Runners have a reputation for eating. Lots. All the time. Someone even coined the term “rungry” to describe the feeling of always being hungry when you’re a runner. But is there more to fuelling your running training than pasta parties? For beginners, it’s also a question of when to eat and not just what. Will I feel sick if I eat before my run? Will I get tired quicker if I train on an empty stomach? Do I need to drink during my run? There are many questions you may have about how to fuel your body properly and boost your performance. So here are some tips to clear up any confusion.
The key to better performance and general fitness is a balanced and healthy diet. One very useful tip is to try and make everything yourself. This way you know exactly what you’re eating. Pre-prepared meals you can buy in the supermarket are often full of bad ingredients you can easily leave out, including lots of hidden sugar and fat. Use fresh vegetables or unseasoned frozen ingredients instead. Keep mixing it up – the more varied your food, the more nutrients you will be giving your body. And once you start running, these nutrients will become vital to help with regeneration and avoiding injury. Supplements are usually not necessary, as you should get enough of all the vital nutrients through a balanced diet.
Water, water, water
Drinking throughout the day is vital to everyone. Even without any sporting activities, your body needs 2 – 2.5l of water a day. As soon as you begin sweating, that water needs to be replaced too. And the more exercise you do, the more water is needed by the body. If you wanted to see how much water you lose during training, weigh yourself before and after. If you hydrate properly throughout the day and after your run, it won’t be necessary to take water with you.
The key word here is water. No soft drinks. Not even energy drinks. Steer clear of these, as they are full of sugar (which you don’t need) and will push your blood sugar level up, which will then fall back down again, causing you to hit a wall. If you give your body carbohydrates before and during training, it won’t have to optimize its fat metabolism to get the needed energy. Try drinking a mix of 1 part fruit juice to 3 parts water with a pinch of salt per half liter. This will boost your hydration and act as an ideal energy supply for your body.
Some love them and some hate them. But morning runs can cause some confusion when it comes to breakfast. If you only have a short amount of time before you get your running shoes on, try just having a very light breakfast, such as brown toast with honey or mashed banana.
If you are lucky enough to have a leisurely morning before your run, then you can enjoy a heartier breakfast. Oats left to soak in milk, juice or even water with some fresh fruit such as banana, apple and berries make a good runner’s breakfast. Add a portion of curd or cottage cheese and some nuts to boost your protein intake. And there you have your ideal breakfast. Enjoy and allow at least an hour to digest properly before your run.
Skip the pasta parties. On the evening before your morning run, have a balanced meal if you know you will only be having a light breakfast: fish (protein source), steamed vegetables and carbohydrates make a perfect meal with a variety of important nutrients. But when it comes to carbs, swap pasta for potatoes or brown rice.
The beauty of evening runs is that you have a whole day to consume lots of nutrients and eat enough to fuel your training. You should have your last large meal about 4 hours before your run. Try eating food that is easier to digest and won’t sit heavy in your stomach. So be wary of foods such as beans, chickpeas, lentils, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower before your run. A snack about an hour before you plan on training is fine – try a banana or some brown bread with honey or peanut butter for example. This should give you a little energy boost before you get going.
Eating after Training – Don’t Skip It!
It’s very important to eat after training. Carbohydrates to stock up on energy again, protein to help with regeneration and essential fats should all be part of your post-workout meal. Try 250g of curd, some grated ginger, 2 tablespoons of rolled oats, a mashed banana, some honey, cinnamon, curcuma to taste and a dash of linseed or coconut oil. To increase the amount of energy taken from fat reserves, leave out the banana and honey. But tank up on energy with carbs in your next big meal!
If you’re not that hungry after training, try a healthy shake instead. Take half a liter of oat milk (or your preferred type of milk) or water and mix with a banana and 2 tablespoons of instant oats. This shake is easier to digest after a really intensive workout than heavy, solid food.
Don’t deny you body what it needs. If you had an expensive sports car, you wouldn’t fill it with cheap, bad fuel. So treat your body the same way. Don’t be lazy. Eat to perform. Eat because you love your body, not to punish it. The effort will always be worth it and soon you’ll feel the benefits.