Easy ways to eat more healthily today
To paraphrase the great Ingrid Kristiansen, nutrition needn't be complicated. Follow these seven simple rules and say hello to a fitter, faster, healthier you.
1. Plan your diet
Devise a sensible eating plan that you can stick to, which will suit your lifestyle. Don't set yourself unreasonable targets for food consumption. Unless you're seriously overweight, it's unlikely that your diet will need to undergo drastic restructuring.
Start by analysing what you are eating now. Keep a food diary for a week. Then sit down with a pen and paper and ask yourself some questions about your dietary habits. Do you have breakfast? Do you feel tired and hungry by the time you run in the evening? If your diet is repetitive and boring you may not be getting the variety of foods necessary for adequate nutrient intake.
2. Eat little and often
Frequent snacking throughout the day is a sure way to avoid low blood sugar levels and tiredness by the time you get home for your run. Research shows that eating little and often is best for runners; as long as you're eating the right things.
Make a point of taking healthy snacks to work with you so that you aren't caught out. Avoid high-fat snacks such as crisps and chocolate, opting instead for snacks combining a healthy dose of protein and carbohydrate, which make the best fuel. Fruit, especially bananas with nut butters, a handful of nuts, plain popcorn, low-fat crispbreads and natural yoghurt are all excellent choices.
3. Don't ignore the main meals
Regular sensible snacking is important, but proper meals are where good runner nutrition really counts. Pasta is the runner's classic favourite, but there are plenty of other excellent high-carbohydrate foods, such as brown rice, baked potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans and pulses and quinoa. Still, beware, some high-carbohydrate foods are also high in fat. Lasagne, thin-crust pizza, croissants and granola are some of the worst culprits.
4. Supplement those supplements
Instead of spending a small fortune on pills and potions to supplement your diet, try to ensure that you get the vitamins and minerals you need from the food you eat.
It's a big mistake to think that a supplement will completely satisfy your nutritional needs. Taking a pill might give you the recommended daily amount of a particular vitamin, but you also need protein, minerals, fibre and energy in the form of calories, which no pill will provide.
5. Don't forget your pre-race meal
You're probably well versed in the idea of carbo-loading, but there are still a few tricks of the trade that can help you to race at your best. Firstly, don't overeat late the night before as this will make sleep harder to come by. Secondly, don't think of that final plate of pasta on the eve of the race as your last meal. Your body will use up some of that food energy overnight, so make sure you have breakfast. Former European 5000m and 10,000m champion Sonia O'Sullivan chooses bread or cereal, coffee, perhaps a banana and lots of water, but the carbohydrate combination you opt for is up to you. Just cut right down on fat and protein, which take a long time to digest. Coffee is fine if it's part of your normal routine – just be sure to drink plenty of water along with it.
6. Learn to drink on the run
Lengthy races – 10km and longer – often have Drinks Stations to replace lost fluids, and if you are running a marathon they will help you to scale the dreaded 'wall'. Drinking on the run is an important element of technique and one you will need to practise prior to your race. Before you start the race, find out whether the Drinks Stations are providing water, or carbohydrate drinks as well. If you plan to use a carbo drink, be sure that you've tested it in practice runs. As you approach the station look right; most runners prefer to veer left to collect their drink, so the other side is often less crowded. Grab the bottle with one hand and don't be afraid to stop and walk – a few seconds spent drinking properly will easily pay off in terms of performance.
7. Eat for recovery
Immediately after a race or a hard run it's important to refuel your body with protein and carbohydrates to restore your glycogen and repair the muscles. The first four hours after strenuous exercise are a crucial time for taking on new glycogen to replace what you've lost while working hard.