When you take up running and start to gradually increase your training, there are many things you should begin to consider, and nutrition is definitely one of them. Thinking and learning more about your nutrition will help you to get the most out of your training, ensuring you stay energised on runs, and recover properly afterwards.

Running Nutrition For Beginners
Beautiful sporty woman eating apple while resting from exercise.Image is intentionally toned.

Learn about nutrition

The first thing you should do when you take up running is to start paying a bit more attention to your diet. For starters, it is important that you learn about what your diet should consist of, and the value of each of the different food groups you are eating. The basic nutrients you should be eating include:

  1. Carbohydrates. These will provide you with the main bulk of energy for your running.
  2. Protein. Protein is a vital nutrient, which plays a role in muscle repair, recovery and growth.
  3. Fats. Fats are used to encourage the absorption of some vitamins and are also an essential fuel source for low-intensity exercise.
  4. Vitamins and minerals. These will help to fill you up at meal times, as well as giving your immune system the added boost it needs. Exercise can suppress your body’s immune system, so it’s important to eat plenty of vitamin-rich fruit and vegetables to help ward off any infections.

Aim for a healthy balanced diet

As a beginner to running, it is not vital that you stress loads about the what, when and why of nutrition, but it is important that you aim for an overall healthy balanced diet. This should leave you in the best possible state to complete your running efficiently. The amount of each nutrient you should be eating includes:

  1. Carbohydrates – 50-60% of your diet. A portion of carbohydrate should be about the size of your hand cupped. Tailor your intake relative to your training. On training days, eat slightly more carbohydrate, and on non-training days opt for some low-carbohydrate meals and snacks. You don’t need to sit and eat huge bowls of pasta before your training runs. (As you start out on a training plan your carbohydrate needs will not be that high!)
  2. Protein – 20-25% of your diet. A portion of protein should be about the size of the palm of your hand.
  3. Fats – 15-25% of your diet. Aim for two to three portions of healthy fats per day (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated).
  4. Fruit – 2-3 portions per day.
  5. Vegetables – to fill at least half your plate at meal times. Don’t use the excuse of taking up running to overindulge in loads of high-sugar, high-fat foods! That’s not to say that you can’t enjoy a treat every now and again, but just be mindful. If you use the excuse of training to have that extra slice of cake, you will likely overindulge on calorie intake and negate any energy expenditure you achieved on the run. This can lead to weight gain, which will hinder your running performance.
Healthy foods. Homemade yogurt with strawberry and oatmeal.

What to eat before a run

It is important that you fuel your body correctly before you go out on a run to help you to feel energised and prepared. If you’re running early in the morning, you will want to have a meal with a portion of carbohydrate for dinner the night before and then follow this with a small carbohydrate snack in the morning before you run. A good example of a dinner might be sweet potato mash with salmon and some vegetables.

The morning of your run, you will want to eat something which is digested quickly, and won’t leave you feeling bloated or experiencing GI issues. Some good examples might be a piece of fruit, some low-fat yogurt or a handful of nuts and raisins.

If you’ve got a bit more time and you’re running later in the day, make sure you eat a meal with a portion of carbohydrates at least two hours before you run. If this is breakfast then a good example might be porridge with banana and nut butter, or if this is lunch, then a good example might be two slices of wholegrain toast with poached eggs and spinach. Make a conscious effort to eat a proper meal before you run – it’s no good thinking you will still perform at your best having not eaten for hours.

Tasty sandwich with avocado, tomato and poached egg on wooden chopping board, close up, selective focus. Healthy delicious breakfast or lunch

What to eat after a run

When you finish your run it is also important that you eat a good recovery meal to kick-start your body’s recovery process. Try to eat a snack containing about 250-300 calories when you finish your run and this should contain both carbohydrate and protein. A good example might be rice cakes with jam and peanut butter. Follow this with a recovery meal two hours after you finish your run. Again this should contain a portion of carbohydrate, a portion of protein and some vegetables. While you shouldn’t obsess over nutrition, eating a takeaway pizza as your recovery meal might not leave you feeling in the best state to complete your next run at your highest potential!

Starting a new training plan and getting into a running routine can seem a bit daunting, especially when you’re told to think about nutrition as well. Have a bit of fun with it, experiment and enjoy cooking different meals, and think about what you’re putting into your body. Your running performance will definitely benefit from simply eating a healthy, balanced diet!


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