Run England Blog: How to fuel your running

Our bodies need good fuel to function well. In her latest blog, former GB marathon runner Mara Yamauchi gives her top 5 nutrition tips.

Food is the fuel of life, and what you eat makes a huge difference to our lives – how we feel, the quality of our sleep, our mental concentration etc.

Food provides the energy you need for being active.

But good nutrition serves a much wider purpose than this: it provides fuel for your brain as well as your muscles; it supplies many molecules which are essential to life such as essential amino acids; and it helps to repair soft tissues after running or other physical activity. In a nutshell (excuse the pun!), it’s not exaggerating to say that what we eat is perhaps the most important thing in our lives.

But there’s so much advice on nutrition available, it’s sometimes difficult to know what to believe. So here are my golden rules on nutrition, learned over many years of running.

  • Variety is everything, because this ensures we consume all the vitamins and minerals we need to stay healthy. By ‘variety’ I mean eating a range of foodstuffs in one meal, but also across different meals. For example, do you have the same breakfast every day? If so, you could increase the variety in that important meal by eating a different menu for breakfast each day for at least 4-5 days, before repeating a previous menu. Similarly, within one meal, if you ate a slice of meat and two vegetables, that would consist of only three different foods. But if you had the meat with a salad, two vegetables, soup, and fruit, that would significantly increase the range of foods you’re eating in one meal. I have a list of different foods that I aim to eat at least 2-3 times a week, which is a useful reminder of what I haven’t eaten for a while.

  • Eat whole foods as far as possible, because most of the nutrients in many foods, for example grains and fruits, are found in the skin, peel or husk. Eating foods in their whole or natural state is also important for getting enough dietary fibre, which keeps your digestive system healthy, and lowers the level of glucose that gets absorbed into your bloodstream. For example, eating an orange is better for you than drinking orange juice, because it still includes all the fibre from the original fruit.

  • Target highly nutritious foods for including regularly in your diet, because they provide plenty of useful nutrients per calorie. These include oily fish, green leafy vegetables, colourful vegetables, nuts and seeds, shellfish, unprocessed meats, eggs, and whole dairy products.

  • Don’t fall into the trap of taking supplements as your nutritional insurance policy. It’s far better to have an excellent, varied and balanced diet which provides all the nutrients and energy you need. Supplements can be expensive, and are not strictly regulated so you can’t be certain what is in them. Spend your money and time on creating a really top quality diet instead. If you’re prone to certain deficiencies such as iron or vitamin D, then by all means take a supplement for them, but try to keep these to a minimum.

  • Smoothies are excellent if you enjoy running, because they can be digested quickly, they are convenient and easy to carry around, and you can include nutritious foods in them which you may not like eating on their own.

As you can see, none of these golden rules is rocket science. If you focus on getting the basics right on nutrition, you can easily create for yourself a nutritious, healthy diet which will help you feel good when running, and is a pleasure to eat.

Run England is encouraging everyone to build running into an active lifestyle and celebrate all the great benefits this summer. Find out why: www.runengland.org/whywerun

Mara Yamauchi is a retired British marathon runner with a personal best of 2:23:12 set in the 2009 London Marathon, a time which ranks her as the 2nd fastest British female marathon runner ever. Mara is also a qualified Run England group leader and Athletics Coach.

Photos by marimo images

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