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Photo credit: Emma Simpson.

Get your diet on track for 2018


Last updated: 04-Apr-19

By Renee Mcgregor

It’s 2018 and like every New Year, this means that no matter which way we turn, to the internet, television, social media, or even just while we are waiting in the supermarket queue, we are bombarded with a plethora of celebrity nutrition and fitness trends.

Many of us will fall for their charm and promises once again, believing that this year, this will be the one that gets us through from January to December. Unlike previous years, this will actually be the lifestyle change we have been looking for.

However, while we all know that in reality nutrition is not rocket science, for some reason we like to make it complicated. We like to be faced with a set of rules and a list of “must have, energy boosting” foods, only then, do we really feel like we are “taking control” of our nutritional intake.

But what if we made 2018 different? What if this year, we actually took the more sustainable approach? The one where we throw out all the rules, we stop beating ourselves up and we learn to feed our body without guilt or anxiety?

For runners, the start of a year is a great time to plan: plan training, races and nutrition. Signing up to one major event, with a few smaller events to train through along the way, is a great initiative to stay motivated and committed to yourself and it is also realistic.

Sign up for too many challenges and you increase your expectations and potentially set yourself up to fail. A bit like nutrition, if you over restrict and never deviate, you become resentful and in most cases, actually pretty miserable. This then leads to a blow out where you feel like you’ve failed, the self-hate kicks in and the search for those “magic answers” starts again.

Nutrition for runners is about delivering enough energy to working muscles, enabling you to complete those tough sessions, which will allow for progression and improvement. It is also about recovery and developing strength.

The key is to look at your training week and then tailor your food choices against this. Contrary to popular belief, this does not mean filling up on plates of carbs before every run. By learning to match your nutrition to your training needs, you will also reap the rewards of seeing the physical changes to your body –whether that’s maintenance or weight loss.

Here are some top tips to get you on point with your nutrition and training for 2018:

  1. In order to really benefit from your training plan, it is important that you plan ahead so you know what to eat when. Nutrient dense carbs such as oats, whole grains and sweet potato are very useful for fuelling up before high intensity sessions which would include hill repeats, intervals or long endurance runs over 90 minutes long.

    However, they are not so important before slower more moderate-paced runs. In these latter cases, while carbohydrates should not be all together avoided, they can be replaced with less carbohydrate dense, but still nutrient packed, options such as root vegetables, pulses and fruit.
  2. We’ve all been told about the 30-minute recovery window, but how important is this in reality? In reality, this only becomes relevant to you if you are planning on two training sessions within 12 hours, or if your next meal is over two hours after finishing your high intensity training run. This means that for the majority of us, who are only training once a day, our next meal is sufficient for recovery.
  3. Don’t just think about your nutrition in the meal or snack immediately before your run session. If this is going to be a high intensity session, you actually need to think about getting a regular intake of carbohydrates at all meals and snacks during the 24 hours prior to your session. This will ensure that you have sufficient glycogen stores to maintain a consistent pace throughout your session. Only when you get consistent training, can your muscles adapt and progression can occur.

    Practically, this translates to around a fist size portion of carbs at meals and ½ a fist size portion of carbs at 1-2 snacks a day in the lead up to high intensity sessions.
  4. Don’t ditch the dairy. With so many food bloggers evangelising dairy free milk alternatives such as almond, coconut and hemp, it is important to know that cow’s milk is actually one of the best recovery options you can choose post training. Not only does it have the right proportions of carbohydrate to protein to encourage muscle recovery, it also has the best composition with easily digestible carbohydrates and protein, making uptake by the muscles more efficient. In comparison, if you look at shop-bought almond milk as an example, it is just expensive water.

    Dairy foods also contain calcium and this has been demonstrated to have beneficial effects on body composition, helping you to maintain a higher percentage of lean muscle mass. Practically, for those of you who want to drop a few pounds go for skimmed milk or fat free natural yoghurt versions, which still provide the benefit of protein and calcium, but with a lower energy yield.
  5. For those of you who want to lose weight, there is a tendency to over restrict. This means often avoiding eating before you train or, worse still, not consuming energy on long runs. If anything, this has a negative impact. Firstly, you won’t be able to train to your full potential as your energy levels will be low. Secondly, in order to be successful during races, you have to train your body to accept nutrition. The only way you can do this is to practise in training. By not taking on fuelling during your long runs, you are more likely to encounter tolerance problems in your races.

The final word on nutrition is to appreciate that if you over restrict your nutritional intake but still put physical demands on the body, it tends to slow down other processes within the body and thus your whole metabolism, in order to prioritise movement.  This means that, longer term, your body actually holds onto more body fat rather than utilising it.

Starvation is not the best principle for weight loss in those of us who are very physically active. Be mindful of choices, using the guidelines above and don’t deprive yourself of any food group.

Don’t use exercise as an excuse to have a treat. Allow yourself to enjoy a piece of cake or a croissant or a dessert on a regular basis, (once a week for those wanting to lose weight and 3-4 times a week for those who are maintaining weight), as part of a balanced lifestyle. In this way, you really are starting to put a process in place that is lifelong not just for the first 6 weeks of the year.

About the writer: Renee Mcgregor is a Sports Nutritionist and Author who has worked with Paralympics GB and many GB endurance athletes.

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