Running Nutrition Advice from Run Mummy Run

Q&A: Running Nutrition

Food is always a hot topic in the Run Mummy Run community.  Nutrition for training, fuelling for running, how to lose weight?; the questions are varied and frequent.  We were delighted recently to welcome RMR’s resident Dietitian Alex Cook for a nutrition Q&A with our members to start to answer some of those burning questions.

Alex is a sports and clinical dietitian, she works for herself and for the online Fitness and Nutrition company Dupl (  She loves nothing more than talking running and nutrition. Alex has a passion for helping everyone from beginners to advanced athletes achieve positive changes in their daily lives as well as achieve their goals. As a runner herself, and having two children and a career, she understands how easily daily life can impact health, fitness and food choices.

Q   What do you regard as the most effective recovery food after a long run?

A  Really we need to aim for replacing carbs first and foremost. If you want something quick and easy a pint of milk not only hydrates but provides you with a good carb:protein ratio. Sometimes I add a banana and 20g of oats and blitz them in a blender. This is perfect as well if you feel a little off your food for a bit.  Make sure you follow up your post training snack with a well balanced meal within the next few hours.

Q  Is it possible to run a marathon avoiding all refined sugars? If so, what would you recommend for mid run fuel? 

A  Although there is a lot of confusing information about carbs (people cutting it out to become more fat adapted) there is no doubt carbs are the way forward for endurance. It is tough to avoid refined sugars to be honest. Your aim is to get about 60g carbs per hour to fuel you in a marathon. If you have a robust stomach you may be able tolerate bananas or dried fruit for example but the fibre content might make you struggle.

Q   I recently cut out dairy, sugars and gluten as part of a detox. As well as feeling great my running has dramatically improved. My breathing has also really improved. Do you think this is down to cutting out dairy or a combination of factors? I don’t want to go back to how I was.

A   There is no evidence that removing dairy, gluten or sugar has any positive affect on running performance. What may happen however is that because you have cut out some major foods, your diet has actually become more balanced (as you can’t simply reach for a biscuit or jam sandwich for a snack). The overall affect is a more varied diet (probably including more fruit and veg) may make you feel better. You need to make sure you are getting good sources of calcium and B vitamins if you have cut out dairy.

Q  What do you think of all the low or zero carb books that are going around at the moment? Are they a good thing?

A  Ah the low carb-no carb -high carb debate! It’s very complex and almost impossible to discuss here properly. In short, I don’t advocate no carbs. There is no evidence behind it’s benefit. I do however, support using your carbs smartly (there is not always the need to eat high carb throughout your training period) but it is a complex topic.

Q  I am following Slimming World and have lost 9 stone (I started running after I’d lost 7). I’ve got a stone left to lose so I’m considering cutting down portion size but I am also currently training for a half marathon. So my question is; What should I make sure I keep in my diet as I don’t want to lose energy?

A  Well done on your amazing weight loss! WOW! I would say concentrate on your half marathon with the aim to at least maintain your current weight. You want energy to have those flying feet for your half marathon finishing photo. Weight loss can be hard with marathon training and in honesty you have to decide which is more important, your performance in training or losing weight? Training on such a low calorie diet is not recommend at all. Due to your low intake you will be deficient in a lot of vitamins and minerals, never mind energy to perform to your best. I would suggest increasing your calorie intake to 1500 kcal’s until your marathon.  Make sure you concentrate on a good balanced diet, continue to stay clear of “treat foods” and then, after the marathon concentrate on that last bit of weight loss.

Q  Is there no evidence that running on fats can be good? (I mean lots of avocado/nut type fats) Can that fuel you ok? So much different advice out there!

A There is so much advice out there. For shorter, higher intensity exercise, there is no doubt carbs are vital for performance.  A lot of people in the world of ultra marathons are starting to try and become more fat adapted (meaning improving the ability of their bodies to use fat with less reliance on carbs) but there is still limited evidence over its effectiveness. It works well for some (from simple reporting) and not so well for others. There is no escaping the fact that the body prefers carbs as its fuel of choice as it is more readily available than fat.

Q What you recommend as a good evening meal before a long run during marathon training?

A Gone are the days of recommending ten bowls of pasta before long runs! I advise you to stick to what you know best. The night before my long runs,  I just eat a normal meal. Make sure you have a nice balance between carbs, protein and a nice serving of veg or salad and you will be set for the morning.

Q  What supplements would you advocate alongside a healthy diet, especially as training ramps up for marathons?

A  Always go for a food first approach. If you are managing a good, well balanced diet there is no need for any supplements.

Q  I constantly crave all the “bad” foods –  chocolate, biscuits etc. I’m training for the London marathon, my weight is fine and running is going well – I just wish I didn’t crave all of the wrong foods! Any advice?

A  It’s a common problem! It is the case of the more you have the more you want. With clients in your situation I advise them to try and exclude all sweet treats (choc/biscuits/cakes ) for 3 weeks. This should break your craving cycle. You then may be in more control to just have one biscuit instead of 5!

Q  I currently run 10 miles without refuelling. Is this bad? When I’m running half marathons should I take on fuel along way even if I don’t fancy it?

A   Really we can run for up to 90 mins without taking on carbs. So it depends how fast you run. If it takes you 60 mins then no you don’t need to refuel, if it takes you 90 mins or over, yes some carbs will help you. Even one gel during your half marathon will help!

Q  What’s your view on protein powders? Useful for runners or unnecessary for runners?

A  No need.  It is totally easy to consume adequate protein through your food. A normal, sedentary female needs about 0.8g protein per kg of body weight and an endurance runner can need up to 1-1.2g protein per kg body weight. This is easy to get through your diet if spread out over all your meals and snacks.

Q  I’m marathon training and have 2 half marathons and a full marathon in a 5 wk period. Training is full on with LSRs (long slow runs), tempos, hill sessions, intervals. My nails, hair and skin are all starting to suffer! I eat a lot of fruit and veg, proteins, complex carbs, magnesium, calcium, fish oil and glucosamine supplements… Obviously something is missing? Please help!

A   It may just be that you are doing more than normal. Getting more sleep is vital during intense training blocks and something we all neglect and shouldn’t. Running distances can cause stress on the body so make sure you rest where you can and go to bed earlier

Q  Finally, how can I avoid “hitting the wall” in a marathon?

A  We need to aim to take up to 60g carbs per hour in the marathon to ensure we avoid that dreaded wall.

If you would like to hear more from Alex Cook come to our Run Mummy Run Spring in her Step event.  We  have teamed up with Running Adventures again for this exciting event for our Run Mummy Run members.  Join us for this fantastic afternoon of inspirational talks, running advice and socialising.  Don’t miss out.  Book now! 

Alex’s credentials:
• Sports Science BSc (Hon), University of Birmingham, Pg.Dip RD Nutrition & Dietetics, Edinburgh University
• Competitive distance runner – won the Endurance Life Exmoor Marathon, beating the course record by 14 minutes!
• Writes for Athletics Weekly, Running Fitness, Fit & Well, Woman Magazine and Trail Running

Alex Cook Running Nutrition advice for Run Mummy Run

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