"FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD..." a nutritional guide for running the Britain's Ocean City Half Marathon

The body requires between 1500-2500 calories per day to function normally depending on your age and weight. When doing regular exercise or training in preparation for competition, for example the Britain's Ocean City Half Marathon, the body can require up to twice as many calories depending on the nature of the exercise, duration, intensity and objective i.e. weight management. Running is one of the most calorie intensive sports with approximately 600 calories per hour being expended when running at 10min/mile pace. Therefore for a half marathon this equates to around 1300 calories for that one race before considering the requirement for normal bodily function or resting metabolic requirement. However it is not just a case of eating more there are several other factors including what to eat, when to eat, nutritional planning and post-race meals that need to be considered in order to maximise your performance and recovery. Consider the guidance below as part of your overall preparation for the race.

Dietary Plan:- like a training programme planning what you eat and when you eat is essential in order to optimise your performance and recovery as well as minimise injury. Be realistic about your food intake in terms of ‘stick-ability’ and lifestyle and keep a brief diary. The diary can tell you when you feel tired, when you feel hungry, when you eat, what you eat…and from there you can plan accordingly. If you are eating the same foods again and again then you may not be getting the appropriate nutrients…work towards a balanced diet that has a variety of food stuffs and tastes…just because you have a balanced diet does not mean it is not tasty ! Your dietary plan can then compliment your training.

Do not skip main meals:- "...eat breakfast like a King, lunch like a Prince and dinner like a Pauper…”. This is a great maxim especially for those who use running to help lose weight but it is also a useful guide for runners who have a hectic lifestyle and can only train in the evenings although the main meal should be at lunchtime. When training never skip breakfast. Eat around 500-700 calories in the morning and include yoghurt, fruit, juice, cereal and nuts or porridge. Have a mid- morning snack for example an energy bar (<5g fat) and then make lunch your main meal e.g. high protein foods such as chicken, fish or lean beef. Add a small portion of carbohydrate (pasta, potatoes, rice or bread) to your plate but do not over complicate the plate with different food stuffs, pulses and beans are also good alternatives. The evening meal should be light and if it follows your run then protein and carbohydrate are good options. The body will use these calories to store as fuel in the muscles.

Pre, during and post-race eating:- Do not over indulge in the pre event pasta party the night before. Doing this can lead to a sleepless night and poor performance the next day so eat sensibly but do enjoy the carbohydrate, in the form of pasta, and even a small amount of protein. Do not skip breakfast in the morning either. Try cereal or bread, a banana and lots of water and even a weak coffee is OK…just avoid the protein and fat. During the race it is often usual to see athletes consuming a liquid based energy supplement in addition to fluids. As with drinking and running eating whilst running requires practice. These energy supplements are useful and do provide an energy boost to see you through to the end of the race however if you can dilute these in a pre-prepared water based solution, around the 10mile drinks table, their absorption is much easier and the effect acts more readily. If that puts you off then try jelly sweets. Post-race nutrition is often forgotten but is essential for minimising recovery time. Eating within 2 hours of finishing is the best guidance as this is the time period when the muscles are best able to absorb and restock carbohydrate stores. A small amount of carbohydrate along with some protein is the best combination for maximising recovery in preparation for your next session or to help reduce the post-race fatigue.

Finally if this eating routine is new to your lifestyle then you may not see immediate results. Like a training plan the body will take time to adjust so do give it a few weeks before you start to feel the benefits and when complimented with a training and hydration plan will prepare you well for the challenge ahead.

Did you know....

  • Your mouth produces up to 2½ pints of saliva a day. The saliva speeds up the absorption of nutrients by coating the food in enzymes before entering the stomach. To accelerate the production of saliva consider chewing sugar-free for a few minutes before eating a balanced meal and chew slowly when eating food to allow the enzymes in the saliva more time to work.

  • The small intestine can be up to 7 metres in length and absorbs almost 95% of nutrients.
  • Your stomach can only empty out approximately 5 calories per minute….so the greater the calorie intake (food) the longer it takes to get to the small intestine to provide the energy for the body. Grazing, or small amounts of food regularly, is a good way to maximise this process.
  • When exercising the body produces higher quantities of free radicals as a by-product of the chemical reactions which help provide energy. Free radicals are associated with aging and poor health. Fruit and vegetables contain anti-oxidants which help absorb these free radicals….so are useful in a post-exercise meal.
L. Doggart
Department of Sport
University of St Mark and St John
Jan 2017