Nutrition Tips For Runners
Whether you're a marathoner or setting out to train for your first 5K, I know it's not always easy to keep up the pace! Here are some of the key things to think about if you want to achieve your personal best:
Think ahead – if you often find yourself flagging after a long day at work and are more inclined to reach for the biscuit tin than your trainers, a mid-afternoon snack is vital. A low-GI snack or meal a couple of hours before a run will provide your body with the energy it needs to get going.
Top up - Eating/drinking during a run is only necessary if you’re training for a half-marathon or longer and are often out for more than an hour. A long run is a massive drain on your body’s carbohydrate stores, so you will need to top up on the go.
Refuel – make sure you eat afterwards, especially if you’re running again the following day. A normal, healthy balanced meal with plenty of water is fine for most people. Don’t stress too much about timing, but have a snack if it’s more than an hour or two until your next meal.
Recover – adequate protein and carbohydrate are important for muscle repair and recovery. You can achieve this by eating plenty of lean meat, fish, beans, low-fat dairy products (or alternatives) along with plenty of fruit, vegetables and whole grains. Low-fat yoghurt with fruit is perfect after a run.
Protect your immune system – runners can be prone to colds and other viruses, because strenuous training suppresses the immune system. Maintain your immune system with a balanced diet, including iron found in red meat and lentils, and zinc found in shellfish and nuts. Also make sure you’re eating enough overall.
Eat for speedy repair – nutrition plays an important role in cell repair. If you’ve been training hard, your sore muscles may be inflamed. Anti-inflammatory foods, such as mackerel which is rich in omega-3, can help. Have a couple of portions of oily fish a week, or a vegetarian alternative such as flaxseed.
Damage limitation – running leads to cell damage, but with proper recovery you become stronger. A diet rich in antioxidants such polyphenols found in green tea and berries, Vitamin C found in citrus fruits, beta-carotene found in dark green and orange vegetables, and Vitamin E found in nuts, will also limit damage.
Not too much – a common mistake is using running as an excuse to eat whatever you want. If weight loss is a goal, aim for a small calorie deficit, to protect your immune system, and avoid filling up on foods and drinks of little nutritional value. That means no sports drinks, except on long runs.
Quench your thirst - hydration research has moved on considerably in recent years, and it’s now thought that more isn’t always better. Drink at least 2 litres of water throughout the day, and sip on fluids on longer runs. Sports drinks replace electrolytes, so they can be useful on long runs or in hot weather.
Practice makes perfect – you can train your digestive system in a similar way to how you train your muscles. Never be tempted to try a new gel, bar or drink on the day of a race. Always practice in training to find out what works for you and your body.