The most common things runners want to know about diet and performance. – By Pamela Nisevich Bede MS
1. What items do I have to have in my grocery trolley?
I’m a big believer in a diet packed with produce, protein, and nutrients you can feel good about. You’ll typically find my trolley packed with 95 percent healthy options and 5 percent treats (Personally, I like Nik-Naks and Marie biscuits for my treats).
Here’s what makes up the bulk of my trolley:
Produce: spinach and kale for salads or to blend easily into recovery smoothies; baby carrots for a go-to snack, and in-season (or frozen) fruit, which is the most nutritious.
Whole grains: Always look for the word “whole” in the ingredient panel; “wheat” or some other fancy flour isn’t a whole grain. Try whole-wheat flat breads for homemade pizzas (loaded with veggies). And save money by buying grains in bulk – like steel-cut oats for the perfect post-run breakfast.
Protein: You can load up on lean protein without spending too much money. Try eggs, chicken breast, legumes, and dairy. If I splurge, it’s on fresh, wild-caught fish that’s sourced locally or sustainable.
Dairy: I’ve never made it home from the store without some form of Greek yoghurt in my cart (just ask my husband who wishes it were steak and bacon!). Opt for minimal ingredients and plain varieties to avoid added sugars. To ramp up flavour, add fruit, granola, and spices. No matter the brand you choose, it should have certified live and active cultures (stated on the label) and a minimal ingredient list.
2. What foods should I never buy?
I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t fully believe that every food can fit, within reason! Real life sometimes calls for the need to grab a quick snack that’s more processed than you’d like or dinner from a drive-thru because you really don’t have time for anything else. But I always steer clear of corn syrup, soft drinks, fried foods, and foods with artificial colours. While in moderation, these foods aren’t necessarily evil, my personal preference is to find a better alternative.
3. I’m running more, so I’m eating more. How can I avoid weight gain?
More kilometres create a calorie deficit, but overcompensate (read: over-eat) and you’ll end up gaining weight. Avoid this common pitfall by eating small, protein and fibre-rich meals throughout the day to keep you fuelled and satiated. Skip mindless snacking (like reaching your hand into a bag of chips while scrolling through your phone, over and over again), which easily adds excess calories to your daily intake. If you start feeling hungry, ask yourself if you’re really hungry or just bored or stressed. How will you know the difference? Let’s say you haven’t eaten in a few hours and you had a long run in the morning – you probably need to eat. You may also confuse thirst for hunger. Make sure you’re hydrated (your urine should be pale yellow) and keep a water bottle close by.
4. When do I need mid-run fuel?
If you’re running less than 45 minutes, you don’t need to bring fuel with you (unless it’s really, really hot and you need a few sips of sports drink to replenish your electrolytes), according to a joint paper from the American College of Sports Nutrition, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and Dietitians of Canada.
These experts also recommend a sports drink mouth rinse (swish and spit!) when running 45 to 75 minutes.
Running more than an hour? Aim for 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate each hour. Practice fuelling with gels, chews, bars, sports drink, and even real food like raisins and honey. It’s best to chase your food with some water to help aid absorption.
5. How should I divvy up my macro-nutrient (protein, fat, carbs) intake?
Nutrition needs are personal, and a diet that works for your training partner will not necessarily work for you. The best starting point is expert-endorsed macro-nutrient distribution ranges: 10 to 35 percent of total calories from protein, 20 to 35 percent from fat, and 45 to 65 percent from carbohydrates. For a more personalised plan, find a registered dietitian who can guide you based on your specific needs.