Thirty years of truth about diet plans, weight loss and mid-run fuelling.
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.
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.
What to do Keep a training diary and take photos of your training diet during your low mileage and higher intensity seasons. Use a health tracker app to better understand your kilojoule intake and macronutrient breakdown. For example, on a high training day involving a long or high intensity running session, a 70-kilogram runner may need approximately 100 grams of protein spread evenly across the day, approximately 350–500 grams of carbs, and about 30–50 grams of fat. This is just one example based on general fuelling and recovery requirements for an average runner on a hard training day, this runner may consumer less carbohydrate on a lower training day. The timing of these nutrients is key.
PRACTISE MAKES PERFECT
Training runs prepare you for race day. But you also have to practise 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.
What to do Practise 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 race course, and take note of what works.
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.
What to do Eat kale, blueberries and sweet potatoes. But also look into the validity of sky-high claims with credible sources. Credible sources include: supplement information classification programs by Dietitians Australia, the Australian Institute of Sport, Dietitians New Zealand and the New Zealand Nutrition Foundation.
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 kilojoules 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.
What to do Keep tabs on weight fluctuations. That will help you curb weight gain by seeing which lifestyle changes contributed to the creep.