Runners need the right fuel to provide energy. Even if you are running to lose weight, you still need to make sure you are eating enough - enough of the right food groups that is. Our panel of nutritionists and five weight-loss runners explain what you should eat, how much and why portion control is key.
In crash-diets carbohydrates are usually the first food group to get the chop but for runners they play an essential part in fuelling training. "Carbohydrates are the most important energy source for running, especially long-distance running" explains Shona Wilkinson, Nutritionist at The Nutri Centre (www.nutricentre.com). Carbohydrates are stored in the muscle as glycogen and you burn this as fuel when you exercise. Glycogen stores last up to two hours when you are running.
Whilst it's good news that you don't have to cut the carbs, you still don't have free rein to feast on chips, crisps and pasta. The type of carbs you eat are equally important. Low-Glycemic foods release their energy slowly and give you a constant source of energy. Wilkinson recommends low GI carbohydrates including basmati rice, spelt, quinoa, sweet potatoes, couscous, squash, pasta, fruit and root vegetables.
"I made sure I switched to healthy, filling foods to fuel my running, so I started eating more porridge, brown rice and lean protein," explains icclesuez.
And the rest
Carbohydrates may provide fuel but the body also needs protein and fat to keep healthy. "The foundations of a good training diet should be built on regular, balanced and varied meals consisting of around 60 per cent carbohydrate, 15 to 20 per cent protein and ten to fifteen per cent fat," says Kate Bolton Jones, author of Go Faster Food.
Cutting fat and protein from your diet may seem like a great way to shed pounds, but sports nutritionist Trevor Bedding warns this comes at a cost. "Most runners and athletes neglect the huge role that both fat and protein play in their diet and because of this they fail to benefit fully from their training," he explains.
Just because you go running, it doesn't mean you can pile up your plate. "A fist sized serving of rice or pasta with one portion of meat plus lots of vegetables will suit most people. Never eat until you are full, always leave room for something else," says Bedding.
"Portion sizes were one of my problem areas," says Kirsten Lodge, "Subconsciously I knew they were too large, but actually weighing food or using a visual guide really helped me."
Portion size can be confusing and it's always easier to eat more than we should. As a measure Wilkinson suggests a playing card sized serving of meat or fish constitutes a portion, as does a tennis-ball sized serving of rice or pasta. Vegetables are a runner's friend as you can eat a large pile guilt free - plus they keep your body nicely topped up with vitamins and minerals.
Consider eating several smaller meals throughout the day to control your hunger and balance your blood glucose levels. Desi R adjusted her attitude to her portion sizes by simply switching to a smaller plate! Most importantly don't skip meals as your appetite is guaranteed to catch up with you.
More training, more food
It can be difficult to know how much to eat when you start training for a half or full marathon - or if you stop training. Fortunately there's a handy equation which uses your resting metabolic rate (RMR) and the amount you exercise to find your daily calorific needs. You can find an online calculator here. The other great thing is that your RMR gives you a more accurate indication of how much you need to consume based upon your age, height and weight.
Make sure you refuel after longer training sessions to aid recovery and control your appetite. A mix of protein and carbohydrates are ideal - we've got some delicious suggestions here.
Two of our weight-loss runners look forward to their long easy runs every week knowing they can refuel afterwards. "Sunday is my favourite day of the training week because I follow my long run of the week with a massive roast dinner," admits Phil Sanders. Meanwhile Simon Lynch doubles his pasta portion after his long eleven-mile run each week. "I know my body needs to fuel to repair the muscles," he explains.