With so many specialist diet plans out there it can be difficult to know where to start. There are diets for bulking, diets for cutting, fat-free, carb-free, gluten-free and plenty more.
So what’s the right choice for runners? Well, when creating a diet plan for running, the most important thing to remember is to keep it properly balanced. Whether you’re a vegan, a veggie or a meat-eater, balance is key.
To help you understand how to create the perfect diet to match your fitness routine, we’ve put together some top tips to help you get the most out of your meals.
Stick to rich foods
A nutrient-rich diet is not only vital for keeping your energy levels high during exercise but, it also aids recovery, repair and helps prevent illness and injury. If you’re not fuelling up properly before a workout, it’s much harder to work at a high enough intensity to get the results you’re aiming for.
If long weekend runs are your bread and butter, you need to make sure you’re planning your meals to prepare for the distance you’re covering. Carbohydrates are key to maintaining your energy levels for prolonged exercise. It’s good practice make sure you’re eating a carb-heavy breakfast an hour or two before you plan to run, topping up with 30g of carbs 10 minutes before you head out the door.
Carbohydrates are also critical for HIIT (High-intensity interval training) workouts. Due to the quick, intense exercise associated with HIIT, your body needs carbs for instant energy. Without them, you’ll find it difficult to perform the speedy movements and your energy levels will flag too soon.
Hydration is crucial for all sport and exercise, and running is no different. To stay hydrated on runs that last over an hour, it’s recommended that you drink up to 150ml of water every 20 minutes.
You can also make slight changes to the way you stay hydrated to tailor towards your own performance. For instance, if you sweat a lot, adding an electrolyte tablet to your water can help you retain vital fluids. Another example is to make your own homemade sports drinks by combing water, pineapple juice and a pinch of salt. This too will help you stay fully hydrated as you’re putting the miles behind you.
The key elements of your diet
Protein can be found from a wide range of sources, including meat, fish, eggs, nuts and legumes. It’s responsible for re-building and adapting muscle tissue in response to exercise, as well as aiding in muscle protein synthesis.
Carbs are an energy powerhouse and are essential for the body during all kinds of exercise. Sweet potatoes, chickpeas, rice, oats and bananas are all rich in carbohydrates. They are particularly important as a fuel source for high-intensity activity, as well as also helping maintain strong brain function.
Certain minerals are key for runners. For example, iron is necessary for the transportation of oxygen around the body, calcium helps muscle contraction and bone health and magnesium aids in nerve transmission too. All these equate to your overall performance and are easy to achieve with the right balanced diet.
There is a lot of stigma around fat in our diets, however, fat is essential as an energy source. It also plays a very important role in cell membrane function, hormonal control, and ensuring you can easily absorb fat-soluble vitamins. When planning your diet, make sure you’re including natural sources of fat such as avocados, eggs, nuts, seeds and oily fish.
All vitamins have their role to play within the body, yet some have additional benefits. For example, Vitamin D is necessary for bone health but also helps muscle recovery. Vitamins can be found in various food sources, from fruit and veg to eggs, milk and oily fish.
Your 3-week diet plan
To help you start your new diet plan, we’ve created a list of tasty, fuel-packed meals to try at home for your first three weeks.
SMASHED AVOCADO ON TOAST WITH POACHED EGG
A modern classic, avocados are loaded with vitamins, antioxidants and beneficial monounsaturated fatty acids, and are a great way to start to your day. Adding a poached egg to this dish provides a good portion of quality protein.
SMOKED MACKEREL AND TOMATO SALAD
Packed with inflammation-managing omega-3 oils and protein, mackerel is a great addition to your diet. Tomatoes also have anti-inflammatory properties and are rich in vitamins and antioxidants.
For a tasty and lean alternative to a traditional beef burger, try using turkey mince, quinoa flakes, an egg and some sweated onion and garlic for this healthier option. It’s a brilliant protein source and high in beta-alanine to aid in high-intensity training.
NUTS AND SEEDS
Your go-to snack for protein and omega-3 oils, you should always have a stash at hand for when you need something to nibble on. Mixing up a few different types of nuts is a great way to get a good variety of nutrients.
SCRAMBLED EGGS AND SMOKED SALMON
Both ingredients in this dish contain high-quality protein, and there are omega-3 oils in the salmon too. Adding toast is a great way to inject some carbs into your meal, and is perfect for a pre-run breakfast.
TINNED SARDINES ON TOAST
A favourite of cycling legend Graeme Obree. It’s a good idea to make sure you always have a couple of tins in your cupboards for a quick and easy lunch option. They’re high in both protein and omega-3 oils, plus the tomato sauce is packed with beneficial lycopene.
SLOW-COOKER 5-BEAN CHILLI
Slow cooker recipes are more popular than ever, as you can create delicious, hearty meals effortlessly. The trick to this dish is to make sure you’re using a variety of beans. This ensures that the chilli is full of essential amino acids and that you’re providing your body with a great source of protein.
Yoghurt is a great snack to have at any time throughout the day for a protein hit but is especially good before you go to bed. The casein (milk protein) is released slowly, fuelling your muscles through the night. Try topping it with milled linseeds for an extra dash of omega-3.
QUINOA PORRIDGE WITH COCONUT MILK
Quinoa is a brilliant porridge alternative to traditional oats. It’s a complete protein, meaning that it contains all the essential amino acids, plus, coconut milk is rich in both vitamins and minerals.
For lunch, breakfast or even a light supper, the humble omelette is hard to beat. Eggs are a mighty source of protein, and it’s an easy meal to add multiple, nutrient-rich fillings into the mix.
TURKEY BREAST STEAKS
If you’re looking for a lean protein source, you’ll struggle to beat turkey. It’s especially good for dinner, as it’s high in the amino acid L-tryptophan, which helps to aid sleep. Serve with sweet potatoes and green veg like broccoli.
HOMEMADE ENERGY BALLS
For a handy snack, grab some dates, oat flakes, agave nectar, ground pumpkin seeds and cocoa powder and mix them into bite-sized balls. They’re high in protein and because they taste so good, feel like a treat. They’re great for eating on a long run too.
Visit the England Athletics website for more help and advice on running and keeping fit.