Common Running Nutrition Mistakes

This is a guest blog post by Renee McGregor, a dietitian who I look up to for evidence-based information, especially in regards to running and nutrition. 

Renee is a leading Sports and Eating disorder specialist dietitian with 20 years of experience working in clinical and performance nutrition. She’s worked with athletes across the globe including supporting Olympic (London, 2012), Paralympic (Rio, 2016) and Commonwealth (Queensland, 2018) teams. She is regularly asked to work directly with high performing and professional athletes that have developed a dysfunctional relationship with food that is impacting their performance, health and career. On top of this Renee is the founder of Enspire clinic, a centre specialising in supporting individuals and athletes of all levels and ages, coaches and sports science teams to provide nutritional strategies to enhance sports performance and manage eating disorders. This is reflected in her work on social media too, priding herself on proving an educational hub for both the professional and everyday athlete. When not inspiring others with her incredible work, Renee can be found running the mountains and chasing the trails, most likely training for a crazy ultra-marathon!

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Everyone has an opinion about nutrition – why shouldn’t they? After all, we all need food to survive. However, there is a difference between anecdotal nutrition advice and actual nutritional science. On social media we are exposed to the former a lot more than the latter. What works for one person in a sample of n=1, may not work for another. Just the other day I was on a group chat where someone very boldly stated that their new vegan regime was the cause of their newly found energy and improved recovery. However, this was based on subjective information, which they had collected over a few weeks. Is this science? No – this is one individual’s personal experience with no information of what her diet had been like previously or even if any other aspect of her life had also changed which may have resulted in how she was feeling. Presently there is no evidence in the literature to suggest that a plant-based diet can improve an individual’s performance – such anecdotal evidence could cause more harm than good.

Nutritional science, and particularly sports specific nutrition, is actually quite complex. While many simply look at the impact of one particular nutrient or process on performance, this completely ignores the fact that the human body is run on an intricate system of endocrine, biochemical, immunological, physiological and psychological pathways that all work collectively.

Let’s take the keto diet as an example. This was a huge trend a few years ago and many still promote it with the idea that if we remove carbohydrate from our diet, then our body will use more fat for fuel and improve our performance but also our body composition. While on the surface this may seem to have some gravitas – take out carbohydrate and the body will have to find another fuel source to provide the body with energy – what has been completely ignored is the importance of carbohydrate intake on the hypothalamic pituitary axis, which is necessary to get adaptation from a training response. In addition, carbohydrate has a critical role in optimising immune function in those who are physically very active.

So, with this all in mind, here are some of the common mistakes often made…

 

Carbohydrates

Numerous studies have demonstrated that carbohydrate is the preferred fuel used by the body and is definitely the key to optimal performance. That said, many runners still have little understanding of how much they actually need in order to meet their requirements with many under fuelling.

As stated above, carbohydrate availability is particularly key for the hormonal cascade needed in order to see adaptation and thus progression. This means ensuring sufficient carbohydrate before, during if your runs are over 90 minutes and within 30 minutes of completing your session. While everyone’s physiology is slightly different, as a rule of thumb the requirements set are 5g/Kg BW of carbohydrate if you are running for 60 minutes a day, with this figure increasing for longer or multiple training sessions. In general, I do not encourage fasted sessions and the recommendations state that if you are going to include these, you should not do more than 2 a week and they should be no longer thank 60 minutes, at an effort of no more than 6/10. More than this and at higher efforts, potentially can result in chromic stress on your body leading to a depressed immune system, higher risk of injury and down regulation of your hormones, particularly your thyroid gland, oestrogen and testosterone, leading to further negative health consequences.

In practise, if you are training regularly, it is unlikely that you will ever have full glycogen stores and so it is essential to ensure that you consume carbohydrate at meals and snacks throughout the day. Aim to include nutrient dense carbohydrates such as oats, potatoes, whole grains, fruit and yoghurts at 3 meals (about a 1/3 of your plate) as well as including 2-3 smaller carbohydrate based snacks such as bananas, cereal bars, 2 slices malt loaf or 2-3 oatcakes with peanut butter.

One common observation I have seen is that many people view vegetables as carbohydrate, often displacing these for pasta, grains, bread and potatoes. While vegetables play a role within our diet and should be included, they are predominantly fibre which means they add bulk to the diet but not essential carbohydrate fuel.

 

Protein

There is a lot of hype around protein in the recovery phase, with many runners stressing about not getting enough to enhance recovery. Protein does play a role in the response to training and should be included in addition to carbohydrate, particularly immediately after. The general recommendations are that a recovery meal/snack/choice should provide 1.2g/Kg BW carbohydrate and 0.4g/Kg BW protein. So for someone who is 55Kg this would be 66g of carbohydrate and 22g protein and looks like a medium size baked potato with a small tin of tuna.

It is important to appreciate that the body will struggle to utilise more than 0.4g/Kg BW post training for muscle protein synthesis and adaptation. Any additional protein consumed will be used as fuel or stored as excess. Therefore, it is actually really important to spread your protein requirements out throughout the day. Aim for palm size portion of protein at 3 meals and then half this amount for snacks. This will ensure that your body always has an amino acid pool to draw from in order to repair and rebuild muscles, throughout the day, as well as preventing blood sugar fluctuations.

