Nutrition Basics for Runners

Tips on what to eat and drink to maximise your running enjoyment and manage your weight.

Pass on the extra carbs

Bread, bagels, pasta, potatoes and pancakes – you just can’t get enough, right? Wrong, says sports nutritionist Nancy Clark.

Running 4-5km at an easy pace will burn 200 to 300 calories, an amount so modest that it doesn’t demand lumberjack portions of carbs (or anything else) before or after.

Clark advocates eating healthy foods throughout the day, and having a small snack an hour or two before you run.

“Exercisers shouldn’t skip meals early in the day or try to run on fumes,” she says. “But you don’t require special foods after a workout – just a snack that offers a few carbs and a little protein.”

Drink water. But only when you’re thirsty

Yes, runners sweat a lot. Yes, they need to consume water, sugar and electrolytes (ionised salts in blood, tissue and cells) when they run for 90 minutes or more, particularly in warm weather.But unless you’re training for a marathon, you don’t need sports drinks and an advanced hydration strategy.

Sip a little water before your workout and a little more after. And skip the extra calories in sweetened drinks.

“Beginner runners don’t need a sports drink, because they’re not running far enough,” notes Clark.

Eat real food

Runners, even beginners, tend to be driven, results-orientated people. When promised short-cuts, miracle cures and unbelievable benefits from supplement and ‘superfood’ manufacturers, they’re easily swayed. However, eating standard, simple, unprocessed natural foods will give you the same end results.

“Every time one of those vitamin or supplement studies produces a negative result, I am reassured that focusing on quality calories is the best advice,” says Clark. “I’ve always believed that the healthiest foods are the real foods – the quality vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean proteins packed with everything runners need.”

If you want to lose weight…

Sorry, but you won’t automatically drop five kilos just because you run, says Clark. You also have to reduce your daily food intake. Each kilometre that you run burns roughly 100 calories.

Cut a biscuit or two every day, and you can add another 100 calories to your weight-loss effort.

“Reducing calorie consumption by just 100 calories a day will theoretically give you a 4.5kg weight loss by the end of the year,” Clark says. “Drop 200 calories a day, and you’ll lose 9kg.” Clark suggests cutting calories by eating smaller portions and fewer fried foods.

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6 Responses to Nutrition Basics for Runners

  1. Mari 14 May 2012 at 12:03 pm #

    I’ve been running 25-35km per week from beginning of March, doing 2 half marathons (walking a lot!) during the second half of April to date.
    I eat the minimum carbs and lots of veggies and some protein. Not a lot of fruit either. I drink at least two litres of water per day and 2 glasses of wine about 5 evenings a week. A lot of coffee though, with low fat milk, no sugar.
    I haven’t lost a gram! Its frustrating, but I know I will start losing sometime. I don’t believe in miracle diets or any diet capsule or drop or whatever. It damages the heart. Since I started running, my clothes fit better, so I know that I’m losing fat and building muscle, but not losing “visible” kilo’s on the scale is getting to me.

  2. Adel 14 May 2012 at 3:28 pm #

    Mari, I’m no expert, but I’m sure if you drop the 2 glasses of wine, 5 evenings a week, you will start seeing the difference. Try the 2 glasses of wine only once a week. It would be best to eliminate it completely, but I would also not be able to do that! ;) And don’t eat a carb-protein combo in the evening. Rather protein and veggies, no later than 19h00. You can rather have some carbs with lunch. Works for me! ;)

    • Mari 14 May 2012 at 4:55 pm #

      Hi Adel – yep the wine-thing . . . LOL I don’t eat carbs at all after breakfast, so it can’t be that. Must be the wine. :-( And the age. :-( I dont take any sugar or fat, so I thought that I can treat myself with the wine. Maybe I should only have a glass or two over weekends.

      I’m not losing hope though, it will get better!

      • janine 26 November 2012 at 11:59 am #

        Hi, I had the exact same problem and th exact same habits. One (1) glass of wine has between 200 – 220 calories! ONE glass. And it’s refined sugar. So do yourself a favour, cut alcohol out for 2 weeks – you’ll be amazed! And don’t substitute it with fruit juices – it also has way too much sugar. It’s no fun, but it works.

  3. Shirwa 26 November 2012 at 12:44 pm #

    Hey Mari drinking 2 glasses of wine is equeal to 4 slices of bread with marg in calories Maybe stick to wine on the weekend only you will enjoy it more as it is something to look forward to. fats also help to break down fat and help you to lose fat believe it or not I eat half an avo for lunch everyday It makes your hair shine and its great for your joints and your skin. The other fat that is excellent for running is 5 macadamia nuts or 10 almonds instead of avo limiting fats helps to lose but you do need fat to lose weight also. Good luck and keep running

  4. Best Weight Loss Diet 1 November 2013 at 3:03 pm #

    This is really great! I have been doing these things for years and still finding ways to improve my list of nutrition basics for runners. But I think I forgot something. The part where I only drink water when I’m thirsty. I think drinking water will be helpful. At least I do know now. Thank you!

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