1/ CUTTING OUT FRUIT
For many of us, the word ‘carb’ is synonymous with pasta and potatoes, or baked goodies. Admittedly, bananas and carrots may not have the sensual appeal of a freshly baked cake, but fruit and veg provide high-quality carbs to fuel you equally well, minus the unsavoury side effects that can weigh runners down on the road and on the scales. Fruits and veggies also deliver key nutrients that will help you bounce back quickly from tough workouts and protect you from strokes, heart disease and high blood pressure.
That said, some fruits and vegetables are better than others for your running life. In general, those that you can consume with the peel attached (e.g. apples and potatoes), and most berries, contain lots of fibre. Fibre is great, as it’ll keep you feeling full, slowing the digestion of sugars so you don’t get the energy spikes and crashes caused by refined sugars. One caveat: if you’re running in the next 60 minutes, avoid eating anything that has more than 7g fibre per serving to avoid GI distress. These carb-rich fruits and vegetables pack extra nutrients to support your running:
|Fruit/veg||Carbs per serving||Fibre per serving||Extra nutrients for runners|
|Banana (1 large)||31g||4g||Potassium, vitamin B6 and magnesium, which aid hydration on the run and fend off muscle cramps|
|Cauliflower (50g raw)||3g||1g||Vitamin C, folate and vitamin B6. Vitamin C boosts immunity. Vitamin B6 plays a vital role in healthy metab|
|Pear (1 medium)||27g||5g||Quercetin, a phytonutrient linked to preventing diseases such as cancer, as well as improving athletic performance.|
|Strawberries (150g)||11g||3g||Vitamin C and anthocyanins, which can help repair muscles and fight inflammation.|
|Dates (1)||18g||2g||A portable source of carbs, dates are also rich in phosphorus, an electrolyte vital for maintaining fluid balance and healthy bones.|
|Grapefruit (1/2 large)||13g||2g||Folate and cramp-fighting potassium. The red variety contains pantothenic acid, which your body uses to transform food into energy.|
|Cranberries (40g, dried)||25g||2g||Proanthocyanidins (compounds that improve cardiovascular health) and inflammation-fighting antioxidants.|
|Cabbage (150g, cooked)||8g||3g||High concentration of vitamins K and C, and a good source of folate, which supports your red blood cells.|
2/ GETTING RID OF GRAINS
With the recent carb backlash, grains have gained a bad name they don’t deserve. There’s a huge difference between the refined grains in biscuits and cakes, and the wholegrains in foods such as quinoa and wild rice. Wholegrains include the endosperm, germ and bran in the same proportions as when they were harvested. Rich in nutrients, they’ve been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and reduce risk of cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Plus, contrary to recent carbo-phobia, evidence shows that wholegrains can help you reach your fat-loss goals. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found those who consumed a diet rich in wholegrains had less belly fat and a smaller waist circumference. The high fibre content of wholegrains creates a steady, slow release of energy to power your runs, keeps you feeling full, and prevents blood sugar spikes and crashes.
Related: Why you should eat more wholegrains
That high fibre content does mean eating wholegrains immediately before a run can lead to GI distress, so consume a couple of hours pre-run, or as post-run food, when your body is primed to absorb the nutrients, repair muscle and restock glycogen stores.
Quick tip: Look for the word ‘whole’ on the ingredients panel (not just ‘wheat’). Just because bread is brown in colour doesn’t mean it contains wholegrains.
Top wholegrains for runners
Amaranth: Rich in protein and the minerals calcium, iron, magnesium and phosphorus, for healthy bones.
Barley: More fibre than any other wholegrain (8g per 40g serving). It’s also high in antioxidants and minerals (e.g. magnesium and phosphorus) needed for bone health, plus iron and potassium, which are important for healthy circulation.
Buckwheat: Contains relatively high levels of zinc, copper and manganese. Buckwheat also packs muscle-boosting protein, soluble fibre (which improves cholesterol levels) and resistant starch (to boost digestive health).
Oats: Research has linked oats with reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers and even asthma. They also offer a good hit of protein and heart-healthy unsaturated fat.
Quinoa: One of the few grains that provide a complete protein, quinoa also contains more potassium than any other wholegrain (159mg per 180g serving).
Related: 5 dishes to make with unusual grains
Rice (brown, black, red and others): An excellent source of carbs, most whole-grain varieties are high in fibre and nutrients such as manganese and selenium, which is important for carbohydrate and fat metabolism.
Rye: Contains a unique type of fibre, arabinoxylan. It’s known for its antioxidant activity, fighting inflammation and easing muscle soreness. Research also shows that rye boosts GI health and helps you stay feeling full.
Whole wheat: By far the most common grain used in breads, pasta and other foods, whole wheat has been shown to reduce the risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, asthma and obesity.
Wild rice: Has twice the protein and fibre of other varieties, but less iron and calcium.
3/ BOWING TO FAD DIETS AND THE LATEST 'SUPERFOODS'
From non-GM to gluten-free, we’re now presented with a barrage of health halos, some of which have no legal definition and many of which can distract from your main nutritional goals. Remember…
You can have too much of a good thing: Even if a health claim is legitimate, it’s not a licence to go overboard. Excess calories lead to weight gain even if they come from ‘healthy’ foods. A study in the Journal of Marketing Research found that people who were given a food labelled ‘low fat’ ate 50 per cent more than those who ate the normal version.
Gluten-free does not necessarily mean good: It’s critical for anyone with coeliac disease, but these days lots of non-coeliacs buy gluten-free products on the assumption that they’re healthier. Scores of crisps and biscuits sport the ‘gluten-free’ label and many gluten-free foods have refined carbs and added fats, so check the other info on the packet to make sure the calories, fats and sugars are going to help you achieve your weight-loss goals.
Eco-friendly isn’t always diet-friendly: The ‘organic’ label means the food is grown without pesticides, antibiotics or growth hormones. But many cakes, biscuits and other diet-unfriendly items are organic, so you should still examine the nutrition info and ingredients. Likewise with foods labelled ‘non-GM’ (no genetically modified organisms). While ‘organic’ and ‘non-GM’ may be good for the environment, if you’re primarily concerned about your weight, they’re not the most important variable.