Now that you are following a running program, it’s important to start paying closer attention to the types of food you are eating on a daily basis. Don’t worry, no crazy diets here - I just want to ensure that you are fuelling your body appropriately in order to get the best results out of your training. Running (or training for that matter) can be incredibly demanding on your body, so it’s important to consider your nutrition before and after your session to maximise performance and optimise recovery - just as you would a ‘warm-up’ or ‘cool-down’.
One of the most common questions I get is “should I eat before I exercise”, and my answer is always “it depends”. It depends because we are all different. We have different digestive systems, different appetites and different training regimes, all of which may dictate the timing of our meals and snacks.
The point of eating before you exercise is to fuel and hydrate the body and brain for the session ahead, so Ideally we want to consume a nutritious meal around 2 hours before your session.
However, let’s say you exercise at 5am, it’s probably unrealistic to suggest you set your alarm at 3am to curate a nutritious meal. For this group, I recommend consuming a balanced meal full of long-lasting, energy-rich foods at dinner time OR if you can stomach it, a small snack in the morning is a great option too.
On the other hand, if you exercise after work at 6pm, ensuring you have a nutritious meal around lunch-time and a sufficient afternoon snack will be more than enough to top up your energy (‘fuel’) stores before you train.
The intensity and nature of our workouts will also help determine if and what we need to eat in the prior hours. For example, a pilates stretch session will require less fuel than a 10km run. Generally speaking, the most important nutrient to consume before exercise is carbohydrates. When we eat a carbohydrate-containing food, the carbohydrates are broken down into what we call ‘glucose’ - also known as sugar. Glucose is our body and brain's preferred source of energy so it is an absolute non-negotiable if you want to optimise your session, delay fatigue and reduce injury.
There are two different types of carbohydrates:
- Simple carbohydrates - these are a really efficient fuel source and provide us with quick ‘bursts’ of energy. Small bouts of high-intensity exercise require simple carbohydrates. Simple carbs include white grains (bread, pasta), potato, fruit juice, dried fruit, fruit spreads, refined cereals, honey and other sweeteners.
- Complex carbohydrates - these are ‘burnt’ (digested) much more slowly than simple carbohydrates which means they provide us with a slower ‘sustained’ form of energy but for a longer period of time. Complex carbs include wholegrains, whole fruit, nuts and seeds, starchy vegetables, dairy foods, lentils and legumes.
- Smoothie - made with milk, yoghurt, fruit and honey
- Sliced banana and peanut butter on toast
- Muesli/granola with yoghurt and fruit
- Salad & meat/veg sandwich, roll or wrap
- Fruit toast with jam
- A piece of fruit, a single muesli bar or a handful of ‘trail mix’ are great options for quick snacks
Do keep in mind that the suggestions I give you are relatively general in nature. As much as I would like to, I cannot provide personal advice to you all given variations in age, current activity levels, nutritional requirements, training goals, dietary requirements and lifestyle habits. Thanks for understanding :)
Questions or thoughts? Feel free to reach out to me anytime by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or following me on instagram @dietitianedition
Good luck and happy running,