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You Are What You Eat

Cathy Wright running.

Have you started jogging and are wondering what you should be eating, how much and when? It's clear that joggers and runners are increasingly aware of the need to optimise their diet.

The constant stream of newspaper headlines about the latest research is often contradictory; one day the message is to avoid dairy, the next week the advice is to go back to butter. Should you take vitamins and supplements or are they a waste of money?

So it's no surprise that many people are confused about what they should be eating.

Cathy Wright runs The Rowan Clinic in New Mills in the High Peak whose a keen runner and spent the past decade studying to attain her goal of becoming a nutritionist. She has a First Class Honours degree in Human Nutrition and has and an MSc in Nutrition and Health, and gives this advice.

The energy cycle

This is a huge subject and one that's evolving on a daily basis and that each person must be treated as an individual and the starting point is an overview of energy metabolism (glycolysis).

All energy is produced in the body from a substance called adenosine triphosphate (ATP); there is no storage capability for ATP, so when you step out the door and begin running, you are asking your body to produce energy in much larger amounts.

It responds by mobilising the glucose (stored as glycogen) in your muscles and your body begins to work anaerobically (without oxygen). However, this comes at a high price, and one that we'll all be aware of – lactate or lactic acid.

At the same time your body is responding to the oxygen you are respiring and utilises that same glycogen to work aerobically (with oxygen), producing energy at a slower rate but in much larger amounts.

Aerobic metabolism can also generate ATP from fat as well as carbohydrate, but when energy demands are high and needed quickly, it will be glycogen that will supply the majority of your energy requirements.

Cathy in training.

On the run

Remember, though there is only a limited supply of glycogen (approximately two hours), stored within your muscles and therefore you need to top up the fuel in your tank by taking on some form of carbohydrate for exercise lasting over approximately one hour.

That includes such events as a half or a full marathon, hence the consequences of a low carbohydrate diet include reduced energy levels, early fatigue and delayed recovery.

As a rough guide the average runner needs 50g of carbs an hour - that's three potatoes or three thick slices of bread - but an energy gel or handful of jelly babies might fit better in your bum bag and taste better when you're out on a run!

Remember to refuel

When you return from a run, you have a two-hour window to replenish those stocks of carbohydrate (glycogen). Ideally you should eat a snack combining carbohydrate with a small amount of protein within the first half hour.

So, before you dive in the shower, have a bowl of cereal or some fruit with milk or a tuna or cheese sandwich. The latest research shows a glass of chocolate milkshake is a tasty and effective recovery drink.

How much protein?

Cathy then tackled the controversial area of protein and explained that it's easier to attain your requirements that you might think.

For example 100g of protein (i.e. three chicken breasts) is sufficient for a 70kg endurance athlete; too much protein may put stress on the kidneys and possibly cause dehydration.

Omega oil.

Essential fatty acids

Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid. The best sources of omega 3 are oily fish, but vegetarians can obtain theirs from leafy greens, flaxseeds and walnuts.

They have the ability to enhance aerobic metabolism and reduce inflammation, but eat plenty of oily fish like salmon and mackerel and to take the best supplement you can afford, as all fats are subject to rancidity and oxidation.

There are no bad foods

'There is no such thing as a bad food, only a bad diet,' according to Cathy, and nothing's on her banned list. Chocolate, sponge and custard and fruit cake are all fine, and can be beneficial if you're doing a lot of exercise and need energy-rich food.

A huge bowl of salad is nutrient-dense but low in energy and can take a long time to eat so sometimes a dessert can be the sensible choice. But again, all things in moderation.

If you're eating too much energy-dense chocolate your calorie allowance is being used up and you'll be missing out on valuable nutrients - it's all about balance!

A balanced diet is best.

Do we need supplements?

Cathy's view is that a multi-vitamin supplement is a sensible insurance policy, because no-one eats a perfect diet as we all lead busy lives.

Vitamin D is a hot topic; the latest research indicates that it's not our summer holidays that make us happy but the increase in vitamin D we get from sunshine that improves our mood.

An interplay between vitamins and minerals is important. Vitamin D is needed to help us absorb calcium and vitamin C enhances iron absorption; vitamins A, C and E are antioxidants, which help repair the damage we do to our muscles when exercising and in day to day life.

Healthy hydration

Water is a 'Silent Nutrient'. Our blood is 85% water, so don't let yourself get dehydrated when you're out on a run. Your blood will thicken and your heart will have to work harder to pump it round your body and that'll take more energy, resulting in a drop in performance.

Tthe most accurate test of your hydration is the colour of your urine. Begin exercising hydrated and make sure you stay that way!

Read more from Cathy at therowanclinic.blogspot.co.uk

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