Life is all about balance when it comes to both our training and our eating habits. It's important that you're establishing sustainable routines that make you happy, fit in with the rest of your life, whilst helping you to achieve your goals. While there is nothing that we would advise you against eating, foods that are high in refined sugar or saturated fat are often better enjoyed in moderation.
What to eat
A good place to start when it comes to day-to-day nutrition is aiming for three balanced meals a day consisting of carbs, protein and vegetables. Good habits to consider are to eat more fresh food and less processed food.
Running puts a lot of stress on your body, so you need to fuel adequately to ensure you can recover and repair, and therefore get stronger and fitter. We like to use the analogy between our bodies and a car - when you're driving further, you'll burn more petrol and need to fill up the tank more - the same can be said for your running. As you build up your mileage, or it's one of those bigger training days/weeks, you're going to need to make sure you're putting more into your 'tank' or eating more! This nicely brings us onto mention calories.
Calories put simply are a unit of measurement that refers to the energy in a given item of food. Across each day and each week, you'll need to balance your calorie intake with the energy required to maintain your body's function and movement, otherwise you'll either gain or lose weight.
This means that as you increase your running intensity, move more and burn more energy, you'll need to increase your energy intake proportionally. The inverse is also true, that if you increase your running mileage or general activity without changing anything about your food intake you'll start to loose weight.
Understanding the relevance of calories is helpful, but by no means do you need to start counting the calories of each item of food you eat to be a good runner - just having a rough understanding is always going to be valuable.
To give you a bit of a reference point, the recommended intake for an average male is 2500 calories daily, and 2000 for the average female. Like the driving analogy above, this number should go up or down based on the amount of movement you do daily and is an average influenced by a number of factors including your height, weight and genetics.
When you think about the major food groups of fats, carbs and protein they respectively contain 9, 4 and 4 calories per 1g of each. As a result, consuming fat is going to be the most dense way to consume calories. Our bodies are also much faster at digesting carbs, hence why you should consume carbs while you are exercising.
Our TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) is made up of three figures. Our BMR (basal metabolic rate) is the number of calories it takes to run our vital organs and sustain daily life (60 - 75% of your daily calories). Our activity thermogenesis the amount of calories burned from moving our bodies (15 - 30% of daily calories). Finally, the thermic effect of food is the energy required to process and digest food (10% of daily calories). If you'd like to estimate your daily calorie intake or TDEE you can use a simple calculator online.
Fats v Carbs
Fats v Carbs is a common debate on the nutrition topic with lots of myths out there making the topic all the more confusing. While you need both to be a healthy adult, from a day-to-day perspective, neither is necessarily better than the other. You should look to meet your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) with a combination that suits your taste buds and keeps you feeling full and energised throughout the day. Some people choose to consume more carbs and some a higher ratio of fats - there is no right or wrong here - simply work out what suits you best, what foods you enjoy and take it from there.
Protein is the main nutrient source to help repair and grow your cells. As a result, when you're looking to get stronger, faster and more powerful, while also recovering from your fatiguing training sessions, protein is going to be a key part of your life. You should look to eat 1.6 - 2 grams of protein per kg that you weigh. By aiming to have an element of protein within each meal, you'll be fine!
Contrary to popular belief, snacking is not bad! Often it can be helpful to have a snack before you head out running. Additionally, a mid-morning and late-afternoon snack between meals can help your concentration and increases your energy levels.
Whilst it may be tempting to order that muffin with your coffee (and that is totally fine), exercise moderation and try to balance the sweet treats with snacks that are lower in refined sugar. Try snacks such as nuts, rice cakes and nut butter, yoghurt and fruit, protein bar or a flapjack.
If you're craving another snack, we suggest having a drink first, waiting 30 minutes then seeing if you're still hungry. Sometimes it may be that you're just dehydrated!
On that note - hydration. An inactive adult should be looking to drink a minimum of 2 litres of water daily. However if you're exercising and/or have a high sweat rate, then you'll need to consume significantly more. We would advise that you hydrate regularly throughout the day to keep your hydration levels topped up!
To read more about how to fuel, pre, post and during your running sessions, check out our article covering this topic.