Finding the energy to get through a busy day – let alone to run somewhere in the middle of it – can be tricky. It’s all too easy to reach for a quick sugar fix or another cup of coffee to get you going. But it’s not just what you eat that can make a difference to your energy levels – it’s when you eat it, too. Try re-thinking the timing of your meals and snacks depending on when you plan to run, and you should feel good to go all day.
IF YOU’RE RUNNING… FIRST THING
For many of us, running very early in the morning is the only sensible way to train – there’s no way you can get sidetracked by other things on your to-do list. Trouble is, it can be hard to face food first thing, meaning your training might suffer and you spend the rest of the day catching up and longing for your bed. Don’t stress if you’re not big on eating early or can’t run with food in your stomach. For sessions up to half an hour, providing you’re not doing anything too intense, you’ll be fine without food. A caffeine hit will be useful though – it tricks you in to feeling energised with no food. Running longer or harder? Force yourself to get some calories down 30 minutes to an hour before you go. Try a fruit smoothie: sugary, yes, but that’s no bad thing when you don’t have long to digest your food. If you are doing a hard or long session, consider a second breakfast when you get back. Eggs on toast is a perfect option, giving you a complete protein recovery.
IF YOU’RE RUNNING… MID MORNING
Mid morning runs are useful race practice, as many events start around 10am or 11am. If you’re lucky enough to be able to run at this time of day, go for slowrelease carbs two to three hours beforehand. You don’t need a quick sugar hit: try trusty porridge, sweetened with banana or just flavoured with cinnamon (which has also been shown to help regulate
blood sugar – bonus!). Hungry again when you get back? Resist the urge to tuck in to your lunch early and re-charge with a simple glass of milk. Its natural sugars and
protein make it a perfect recovery drink.
IF YOU’RE RUNNING…AT LUNCHTIME
The trick to running at lunchtime is to keep your runs quick and your lunch even quicker. Run before lunch so you can refuel immediately. Chances are you’ll be hungry if you’re running a few hours after breakfast, so have a snack an hour before. This helps prevent nagging hunger from tempting you to ditch the run in favour of a coffee shop catchup with a friend. Make your snack something light but fairly filling – plain yogurt with fruit is a good option, giving you around 150kcal of natural sugars, while the protein and fat in the yogurt slow down the energy release so that you don’t suffer a sugar rush and crash. Have a good re-fuelling lunch ready for when you get back so you can eat straight after running, when your metabolism is revved up. Choose wholegrains with plenty of salad or veg and protein – something like a chicken and quinoa salad, or a shop-bought tuna nicoise salad would be perfect.
IF YOU’RE RUNNING… HOME FROM WORK OR AFTER WORK
You won’t often hear us say this but, if you’re planning to run straight after work, you have a free pass to indulge in some straight sugar. You’ll be tired from your day and your mind will try every trick in the book to stop you from running. So fight it off with a small handful of jelly sweets or an energy gel – your energy and mood will instantly pick up, and as the energy will be readily available to you, you can afford to have your snack just before you get changed and head out.
IF YOU’RE RUNNING… REALLY LATE
Sometimes, the only way to squeeze in a workout is to do it really, really late. If that’s the case for you, your best bet is to eat dinner at a ‘normal’ time – say 7pm – and keep it relatively light; 450 to 500kcal should do it. Go for a carbs-based dish that will fuel your run and won’t sit on your stomach – pasta is perfect. Avoid big hunks of protein or creamy sauces. Ready meals come into their own in this situation, particularly if you’re in the office – you won’t be tempted to overeat and you can easily see the nutritional content of your dinner. Just don’t rely on them every night. When you’re back, if you’re hungry again, try keeping a no-extrasugar bircher muesli in your fridge to grab (oats soaked in fruit juice, topped or mixed with yoghurt). The calming oats will refuel you after your run and should help you sleep, too. Keep it light – 200kcal or less – or you risk messing up your sleep, making it harder to resist the biscuit tin the next day.