. Your personal tolerance for food is another aspect to think about as gastrointestinal discomfort can become a major problem when running. During your training, it’s very likely that you will experience some kind of stitch or stomach cramp!
Unfortunately, you will only be able to know what your limit is and what food is best with experience. Some runners will find that they can eat food right up until the second they hit the pavement but others will need plenty of time for the food to digest before starting their run. The timing of your run will also dictate the foods you eat, as it’s unlikely you’ll want to eat a huge bowl of pasta if you’re running early in the morning!
The main aim of any pre-run fuelling is to give yourself enough energy for the run ahead. So for example, if you’re just heading out for a quick 2 mile run before work, you may opt for just a banana. However, if you’re heading out on a long 10 mile run on a Sunday, you could plan to have a nice balanced meal such as two eggs, half an avocado and two slices of wholemeal toast.
#6 Post-Run Fuelling
The post-run meal is just as important as your pre-run meal as it allows your body to recover well. You should allow yourself a good 30 minutes or so to cool down and relax before ingesting any food. Again the timing of your runs will determine what kind of food you want, however whenever possible its best to consume a well balanced meal containing all the macronutrients as you will need carbohydrates to replenish your energy stores, protein to aid in muscle recovery and healthy fats to support your joints. Examples include; eggs and spinach on toast, a chicken breast served over a big salad with olives and feta cheese or a fillet of fish with cooked vegetables and new potatoes.
If you don’t have time for a full meal, aim to consume predominantly protein and some carbohydrate. For example, a pint of milk and a banana. That way, you are replenishing your energy stores and giving your body some much-needed protein to start rebuilding those muscles! The most important thing is to make sure you eat something!
#7 Eat Plenty of Healthy Fats
This point links into my earlier point about consuming both protein and fats as well as carbohydrates but it’s worth repeating. Runners need fat to lubricate their joints and organs, to aid in the absorption of other nutrients, to control body temperature and to ensure they are well fuelled. Most people think that carbohydrates are the most important nutrient for runners but that is not true. Yes, it’s important as a fuel source but the majority of people who have a well balanced diet will not need to increase their carbohydrate levels when they start running. Consuming 50-55% of your total calories as carbohydrate is more than enough, so don’t be tempted to start piling those potatoes even higher on your plate!
Healthy fats include nuts, seeds, avocados and real butter so make sure include foods such as these in your daily intake. You won’t regret it!
#8 Keep Hydrated
As you begin to increase you exercise levels, your overall hydration will also need to be increased. Make sure you are consuming at least 1.5-2 litres of water each day and don’t leave it till your thirsty to reach for that water bottle. Consuming enough water is something that I have struggled with for years but I find that by buying a 2-litre water bottle and carrying it around all day helps you remember to drink and also helps you monitor how much you’ve drunk.
Another top tip is to determine your sweat rate. To do this, weigh yourself before and after your run. For every pound you lose, you should consume approximately 16 ounces of water.
Whether you plan to become the next Paula Radcliffe or Mo Farah, or have just started running to lose weight and make new friends. These tips should ensure you have the right nutrition to maximise performance and aid recovery.