A complete runner’s guide to healthy eating

Have you ever found it a struggle to motivate yourself to go for a run? Or you manage to get started and the moment your foot hits the ground there is the instant feeling it isn’t going to be productive? Maybe you’re tired, or just not mentally prepared – we’ve all been there. 

Many find the motivation to start running the troubling part – whether it’s on the treadmill or an outdoor run – but when you do get going, there’s often the worrying notion you’re going to hit the ‘runner’s block‘. It’s the same story with a lot of people, so there must be a way to prevent this?

The answer is, ‘Yes, there is’! First of all, it’s mind over matter; being mentally prepared and focused will help you achieve the goals set. This all narrows down to a healthy diet.

How can a healthy diet benefit your running abilities?

In every way possible, a well-balanced and healthy diet can give you the energy you need mentally and physically. There’s a range of different food groups that are commonly associated with a well-balanced diet. These are carbohydrates, fats and proteins. These are the main, important food groups you need to consider; along with others like fibre and vitamins.

Let’s start with carbohydrates

Carbs are important as they’re stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver, and are passed around the blood like sugar, giving you energy. Following any long period of exercise (about an hour) that amount declines as it’s used.

Before a long run it’s best to eat carbohydrates up to five hours in advance. If you’re considering a longer run over an hour, then a pre-run meal is advised, eating around 2-3g of carbs per kg of body weight.

After a run, recovery should begin as soon as possible. This includes stretching and, you guessed it, eating food as well. After any exercise, the muscles are sensitive to storing glycogen, so carb-rich foods should be consumed, preferably high GI carbs (fast-releasing carbs).

Protein equals muscle repair

Another food group comes into play here as well and that is protein. Protein supports muscle repair and muscle growth – well, actually, this group goes far beyond that, as they provide the foundations to make thousands of enzymes that help break down fats and carbohydrates.

Muscle repair is important, as it allows any torn fibres you’ve acquired during an exercise period to rebuild and come back even stronger. Adequate protein consumption is important for protein synthesis.

Where do fats come in?

There is a stigma about fats: are they good for you, or are they going to impact on weight gain? The answer is some do and some don’t; it depends on the fat source.

Fatty acids and good natural fats are great for fat-soluble vitamins like omega 3 and omega 6, which can be found in such foods like fish. But also they can be required as an energy source and are heavily relied upon by the body. Natural sources of fats, like dairy, eggs, avocado and meats (especially fish and red meats) are fine, but saturated fats or trans-fasts like pastry, biscuits, cakes, etc, should be limited.

The balance is important, and healthy meals can be found in ready meals or can be discovered in some recipes. Just remember a good balance consists of high protein (40%), carbohydrates (50%) and fats (10%), as they are best to fuel your body.

What about those who are dieting?

Calories are what fuel our bodies – everybody knows that – but everyone is different and everyone’s goals are different. Some might be training for a marathon; others might look at running as a casual hobby. Furthermore, others might be running to lose weight or hit personal best goals. So , first, define your goal.

Hal Higdon states that the average runner who is completing around 25 miles per week should eat around 2,500 calories a day to maintain adequate muscle glycogen stores, giving any runner the energy to continue on.

However, if you’re looking to lose weight while running, then macronutrients and a calorie deficit are vital for these. Say you’ve mapped out your macros or you have a target calorie count, or you can only consume a certain amount of ‘Syns’, make sure these food groups are well balanced throughout your meals and snacks.

If you’re limiting yourself to certain foods and calories, then understand you will be limited to how much exercise you can do before you fatigue. Your body will use fat stores, but if you’re limiting your body with calories, you’ll struggle to do long extended periods of exercise.

Healthy meal examples perfect for running could look like this:

Beef Lasagne & Italian Veg

Nutrients Per Serving Per 100g
Energy (Kcal) 471 124
Protein 39.9g 10.5g
Fats 16.0g 4.2g
Carbohydrates 35.7g 9.4g
Of which Sugars 15.2g 4.0g


Oriental Chicken Pad Thai

Nutrients Per Serving Per 100g
Energy (Kcal) 493 145
Protein 61.9g 18.2g
Fats 17.7g 5.2g
Carbohydrates 16.3g 4.8g
Of which Sugars 11.9g 3.5g


Red Thai Fish Curry & Snap Peas

Nutrients Per Serving Per 100g
Energy (Kcal) 315 90
Protein 24.9g 7.1g
Fats 6.3g 1.8g
Carbohydrates 38.9g 11.1g
Of which Sugars 8.4g 2.4g


You can find other great recipes at http://allrecipes.co.uk/recipes/healthy-recipes.aspx.

*This post was provided by Tom Wilkinson*

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