Want to be a better runner? Then give your diet a makeover to boost your energy levels – and also your health. The good news is that even small changes can really help. Here’s nutritionist Christine Bailey’s top tips.
1.Aim for five
Vegetables should be a key focus in everyone’s diet, but especially runners. Rich in essential nutrients and antioxidants, veggies are also low in fat andcalories, and high in soluble fibre. Aim for five portion of vegetables daily, to boost performance and support recovery. If that sounds hard, try a green smoothie as a pre-workout or breakfast option. Simply blend up some avocado with spinach or kale, cucumber, celery, pineapple and coconut water for a hydrating drink. Try including more vegetables in soups and stews. Make use of bags of ready prepared vegetables and frozen bags of mixed veg for convenience.
2. Cut back on booze
Most of us like a tipple at this time of year, but just be careful not to overdo it. Alcohol is full of sugar and calories, and can place extra burden on your liver, making you feel tired and sluggish. Cut back on booze for the next few weeks and give your body a chance. Alcohol can also reduce levels of certain nutrients in the body, such as B vitamins essential for energy. It can disrupt blood sugar levels and interfere with sleep, making it harder to perform at your best.
3. Don’t cut out all carbs
Drastically cutting carbs is likely to leave you feeling tired and unable to perform at your best. Too much in your diet and your body will dump the excess as fat, making it harder to shift that weight. If you’re looking to lose some weight, reduce your intake to one to two portions a day and focus on including these before and after training. For the rest of the day, base your meals around half a plate of vegetables plus a little starchy veg, such as butternut squash, sweet potato and plenty of protein.
4. Carefully plan your pre- and postrun snacks
To get the most out of your run, plan your snacks carefully. Ideally, a snack should be consumed at least an hour before training to keep energy levels high, and then again 45 minutes after training to replenish energy levels and improve recovery. Aim for a post-run snack that combines carbohydrate and protein, to optimise recovery.
5. Drink more water
Drinking enough water is an easy way to boost your running performance. Even in the winter months you will sweat. Dehydration can reduce your speed and result in fatigue. Drinking water can also
stop you craving food in-between meals. Dehydration is often mistaken for hunger, so sip on a glass of water or make up herbal tea whenever you feel like snacking. Aim for six to eight glasses daily.
6. Switch to lean protein
Red meat is an excellent source of protein, but certain cuts are very fatty and high in calories. Too much saturated fat can promote inflammation – not great for runners, especially if prone to injuries. Instead, increase your intake of lean poultry, such as chicken breast and turkey mince, and look for extra-lean cuts of meat to provide valuable protein without excess fat.
7. Bin the sodas
High in sugar and sweeteners, these disrupt blood sugar levels, increase cravings for sugary foods and add excess calories without any nutritional value. Fizzy drinks also contain phosphoric acid, which can be damaging for bone health. Sports drinks may have their place on long runs, but for shorter runs under an hour, all you need is water.