Running Nutrition for Beginners
The more you learn about sports nutrition, the better you will perform and the more enjoyable your running will become. Read on for our total guide for running nutrition for beginners.
Just as you might imagine, eating fresh food is always going to stand you in good stead. The less processed junk in your food and ultimately your body the better. e highly recommend that you keep a food diary, as it’s always good to have information to look back on in case you have an illness or stomach problem. A quick look into your journal can save you hours of head scratching.
It could be that your times are much better when eating a certain meal the night before your run, but without anything on record to highlight this to you it could easily be missed. Of course you’re always going to remember what you had for dinner last night, but how many of us can remember what we ate a month or more previously? Hazarding a guess, I’d say hardly anyone.
Most athletes follow the six days on, one day off on your diet. If you tried to live a perfect life and never eat ice-cream again, then you’d go berserk and probably go on a massive splurge. The normal approach is to let your hair down one day a week. You’ve been training and dieting hard so one treat day is well earned. It’s something to look forward to and a week isn’t exactly a horrendously long time to wait for something, plus a treat day could help boost your metabolism.
Eat a Balanced Diet
Seen as though this is aimed at beginners, you needn’t get too fanatical about your diet. The most important point is that you know your basics and ensure you are eating the correct amount of food.
What a lot of people do is underestimate how many calories are in a certain food. Hence, the reason you should splash out on a food scale; it will take the guess work out of your cooking and meal preparation. Next thing to do is print yourself a list of all the common foods that you like and how many grams of carbohydrate, fat and protein are in them, which again will make your life much easier.
Your goal should be:
- Carbohydrate 50 – 60% of your total calorific intake.
- Protein 20 – 25% of your diet.
- Fats 15 – 25% of your diet
- Fruit 2 – 3 portions per day.
- Vegetables should fill at least half of your plate at meal times.
- Water should be roughly 2 – 2.5 litres per day at the very least.
How Much Should I Eat?
Daily calorific needs varies hugely from person to person. As a general rule of thumb it should be 2200 for a woman and 2800 for a man. You can start off using these figures and you will soon know if you are eating too little or too much. Your energy levels and weight will soon let you know.
For example, if you’re running at least three times a week and you aren’t losing a little bit of weight then there is clearly something wrong. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking I’ve run for half an hour, then ram a massive meal down after training. A large meal high in calories can easily wipe out a 60 minute workout, bearing in mind you can approximate you’ll burn 500 calories per half hour.
What Food Groups Should I Eat?
You should be aiming to eat wholesome fresh food that is nutritious and appropriate for running.
- Complex carbohydrates, such as rolled oats and potato.
- Protein that is low in fat: tuna, chicken, steak, for example.
- Fat, but look out for monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat, not the evil saturated fat.
- Any type of fruit, but bear in mind coconuts are full of saturated fat, even though they are natural. You can slice fruit on your porridge or take it with you for a post-workout snack.
What’s the Window of Opportunity?
When you have been exercising, your metabolism is speeded up and your body is in race mode. What is known as the window of opportunity is that up to 30 mins after you exercise your body will digest food quicker and start the recovery process in turbo mode.
This doesn’t mean you need to start scoffing your face as soon as you click your stop watch, but it is wise to take advantage of this window. You will feel better for it, especially the faster recovery time.
It is also recommended that you have a main meal no later than two hours after you finished exercising. If you neglect to replenish vital nutrients and glycogen stores in the muscles, then next time you go for a run you will feel lethargic and sluggish. Pay close attention to these easy-to-action tips we have given you and you’ll be running like a mountain goat.
The night before your run your run, presuming you’re going on a morning escapade, you will need a decent meal that is full of complex carbs to replenish your glycogen stores. For example, you could have chicken breast, broccoli and brown rice. The vegetables you eat should be as close to their natural state as possible. Fibre is good for your bowel and aids in digestion and isn’t usually found in refined products.
Soluble fibre is found in oats, peas, beans, barley, citrus fruits, carrots and barley.
Insoluble fibre promotes the movement of material through your digestive tract and bulks up your stool, which is an added bonus for those who struggle with constipation.
You can have a piece of fruit, a sports bar, preferably one specifically for runners, or even a carbohydrate-laden energy drink. Depending on how far you plan to run and your appetite, you might not wish to eat a pre-workout snack. This also depends on what your goals are, whether it be setting a personal best time or you simply wish to lose weight. If the later then skip the snack altogether.
There are endless options to chose from, but a popular choice is to get a large tub of mixable energy drink powder. This will save a ton of money as opposed to buying one-off convenience buys at your local store. If you plan ahead then it makes sense to buy in bulk, once you are certain it’s a flavour that you like.
Make sure that you are prioritising carbohydrates and don’t worry too much about protein here.
The choices here are similar to a pre-workout snack, but here your goal is to initiate the recovery process, using the window of opportunity as your best friend. You could have a power bar or go down the energy drink route again, but the difference here is that you need to think about protein as well as carbs, to start repairing the micro tears in your muscles.
