Food as Fuel

There has been a huge trend towards low carb diets in recent years but when we are exercising regularly we should be considering how food fuels our body and a range of nutrients are essential for optimising our performance and recovery. Roughly half our diet should be made up of complex carbohydrates such as fruit and vegetables, al dente pasta, oats, quinoa, cous cous, potatoes, wholewheat and basmati rice. 

For those training for the Great Eastern, in the three days leading up to your long run you should be increasing your carbohydrate intake to 70-85% of your diet. Carbohydrates converts to glycogen (which powers your performance) better when accompanied by water so keep well hydrated too. 2 to 3 litres of water a day (some of which can be sports drinks containing sugar and sodium if you are exercising, especially important in hot conditions where you are sweating a lot). 

After a long run or intense training session your energy will deplete and muscles will be damaged so a sports drink is a good idea immediately after plus a glass of milk or banana and a protein and carboydrate rich meal in the following two hours. 

Foods high in protein are meat, eggs, fish and dairy (which contain all eight essential amino acids) or beans, chickpeas, lentils, soya, spinach, broccoli, nuts, seeds, rice, pasta and bread.  Vegetarians and vegans should ensure they get all the essential amino acids by combining foods such as legumes and grains ie baked beans on toast, chickpea and spinach curry and rice or soya mince bolognase and pasta.  Aim for 1g of protein per kg of bodyweight each day.

It’s a really good idea to keep a seven day food diary from time to time to keep on top of mindless eating and ensure we are getting enough of the nutrients our bodies need. 

Female athletes, in particular, often don’t have enough iron in our diets so making sure we consume foods rich in iron such as red meat, green leafy vegetables, eggs, seafood and lentils alongside vitamin c rich foods like oranges, strawberries, tomatoes and peppers (which will help our bodies absorb the iron) is really important. If you are so inclined, then eating nettles is great for boosting iron levels too as the plant is rich in iron and vitamin c (as is spinach and broccoli).  Pick the fresh ends of the nettles with gloves and add them to curries, soups or pasta sauces.

Iron, Zinc and Magnesium are really important for distance runners to aid performance and recovery. The best dietary source is lean read meat but vegetarians and vegans can ensure they are getting enough by eating lots of avocado, blackberries (another food you can forage), raspberries, dates, raisins, cherries, grapes, runner beans, nuts, peas, pumpkin, potatoes, seeds and asparagus.

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