Take stock of your current eating habits
Whether you’re new to running or you’re a seasoned sprinter looking to up your game, your diet should play a key role in your training program
It can be a good idea to keep a food diary for a week where you write down everything that passes your lips – and we mean everything.
This will give you a good idea of what your body is running on (literally!); if you have the right mix of carbohydrates, protein and fat; and where you can make some changes to boost your performance.
Understand what your body needs
The best diets for runners are those that focus on high quality, nutritionally-dense foods that you can turn into fuel.
You’ll also need to ensure you’re getting right mix of vitamins, iron and fats to help your body function at its best.
- Carbohydrates – carbs are jet fuel for muscles and should make up about 60 to 65 per cent of your regular diet . Two to three days before a big race, you should up this to 85-95 per cent of your total intake . Your body breaks carbs down into glucose (sugar), which gives you energy . Foods like oats, brown rice, quinoa, pasta, sweet potato should always be on the menu
- Protein – protein is the key to muscle recovery and will help you bounce back from a big training session. They should make up about 15 to 20 per cent of your total calorie intake with lean meat, fish, chicken and beans all good choices
- Leafy greens – rich in nutrients, packed with vitamins, full of fibre and iron, and low in kilojoules; leafy green vegetables really are a super food. A serve of leafy greens contains 10 to 30 per cent of your daily magnesium needs, which may help reduce cramping . They are especially important for vegetarian runners, as they are a good source of iron. Pile up your plate with spinach, bok choy, broccoli or kale at every meal
- Good fats – healthy monounsaturated fats keep your joints lubricated and help your body heal. Add foods such as avocado, nuts, tahini, natural nut butters and dairy to your diet
Create your runner’s meal plan
A meal plan is the easiest way to stick to your training diet (though be sure to leave yourself some room for indulgence).
Establish a base meal plan for times you are training at your normal level and then vary it when you need more or less in your diet .
Foods rich in unrefined carbohydrates (like wholegrain breads, brown rice and cereals) should make up the basis of your diet and runners should aim for 5-10g of carbohydrate per kilo of bodyweight each day .
You should also be eating a palm-sized serving of protein with each meal. Top this up with plenty of fresh veggies, at least one to two serves each meal.
For snacks, the focus should be on protein. Nuts and seeds are packed with protein, antioxidants, fibre and good fats, as are Greek yoghurt and eggs. Throw in some berries for extra vitamins and even more antioxidants.
Learn about the optimal carb/protein mix with this video
Plan for any big races
If you’re preparing for a race, your training will kick up a notch – and so should your nutrition.
To help you hit the pavement with as much energy stored in your body as possible, you’ll need to increase your carbohydrate intake. Start consuming more complex carbs for two to three days before the race until they make up 85-95 per cent of your total calories.
The night before is your last chance to fill up your energy stores as you’ll want to eat fairly lightly the day of the race, so a meal that’s heavy on pasta, rice or potato is ideal.
Now is not the time to try something new – stick with what you know and avoid upsetting your stomach. Sports nutritionist and naturopath Kira Sutherland has a comprehensive guide for what to eat on race day
Be realistic about your limits
Food is one of life’s great joys, so there’s no need to deny yourself all the good stuff.
A balanced diet should be just that – balanced. Focus more on filling your body with good quality, nourishing food, rather than cutting all ‘bad’ foods out of your diet. A chocolate bar or a glass of wine won’t derail all your hard work.