A runner’s guide to healthy eating

From staying hydrated to super snacks, we explore the foods that'll give you a boost in training

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Have a food plan

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The nutritional aspect of running is often overlooked and every year entrants make the same mistakes which affect their races, such as not drinking enough fluids, consuming carbohydrates at the wrong time, or worse still, copying what a friend eats.

It’s important to find out early on in your training what foods agree with you and what doesn’t, so you know from the start what you can tolerate.

Fuel your engine

The energy used while on a run varies enormously depending on speed, distance, gender, muscle density and more. If you’ve ever considered following a restricted carbohydrate eating plan, such as Atkins, now is not the right time, as you need carbohydrates, protein, and fat, known as the Macro nutrients, to supply your body with energy.

Carb it up

Carbohydrates, such as potatoes, pasta, rice, oats, cous cous and bread, are the most important foods for fueling you during your runs. They can be used at short notice to supply the body with energy, which is why it’s the preferred energy source during high intensity exercise such as running.

In the first two hours after training, an enzyme known as glycogenase is secreted by the body to encourage the storage of carbohydrates. This is the perfect time to indulge in a sports drink followed by a meal rich in carbohydrates.

Depending on the time the race starts, leave at least 2–3 hours before your last meal, and snacking on lights foods such as fruit is fine, but if your stomach is too full as you set off, it could lead to painful stitches.

Keep energised 

During the race itself, it’s not vital to take on carbs, such as energy gels, but it may be an idea to take one with you on race day just in case. There are a number of ways to ingest glucose whilst running, but you have to find a way what suits you best. Here are just a few ideas:

1. Carbo gels – Lucozade manufacture a gel specifically designed for runners which can be eaten every 45 minutes and contains 30g of glucose. They have an odd texture, but work well, as long as your stomach can tolerate them. They’re best washed down with water.

2. Carb drinks – All sports drinks contain sugar, at about 7- 10% glucose solution, and can be used to keep blood sugar levels constant.

3. Sweets – Some people like to eat sugary sweets, such as jelly babies, on their distance runs. The only problem is that small bits of sweet can detach away and stick in the throat, triggering a cough.

4. Dextrose tablets – These are compacted sugar tablets that melt in the mouth and are absorbed quickly into the bloodstream.

Stay hydrated

Seeing that the human body is made up of around 60% water, it’s essential you keep your body well hydrated during your training and the race itself.

As you exercise, your body heats up, but to stop you overheating, water is drawn for blood plasma and secreted from pores in the skin, as sweat, to cool it back down. Just a 1% decrease in hydration, can cause around a 5% decrease in performance when running.

During training runs make sure your drink contains both sodium and glucose, and if possible, try to plant drinks on your planned route, so that you don’t have to carry heavy bottles around.

And don’t forget to practice drinking liquids during your training as this will not only get you used to drinking on the run, but also make sure your system isn’t intolerant to them.

There are a number of good running stores where you buy special water bottles that fit snugly in your hand. Special bottle belts can also be purchased, to strap around your waist which gives you the opportunity to carry more fluid.

Ban the booze?

During your training, it is unrealistic to expect you to drink only water and sports drinks as you need a social life, not only to keep you sane, but so you can also drop into conversation that you’re ‘in training’.

During evenings out with friends, don’t feel guilty in replacing your Lucozade sport with a glass of full bodied Shiraz from Eastern Australia. Alcohol is not completely ‘out of bounds’ as long as it is consumed in small amounts every now and again.

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The ideal time to enjoy a glass of your favourite tipple is in the evening after a hard training run. Ensure you have hydrated yourself well after it, and you’ll find your favourite drink will taste all the better knowing that you thoroughly deserve it.

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