Eat on the run. Nutrition for runners

Eat and run! Whether you are a couch to 5k runner, or are psyching yourself up for next week’s Belfast Marathon, keeping the focus on your nutrition will have an impact on your running and could mean the difference between a hard slog and a fun run.

So, here’s my guide to optimum nutrition for runners of all shapes, sizes, distances and abilities.

  • On the few days before a race, your focus should be on fueling and hydrating your body. Build up your water intake in the few days before your run to make sure you are well hydrated on the day of your race. Keep an eye on the colour of your pee and if it is a dark colour, drink more water!
  • Fuel up – eating a combination of protein with carbohydrate at every meal for at least one week before your event will ensure your diet is packed with slow-release foods and you have fuel for energy and muscle repair. Use protein sources like eggs, natural yoghurt, nuts and seeds as well as meat, fish and chicken, and max up on carbs like rice, potatoes and oats. Don’t go overboard on wheat-based foods though as this can play havoc with digestion.
  • Don’t try new foods near a race or event. It’s too late to start experimenting and your belly will tell you about it!
  • Runners tend to be a little low in iron at times, so red meat will help rebalance levels. Perfect excuse for a good steak!
  • Eat a bigger portion of carbs at all your meals 2 days before your event to top up your muscles’ glycogen levels, but rather eating a super-size meal the night before a race, eat little and often the day before, to pack in the carbs and protein and make sure your muscles are well fuelled for the next day. Don’t forget to season your food with some sea salt, to help with electrolyte balance in the run up to your event.
  • Avoid spicy, greasy, processed and gas-inducing foods like beans, broccoli and lentils the night before a race – for your comfort and that of your fellow runners!
  • On the morning of an event, you should wake feeling refreshed and excited. Have breakfast 3-4 hours before your event, so you have time to digest. Eat your usual breakfast, ideally including some slow release carbs, a little protein and some good fats – porridge with nuts and berries, eggs on toast or a homemade smoothie with yoghurt & fruit.
  • About one hour before your race, have a small carb-rich snack to keep you well fuelled. Some dried fruit, a handful of jelly babies or a banana would do the trick. If you are coffee drinker, then this is a good time to have a cuppa, as coffee has been shown to improve running time if taken one hour before an event.
  • During your race, keep well hydrated, but don’t overdo it as too much water will know your electrolytes out of kilter.
  • After the race, it is time to celebrate. Get yourself well hydrated and eat a tasty, nourishing meal. Epsom salt baths will help your muscles recover.

Good luck and enjoy your event!