Eat by the Clock

"When you're training, time is of the essence," says sports nutritionist Drew Price (drewprice.co.uk). "Nutrient timing is the secret weapon employed by professional athletes to fuel training and race day, and to support recovery.

"Carbohydrate is obviously important to power your run and replenish energy stores, but so is protein, as this improves carbohydrate usage and supports muscle recovery. Fat and fibre should be limited as they slow the transition of food through the  gut and can be a source of gastric distress."

Here's what to eat - and, crucially, when.

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Two Hours Before

"You want to be looking for low-GI, slowly digesting carbohydrates to top up energy reserves and power your run," says Price. "A low-GI sweet potato is the perfect fuel to take on now, deftly avoiding that post-white-spud energy slump.

"A little high quality protein is also important as the amino acids it contains provide energy, facilitate carbohydrate use and support muscle tissue health. Fish and eggs are easily digested sources of high quality protein, plus other nutrients. Avoid adding extra oils and veg, as fat and fibre move through the gut slowly, and you don't want them sitting in your stomach when you run."

Eat: Chicken, oats, white fish (cod, haddock), oily fish (salmon, mackerel), brown rice, low-fat Greek yoghurt, bulgur wheat, quark smooth cheese, wholewheat pasta, sweet potato, eggs, brown bread.

Meal ticket: Eggs with brown bread or fish with sweet potato

One Hour Before

"Easily digested low-fibre carbs are still the priority," says Price. "People worry that eating this close to a run means blood will be diverted away from muscles, but the journal Diabetes shows having carbs before training actually increases blood flow to muscle tissue.

Bananas are the golden ticket, containing three types of carbs, all with different speeds of utilisation in the body for phased fuelling. Taking in some casein proteins from milk and cheese now is a smart move. They drip-feed your body the building blocks of repair, and University of Texas researchers found that pre-training protein was twice as effective at halting the breakdown of muscle tissue than post-training protein, meaning you should recover quicker."

Eat: Banana, low-fat Greek yoghurt, dried fruit, whey protein shake, white toast with jam, bagel, white fish (small portion), cottage cheese (small portion), white rice, egg whites

Meal ticket: Low-fat Greek yoghurt with a banana

30 Minutes Before

"Caffeinated drinks can boost endurance and aren't diuretic as once thought - but go for green tea as this delivers a less extreme up-and-down than coffee," says Price. "Japanese researchers at Waseda University found that green tea also promotes fat usage, so your body uses your fat stores for running fuel, boosting endurance and leaving you lean - a win-win situation. University of Colorado research also shows compounds in green tea can increase V02 max."

What about just before you head out? "Stick to water if the run is under an hour," says Price. "For longer efforts, start sipping a sports drink with added electrolytes [potassium and sodium, to replace the salts lost through sweat] at regular intervals."

Drink: Green tea, coffee, water, sports drink

Picture credit: Lilli Day/ Getty Images

20 Minutes In

Hold fire on that energy drink for now. "At this stage the thing to think about is keeping your hydration levels at their optimum, so your body just needs water," says Price. "The ideal rate of hydration will depend upon your 'sweat profile' - how much and what you sweat - as well as the environment."

Generally, if you're a man, carrying more weight or highly trained, you'll sweat more so need to drink more. And obviously if by some miracle we're blessed with warmer weather, that means more fluid to replenish. "About 500ml per hour is a good guide, though," says Price. 

Drink: Water

One Hour In

"If you're running for over an hour, a sports drink becomes important," says Price. "Especially one with electrolytes, as these speed your hydration rate,  help you retain water and aid the absorption of carbs.

"Research published in the International Journal of Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism shows that mixing protein with carbs increases the rate of carbohydrate replenishment, reduces muscle damage and can boost time to exhaustion by around 15 per cent. Shoot for a sports drink with electrolytes and 30g of carbohydrate, plus 10-15g of unflavoured whey protein (mixed before you set off) every hour."

Drink: Sports drink, whey protein shake

Straight After

Hear that sound? That's not the clicking of your joints, it's the clock ticking: "Research on endurance athletes from Vanderbilt University Medical Centre in Tennessee, US, found that consuming protein and carbohydrate immediately after training is more effective than waiting," says Price. "Again, keep it simple and low in fat and fibre to speed digestion." 

And do your sums: "University of Texas research shows that a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein is ideal, so 20-30g of protein from a medium chicken breast plus 80g of cooked rice would be perfect.

Fruit provides you with fructose, which research in the journal Metabolism shows restores liver glycogen more effectively than other carbohydrates, plus it also changes the way the body handles glucose, encouraging it to be shuttled out to the muscle tissue." It tends to taste good with ice cream too - but you didn't hear that from us, obviously. 

Eat: Pork fillet, turkey, chicken, tofu, quark smooth cheese, grapes, potatoes, sweet potato, egg noodles, pasta, cous cous, chicken, fruit salad, white rice

Meal ticket: Chicken, white rice and fruit salad

Over Two Hours Later

Research published in the British Journal of Nutrition shows omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish reduce inflammation in muscles and joints, and speed recovery," says Price.

"They also promote insulin sensitivity, which is the key to good carbohydrate storage. Vegetables are a rich source of the vitamins and minerals that are vital for your performance and general health, plus they contain thousands of distinct varieties of 'phytochemicals' - compounds unique to plants that act as antioxidants in our bodies, reducing inflammation, boosting recovery and supporting the immune system. Still, comparatively little is understood about phytochemicals, so hedge your bets by eating lots of different veg."

The final element turns high-grade fuel into a guilt-free feast: "Coconut milk is a good source of medium chain triglycerides," says Price - which, in case you didn't know, "is a type of fat that burns more readily, with research in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition finding they preserve carbohydrate energy stores in your body and increase the amount of fat burned for energy.

Be warned though: researchers at the University of Cape Town found that eating before racing caused gastric upset." So leave your slap-up Thai curry for a post-run reward.

Eat: Blueberries, cumin, chia seeds, red onion, pilchard, walnuts, flax seeds, tumeric, coconut milk, red onion, broccoli, egg noodles, salmon, bok choi

Meal ticket: Thai salmon with vegetables, noodles and coconut milk