 

Sugar

With so much negativity around sugar, it is hardly surprising that many runners are equally concerned about their intake. While I would never advocate a high sugar diet, there are definitely times during training and competing, where sugar is the only option. During endurance events, such as a half or full marathon, the body will need an easily digestible source of carbohydrate to keep stores topped up so that running pace can be maintained beyond 60-90 minutes. Gels, jelly babies, sports drinks are all suitable options and they all contain sugar. So in this case, sugar actually enables and potentially enhances your performance.

 

5 Nutrition Staples:

  • Don’t be drawn to the latest fad – many runners will try almost anything to improve their performance. Focus on training and getting the building blocks of your diet correct first – this is going to have more impact than whether you are gluten free or not.
  • After a very hard training session and especially when you will be training again within 12 hours, taking on something like flavoured milk is an ideal choice to start recovery as quickly as possible. The combination of added sugar to the natural milk sugar causes insulin to increase in the blood. Contrary to what you might think, this is actually really important. Only when our insulin levels are raised, can we draw carbohydrates and protein into the muscles to start the recovery process.
  • Always practise your race day nutrition – the worst mistake you can make is to use what is available on race day without previously having tried it –this could have real negative effects on your performance.
  • Work out what is right for you – just because your training partner swears by a bowl of porridge every morning, this does not necessarily mean this is the right fuel choice for you.
  • You don’t have to eat less on your rest day – for most this will fall between two training days so it is the perfect opportunity to recover and then refuel. By being consistent with your nutrition, you will also allow for consistency with your training which allows for progression.

 

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If you enjoyed this blog post, go and check out Renee on Instagram and share this post!

This (Bristol) Girl Can

This is an article I wrote for our student newspaper here in Bristol, about the national ‘This Girl Can’ campaign and our very own week of activities at Bristol uni. I’m always looking to inspire people to exercise in whatever form suits them best – I know not everyone enjoys the gym or pounding the pavement like I do, but I think it’s impossible NOT to enjoy exercise once you find the right one. The benefits for your mind and body far outweigh any initial qualms you might have.

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Amalia and I repping Playerlayer (playerlayer.com) outside zumba (check out those personalised leggings!).

 

“Two weeks ago, Bristol University saw the return of the national campaign ‘This Girl Can’ to its campus and Flora Beverley reviewed a very successful week.

‘This Girl Can’, developed by Sport England, is an organisation that provides funding to help people across the country take part in sports at all levels. The ‘This Girl Can’ campaign was born to encourage women of all ages, sizes and backgrounds to get involved in a sport. The initiative also highlights the reality of sport; people sweat, jiggle and may not look their best whilst they exercise, but the message is that this doesn’t matter. 75% of women say that they would like to be more active, yet only 31.7% of women exercise at least once a week.

‘This Bristol Girl Can’ week is aimed to encourage those at the university who might not normally take part in a sport to have a go. This year, a whole week of free activities took place, mainly in the Students’ Union. 15 activities were on offer during the week, including kickboxing, swimming, zumba and self-defence classes, which meant there was something for everyone.

There were two main events: the Maroon Wednesday up at Coombe Dingle and a mass participation Zumba class on Thursday evening. Maroon Wednesday consisted of seven hours of games at Coombe Dingle, showcasing both the men’s and women’s sports teams (including hockey, lacrosse, football and rugby).

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Zumba attracted over 200 students and staff, and wasn’t as horrific as I was expecting (some might even say I had some fun!)

The headliner was, of course, our amazing Women’s Rugby team versus Cardiff Met at 7:15pm. Despite a loss, the girls played extremely well, encouraged by vocal support from teammates, friends and other students on the sidelines. PlayerLayer playmakers were also at the event, handing out personalised leggings to the man of the match and lucky spectators.

The Zumba on Thursday started with a huge queue outside the Anson Rooms in the Students’ Union with lots of students, looking both excited and apprehensive. Over 200 spaces were booked, filling out the Anson Rooms by 6pm. The class was led by two dancers, encouraging everyone to take part in a manageable dance routine, which changed for every song.

For a non-dancer like me, it was hilarious, and I shook my hips and waved my hands around, somehow looking like I was drowning rather than dancing, but the event was the most fun I’d had that week!

Lisa Daley, the official organiser of the week, commented: ‘“This Bristol Girl Can Week” was our celebration of all women participating in Bristol University sport, from complete beginners to elite performers. The whole week was a great success with masses of interest and participation, all tying into the main “This Girl Can” national campaign which aims to promote females to take part, with no worry of how well they do it or how they look doing it.’ The Students’ Union and the department of Sport, Exercise & Health put together a much bigger programme compared to last year. The aim was to offer a wider range of activities that catered for all, helping to reach out to more students than ever before. It was fantastic to see the BUCS Women’s Rugby 1st team in action on Wednesday evening, putting in a strong, passionate and determined performance, proving themselves brilliant role models for ‘This Bristol Girl Can’, alongside our other incredible female BUCS athletes competing in sports from Lacrosse to Volleyball. The active and fun atmosphere was contagious; a true reflection of the whole incredible week of #ThisBristolGirlCan. For anyone interested in getting involved, the fun does not stop with this week. There is still a full range of classes which run every single week, which any student can attend. Find them by following this link: http://www.bristolsu.org.uk/societies-sport/get-active.

So for those of you who enjoyed the week, and for anyone who didn’t get a chance to take part in the events, it is possible to book even more classes to change the statistic that only 31.7% of women workout at least once a week. The benefits of exercise are huge, and it doesn’t mean slogging away in the gym everyday, as the ‘This Bristol Girl Can’ week showed in abundance.”

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