Christie Johnson | Sports Dietitian & Australian Representative
My only regret in my running life (so far) has been not starting earlier. Growing up I was involved in a lot of swimming, netball and the odd touch football. Running and triathlon was never on my radar. But I’m one of those people who once they find something they love, they stick with it. Make it part of their daily routine. So for me, once I started triathlon, it quickly became apart of me. Along with coffee. My determination and curiosity to push myself further lead me to marathon running. After my first half marathon on the Great Ocean Road (23km) I swore the whole way home I’d never run that far or further again... flash forward a few years and I’m now on my journey to run a marathon on every continent...
So I quickly realised if I wanted to do this well, improve every day and look after my body I had to do this smartly. For me, that meant having good nutrition.
I think nutrition for running and triathlon, is often overlooked. Yes, we know it’s important race day, but what about day in and day out? When you’re collapsed on the couch at the end of every day, constantly recovering, refuelling and trying to let your muscles adapt. What you put in your mouth becomes valuable.
Working as a sports dietitian, I get to meet a lot of really cool, inspiring and downright amazing people. From weekend warriors to ultra endurance athletes. It’s really quite fun! But, the one thing it’s really brought to my attention is the fear so many of us have around food and exercise. Me included.
Food is fuel. And we need it to function each day and to support our running goals. Running takes a toll on our body. To train for a half or full marathon takes a lot of km’s, but also a lot of energy. So focusing on fuelling and recovery nutrition around each session can make a world of difference.
Carbohydrates are our main energy source, and so having them before and during running helps top up our fuel (blood glucose) so our body doesn’t have to empty it’s reserve tank. Protein is our repairer. We need it after running and throughout the day regularly to repair and build muscles, support cells, and build a strong immune system. We then need to make sure we’re eating enough throughout the whole day to fuel our continual recovery and meet our energy needs. Just a small deficit of ~300 calories a day for a period of time can lead to a syndrome called relative energy deficit in sport. Your running, health and wellbeing is compromised and can lead to some detrimental consequences on your body (loss of menstrual cycles, loss of lean muscle, depression, constant fatigue, poor training, bone breaks and fractures, and loss of concentration).
I could go on for ages about nutrition for running, so I’ll leave it here today with some of my tips to get the most out of your running with good nutrition. Hopefully I’ll be back to chat more!
Eat before your long runs (anything over 60 mins; and before 30 min runs if you haven’t eaten recently) to top up your energy tank: aim to eat something 30-60 mins before. Like a 1-2 slices of toast with jam/honey; a few spoonfuls of rice pudding, piece fruit, 1 cup fruit juice.
During runs more than 90 minutes: take carbohydrates to fuel during. The sooner the better. Aim for 40-60g/ hour. I like to aim to fuel every 45 minutes with foods such as: gels (22-30g), dried fruit (3 tbs = 23g), sports drink, vegemite or jam sandwich bites (30-40g), energy chews or bloks (3-4 pieces = 24g). PLUS hydrate!
After: aim to eat a meal with protein and carbohydrates within 1.5 hours of finishing or a snack within an hour. Like eggs on toast, pasta dish, wrap/sandwich with meat/beans and salad, milky coffee with cereal or toast, high protein yoghurt with muesli, nuts and fruit.
Then aim for 15-25g protein every few hours throughout the day (such as meals and snacks like nuts, nut bars, high protein yoghurt, cottage cheese, sliced cheese and crackers, milk based drinks).
Look at food as fuel, and every time you eat an opportunity to nourish your body, fuel for running and most importantly, enjoy food!
Happy running & eating!
Christie Johnson Sports Dietitian; Australian age group triathlete, duathlete & marathon runner