This week’s guest post is the third and final installment of the series on natural eating for runners by nutritional therapist Frances Bavin. She wraps up by helping you figure out how much to eat, how to handle hydration in a whole-foods way, and how to find real foods to substitute for gels and energy bars.
Although there are some definite limitations to counting calories, it is worth checking you are on the right lines with your food intake. There are various calculators online that take your particulars and amount of exercise into account and then let you know how many calories you should be eating, like this one for example http://www.health-calc.com/diet/energy-expenditure-advanced . You need to work out your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and multiply it by your physical activity level, taking into account your age and sex, and the type of exercise you are doing.
For tracking your calorie intake if you aren’t familiar with what natural foods contain (it’s all very well when it says it on the side of the packet but I have been trying to persuade you to eat foods that don’t come in packets!) I would recommend an app like MyFitnessPal. It can be useful to first just track what you would be eating naturally depending on your appetite for a week, then if there is a difference between this and your recommended calorie intake, use the app to help you meet the targets whilst you monitor your general energy and performance.
You may want to adjust the goals on the app to meet your requirements. For example, if you are training or trying to lose a bit of weight, your protein requirements will probably increase. The standard measure for protein intake is 0.8g per kg of body weight, but there are studies showing that for athletes they may benefit with anything upto 2.6g per kg. This really does vary depending on your goals and if you aren’t trying to build muscle but merely repair it, this figure will be too high. If your intake seems to be matching the lower end of this scale you could try increasing your intake slightly and see how you fare.
The other macro nutrients may naturally fall into place depending on what your exercise schedule is like that day – generally you will want to eat more carbs on an exercise day and more fats on a sedentary day. Whatever you do, don’t forget the fats – there is nothing healthy about a high protein and low fat diet and too many calories from carbs can cause health issues later on. Focus on plenty of veg for the majority of your carb intake and more starchy carbs around big runs or competitions and post workout.
It doesn’t take long to get the hang of the amounts of calories in different foods, plus this app also tells you the ratios of macro nutrients you are eating, but you must make sure that food quality is still the main priority.
Getting this right is obviously very important but this may be more a case of listening to your body rather than just following a blanket recommendation on quantity. A good rule of thumb is to check the colour of your urine aiming for a light straw colour. If you are sweating a lot, make sure you replace your electrolytes – using coconut water or even watered down fruit juice with a pinch of sea salt should suffice. I know that personally after a heavy workout session that water doesn’t always feel good enough.
There are plenty of sports foods, energy drinks, protein powders, amino acids etc etc. And yes, some are a great help, others a complete rip off. I won’t get into the subject of supplements now as it’s huge but there definitely are foods that can provide a good replacement to the manufactured sports varieties.
These snack ideas are for around workouts rather than any day of the week. For carb snacks and natural alternatives to gels (which tend to miss the protein and can subsequently cause blood sugar spikes and dips) that are convenient and easy, try Nakd Raw bars, fruit, some leftover roasted root veg – possibly not so convenient to carry around, or things like fudge balls. You can also mash up foods like sweet potato with some protein powder and coconut milk and put into a little plastic bag.
My closing thought on all this is ‘listen to your body’. There really isn’t a one size fits all approach and whilst it’s worth experimenting to improve your performance, do make sure you do your homework, keep it natural and look at other areas of your lifestyle such as sleep and recovery.
Frances Bavin works as a nutritional therapist in Edinburgh, Scotland, seeing a wide variety of clients with various health issues as well as athletes needing help with sports nutrition.
Frances trained at The College of Naturopathic Medicine and uses a naturopathic/functional medicine approach. She is also the chapter leader of the Weston A. Price Foundation in Edinburgh. Her mission with each client is to help them take control of their own health and to positively enjoy being a healthy person and getting the most out of their life.
You can find her at EH1 Therapies, 28 Forth Street, Edinburgh, EH1 3LH or through her website www.francesbavinnutrition.com.
Sign up for our free weekly newsletter filled with analysis, information, insights, and tips you can apply to your own running!
Jae Gruenke, GCFP, is a running technique expert and Feldenkrais Practitioner. Known as a “running form guru,” she is the Founder and CEO of The Balanced Runner™ in New York City and The Balanced Runner UK. She has helped runners from beginner to Olympian improve their form to become pain-free, economical, and fast.