Protein shake with a banana is a really good choice here, but whatever your palette prefers as long as you cover your needs. You only need a moderate amount of protein, unlike a bodybuilder who would be all about the protein. A yogurt with berries is another favourite, but like other snacks, preparation is key and will help save you money on convenience products.
It’s worth mentioning that excess protein won’t necessarily do you any harm, because it will help sate your appetite, but it will add to your budget because protein is usually the most expensive food group.
This is typically the same or at least similar to your pre-workout meal. You should cover all the bases of carbs, protein, fat at the usual percentages. One common example is tuna and pasta bake, with vegetable of your choice or how about baked potato with beans and low-fat cheese grated on top?
If you like tuna it comes in water or the more premium option of tuna including omega 3 oil, which is essential omega-3 fatty acids including DHA and EPA. Healthy fish oil helps to optimise the body’s lipid profile, it also supports the body’s inflammatory response, and provides antioxidants, which help eliminate free radicals in your bloodstream and body. Free radials are associated with human disease, cancer and a host of other nasty ailments.
Running Nutrition for Losing Weight
Please bear in mind it is best to concentrate on one goal at a time. Don’t try and beat your personal best times when also trying to lose weight and vice versa. You will naturally tone up your muscles and start to lose weight when you have changed from a sedentary person to an active one. However, this initial bonus period will start to fizzle out the longer you have been running. Your body will naturally settle into its new workout programme and presuming both your diet and running mileage are stable your weight will also be stable.
To lose one pound of fat you need to burn 3500 calories. Therefore, by cutting your calories by 500 per day would see you lose one pound per week. That is a sensible target, though if you are a big-framed or taller person then that might be two or even three pounds per week. Weight will usually fall off pretty quickly then it will slow down. Obviously the leaner your body becomes, the more it will try and hold onto the weight.
Running Nutrition for Personal Best Times
All you need to think about for running faster and or longer is keeping your body fuelled. You needn’t go mad and bulk up like the Hulk, just keep an eye on your calories and listen to your body. Fatigue will soon tell you it’s hanging around, because you will start to feel jaded and with less zip in your step. Runs will become more of a struggle and hills will feel harder. This could be a sign that you are either over training or under eating. Your diary and training journal will come in especially useful at times like these.
Have you been running a lot of extra miles compared to your usual routine? Have you cut back on certain food groups, for instance? Not forgetting your fluid intake during high intensity tempo runs and sprints. Like anything else in life, the more time and effort you put into something the more intuitive it will become. You will soon be reading your body like a book!
Fluid Intake for Running
It’s well known that running without enough water on board can lead to dehydration. What’s less commonly known is that drinking too much water can actually be fatal. People have died from drinking too much water. Strange, but very true. It’s not a common thing, but something that as a runner you should be aware of. It’s called hyponatremia and it’s when the sodium level in the body gets diluted too much.
The standard model of thinking used to go like this: a person needs on average between two and two-and-a-half litres of water a day, which equates to approximately eight glasses of water per day.
The new approach is that as well as we’re all unique and have different thirst levels, etc, that the water can be counted from things like carbohydrates, fruit and other drinks. It’s obviously hard to work out how much water is in a cooked meal, but carbohydrates are water heavy compared to protein and fat.
During a high-intensity workout you can lose anywhere from 500 ml to 1000 ml of water through sweating. This is why it is essential to keep topping up your fluid levels when working out.
Your Hydration Strategy is Important
Seen as a 2% drop in fluid levels can have a profound effect on performance, it is essential that you have a properly well-thought-out hydration plan in place. Be mindful of your fluid intake on the day leading up to your run. Then 15 to 30 minutes before your run starts drink anywhere between 250 to 500 ml of water or energy drink. Each person is different here, as some might not like the feeling of too much fluid sitting in their stomach.
Bearing in mind the hyponatremia that we mentioned earlier, which is otherwise known as over-hydrating. Don’t stress too much on this, though, as it’s the type of thing that usually happens on ultra-endurance events like fell running or Iron Man events.
The Effect of Caffeine on the Body
Caffeine in coffee and soft drinks, usually Red Bull and the like, is a diuretic and that means it makes you want to go to the toilet. The water in the caffeine drink is more than enough to offset its diuretic affect, though, which means it isn’t panic stations just because you have been drinking caffeine at work.
What you probably need to pay more attention to is that caffeine might keep you awake at night if you go overboard on it during those hectic work hours.
Five More Runner’s Reads
- Running Essentials for Beginners
- Running Warm Up for Beginners
- Jogging Tips for Beginners
- Treadmill Running Basics
- Buying Running Shoes
Sports Nutrition and Hydration Conclusion
To sum up, don’t get to obsessed with numbers, calories or times. The most important thing for a beginner is to enjoy your running and educate yourself, by reading the likes of HowToRunFasterAndLonger.Com.
If there’s anything you think we’ve missed or would like further information on then please drop us an email or comment below and we’ll gladly do our best to help you out.
Until next time – stay safe and happy running!