Broad ‘be more healthy’ goals set you up for failure. Swap them out for ones that are specific and achievable, and reap the running rewards all year long.
It’s the time of the year when big, sweeping resolutions loom large: lose weight, eat ‘clean’, curtail the booze. While those are all worthy ambitions, your odds of achieving them skyrocket if you shoot for one or two small, specific food-related objectives that support the loftier nutrition goals, says Anne Mauney, marathoner and co-author of Nutrition for Runners.
Here are five goals that do just that (and one you should avoid). How to choose? Pick one (or two!) that fits your lifestyle and that you know you’re likely to achieve. “That way you’re setting yourself up for success by creating a positive feedback cycle,” says trail runner and dietitian Maria Dalzot.
Clean Up Your e-Feed
FOMO isn’t just for parties. While Instagram can offer inspiration and recipe ideas, scroll too long and you might find yourself weighed down in comparisons and unrealistic expectations, thanks to impossibly perfect meals and their ripped, lean creators. (We’re betting most of those don’t say #NoFilter.)
A 2016 study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found the more time spent on social media, the greater the risk of eating and body-image concerns.
Consider each health- and fitness-related personality or influencer you follow, Dalzot advises. If their posts leave you feeling unworthy and sad rather than joyful and motivated, tap ‘unfollow’.
Be Real About Carbs
Carbohydrates are the go-to fuel source for endurance exercise like running. But even marathoners don’t need to gorge on giant plates of pasta nightly, says Anne Rollins, a sports dietitian for the Core Diet. Instead, make sure each meal contains all three macronutrients: protein, carbs and fats. You don’t have to count grams or kilojoules – just use your plate as a guide, says ultrarunner Dr Stephanie Howe Violett.
On most days, fill about half with colourful fruits and veggies, and one-quarter each with lean protein (chicken, fish or legumes) and whole grains like brown rice or quinoa. Add a teaspoon to tablespoon of healthy fats found in avocados, oils, and nuts for flavour, nutrient absorption, and crucial bodily functions.
If you’re trying to lose weight, go a little lighter on grains on your easy days. When you have a hard workout, long run or race, bump up the carbs to as much as half the plate.
Unfollow Instagram accounts whose posts make you feel defeated and less-than instead of motivated and excited.
Literally running out the door on coffee alone? Rethink that. Overnight, your body depletes the stores of glycogen in your liver, leaving your muscles starving for energy. Early-morning runners who fuel up first – even on something as simple as a banana, or toast and jam – usually feel and perform better, Violett says.
Post-run, chow down on a meal that contains carbohydrates as well as protein and fat to stabilise blood sugar, improve recovery and reduce cravings all day long. A smoothie with yoghurt or protein powder, chia seeds and fruit; oatmeal with milk and nut butter; or avocado toast with a fried egg and wilted spinach (zap fresh leaves in the microwave for 45 seconds) all fit the bill, Mauney says.
If you’ve always skipped breakfast, start small and expect it to feel a little gross at first, Rollins says. Your body has been trained to not produce digestive enzymes early in the morning. After a few weeks, your body will get the hint and ramp up your appetite, allowing you to tolerate more fuel.
Nail Long-Run Nutrition
Mastering mid-run energy needs pays dividends long after you’ve kicked off your shoes, Violett says. Getting fuel the moment you need it gives you a jump-start on the recovery process, warding off the ‘runger’ that makes you eat everything in sight and sometimes causes weight gain.
For runs that are 60 minutes or longer, you want to aim for 30 to 60 grams of carbs per hour. If you’ve never eaten on your long runs before, start small and see what your stomach can tolerate. Experiment with different bars, chews, and gels, and yes, real foods like bananas, raisins, and dates.
For those with sensitive stomachs, you’ll achieve the best digestive success if you start fuelling earlier and in smaller doses, spreading out a gel or a pack of raisins over five or six kilometres, Mauney says. Wash it all down with water since food requires a little fluid to help with digestion.
Make Meal Plans
Look at your calendar each week and identify potential challenges to healthy food choices – your kids’ soccer practices, a late-night meeting, or the night before a super-early run. Then find time slots when you have time for meal prep (say, chopping veggies, boiling eggs or cooking an extra batch of brown rice).
Match them up, and you can avoid disaster, or at least an impulsive trip to the drive-through. “This planning takes a little more time upfront, but later on, when you’re hangry or tired, you’ll be thankful you did it,” Dalzot says.
Make It a No-Cleanse New Year
One resolution to skip: juice cleanses. You might drop a few kilos spending a week or two on an all-juice diet, but some of that comes from muscle, not all fat, says dietitian, marathoner and Ironman Susan Kitchen. And entering near-starvation slows your metabolism so you store more fat when you resume eating normally. What’s more? Extremely low-kilojoule diets can also hurt performance and affect your immune system, says Rollins.