In 1986 I wrote my first column for Runner’s World, covering sports drinks and hydration. Over the years, my columns have been based on the latest scientific research available. And while performance nutrition has undoubtedly changed, even flip-flopped, these are steadfast truths to keep in your fuel belt.
1/ There is no “magic” plan
What you eat depends not just on factors like gender, age, fitness and genetics, but also on your training plan and goals. This means your recommended range of macronutrients (carbs, protein, fat) changes - which we now call periodised performance eating. Start with nutrition articles (like mine!), but tailor the advice to fit your body’s demands.
Keep a log and take photos of your training diet during your low mileage and higher intensity seasons. Use a health tracker app to better understand your caloric intake and macronutrient breakdown. For example, a 10 stone 10 lbs runner logging 25 miles a week and eating 2,300 calories a day needs about 70 to 100 grams of protein, 250 to 350 grams of carbs and 30 to 70 grams of fat.
2/ Practice makes perfect
Training runs prepare you for race day. But you also have to practice your nutrition. Research shows that you can teach your body to better absorb carbs by trying your fuelling routines before your race. Too often, marathoners try to consume carbs every 30 to 60 minutes (which is good!) during their race but haven’t trained their stomach for this type of constant fuelling.
Practice your mid-run nutrition - 30 to 60 grams of carbs every hour. Try the drinks and gels (if any) that will be offered on the racecourse, and take note of what works.
3/ Don’t (always) believe the hype
Superfoods (like kale, blueberries, sweet potatoes) are called super for a reason. Nutrient-packed foods have health benefits, but an all-kale diet won’t make you the next Olympian (sorry!). The same goes for supplements. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Eat kale, blueberries, and sweet potatoes. But also look into the validity of sky-high claims with credible sources: the Office of Dietary Supplements of the National Institutes of Health, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Nutrition.
4/ A marathon, not a sprint
On the road, you want to be fast. But to sustain a lifelong healthy weight, patience and consistency are key. Strategies for weight loss and maintenance have changed based on research, but the bottom line is the same: burn more calories than you consume. Studies show that those who keep their fit figure are consistent with their fitness routines (60 minutes of daily physical activity), avoid dieting extremes (don’t ditch carbs!) and have balanced nutrition.
Keep tabs on weight fluctuations. That will help you curb weight gain by seeing which lifestyle changes contributed to the creep.