A Runner’s Guide To Braaing

Stay healthy at family braai's with our guide to runner-friendly food.

Lauren Smith |

Stay healthy at family braai’s with our guide to runner-friendly food. – By Lauren Smith

Photograph by Matt Rainey
Photograph by Matt Rainey

Summer is here, and so is braai season. This annual meat-and-beer fest can seem like a nightmare for runners trying to fuel their training healthily, but our expert tips and recipes will help you fuel your running right.

What to Avoid

Step away from the sausages – filling your plate with protein won’t enhance your performance.

“Eating large portions of meat is wasteful in terms of efficient sports nutrition”, adds Daniel Ebanks, sport and exercise scientist. “We only need between 0.8g and 1.2g of protein per kilogram of body weight in our diet. The crucial point for runners is that eating too much protein means that they are probably not eating enough carbohydrate.”

But don’t fear – plump for vegetables or lean meat and fish and you could come up trumps in the nutrition stakes. “Braaing is actually one of the healthiest ways to cook your meat” says Christine Bailey, nutritionist and food consultant. “It’s the portion sizes that can make them unhealthy”.

Fill your plate with around 80% carbohydrates, side salads and vegetables, and 20% protein – the more protein you eat, the less room you’ll have for runner-friendly slow release carbs. Adam Kelinso, author of The Athlete’s Plate: Real Food for High Performance says “Runners need more carbs then protein, so choose grilled veggies over an extra hot dog – it’s a better nutrient source.”

And remember, braai’s are a breeding ground for food poisoning – so if the meat doesn’t look cooked, and the juices don’t run clear, don’t dig in – otherwise you could be in for a stomach bug that could set back your training or ruin your weekend’s racing.

Swap Shop

Make these substitutions for classic braai fare, and you’ll tuck in to added health benefits that could boost your performance:


Carbs should make up a large portion of your plate, but choose wisely. Swap cheap burger buns for good quality crusty granary rolls, or pita bread, which has a lower GI for a sustained release of energy, and B vitamins that are good for energy levels. A traditional jacket potato is fine, but upgrade to a sweet potato and “you’ll get a higher level of anti-oxidants, vitamin E and beta-carotene, which helps to prevent free radicals”, says Christine.


If you can, swap fatty beef and pork for leaner options like chicken or fish. “Fat can slow down the body’s metabolism and leave you feeling very sluggish”, says Adam. Salmon is the nutritional star of the barbeque menu. “Grilled salmon or shellfish are packed with omega-3 oils, which are anti-inflammatory and can help reduce joint swelling if you’re injured.” says Christine.

If you can’t face giving up burgers and bangers, look out for organic or home-made rather than pre-packaged, processed options – and ditch the marinade.


Pile on sauces and dips with your meal and you can pile on kilojoules too. Steer clear of mayonnaise and creamy salad dressing, laden with empty kilojoules and fat, and swap in guacamole. Christine adds, “Guacamole gets a bad rep for its fat content, but avocados are full of good unsaturated fats, protein, B vitamins, and potassium. Potassium is an essential nutrient we lose when we sweat during exercise, along with sodium.”

Improve creamy sides like coleslaw and potato salad by swapping the mayo for yoghurt. Yoghurt is good for runners because it has “friendly bacteria that will aid digestion, and will prevent bloating or discomfort on afternoon runs”, says Christine.

According to Adam, the best options at the salad bar are raw. Raw vegetables “contain more live enzymes and help the body digest other foods and assimilate nutrients. They also have lots of beneficial nutrients, and antioxidants that help with digestion as well as with the carcinogens created by the grilling.”

It may sound obvious, but it’s a bad idea to swap burgers for beer. Too much alcohol in hot weather can quickly lead to dehydration – and motivation-busting hangovers!

Keeping the host sweet

If someone else is in charge of the menu, it can be tempting to chuck your processed burger in the flower bed. But there are smart ways to get round an unhealthy menu. Explain to your host if you are in training and eat a little of everything, piling your plate with salad.

Someone always forgets to sort a dessert, so why not bring a selection of fresh summer fruit along to reap their nutritional benefits. Christine recommends pineapple, papaya and watermelon for their “high water content which will keep you hydrated and balance your electrolyte levels. Pineapple also helps break down protein into energy.”

Chill Out

Finally, enjoy yourself! Braai’s are usually parties after all. If you’re hosting, remember quality, not quantity will keep you healthy. And keep it simple – you can’t go wrong with simple marinades, good quality meat or fish, nice bread and freshly made salads. If you’re worried about overeating, eat a small low-GI snack before you go, and don’t keep piling up your plate if there’s a buffet.

Healthy Recipes

Hosting your own braai? Try these delicious recipes.

To make sure you’re getting enough low GI, slow-release carbohydrate to fuel your training, make a quick salad of couscous, roasted vegetables and fresh herbs, or a salad of fusilli pasta with fresh basil leaves, parmesan shavings, toasted pine nuts, and olive oil.

Marinate salmon steaks in a mix of Thai green curry paste, coconut milk and finely chopped kaffir lime leaves for 30 minutes or so, to make a lean and delicious main.

Tuna steaks are also delicious on the grill, served rare with a blob of sweet chilli jam, grated ginger, coriander and lime juice. Chillies boost the metabolism, going some way to make up for the sugar that makes sweet chilli sauce so sweet!

For healthy kebabs, thread a mix of chopped courgettes, aubergines, peppers and cherry tomatoes onto skewers and brush with olive oil. You can sub in peeled king prawns for added protein. Serve with a sauce made of natural yoghurt, a little chilli powder, ground cumin and freshly ground black pepper.

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