Nutrition plan starts same time as training

When exercising, it’s not just what you eat, but when you eat that makes a big difference to your performance

Try to eat a rainbow of colour every day: that means at least one red fruit or vegetable for lycopene. Remember fruit and vegetables provide critical vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants. Photograph: Getty Images

Try to eat a rainbow of colour every day: that means at least one red fruit or vegetable for lycopene. Remember fruit and vegetables provide critical vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants. Photograph: Getty Images


Congratulations to everyone who ran in the 5km parkrun events last weekend as part of Get Running. Many of you will go on to make a 10km or even a half marathon your next impending goal.

A good nutrition plan is an essential ingredient to improving your ability to run and train. But pre-race nutrition does not start in the days or hours before your first 10km or triathlon. It starts once training begins.

It is not just what you eat, but when you eat in relation to your exercise or training that makes a big difference to your energy, your performance and how much body fat you burn.

Calories come from the three main nutrients in our foods:
n 1g of carbohydrate gives us approximately four


n 1g of any type of fat gives us nine calories.

n 1g of protein gives us four calories.

If you are trying to lose weight, cutting back on foods that contain both fat and added sugar will give you an effective reduction in calories quickly. Also 1g of alcohol gives you seven calories – empty calories that can dehydrate you.

For best performance, your intake should be :

n Approximately 50 per cent carbohydrates (high-fibre cereals, wholemeal bread, brown rice, wholemeal pasta, potatoes with skins, vegetables and fruits, etc.)

n 30-35 per cent fats (healthy oils such as olive or rapeseed, low-fat dairy foods, etc.)

n 15-20 per cent protein (poultry, fish and shellfish, lean meat, eggs, nuts, beans, etc.)

Carbohydrate is a critical fuel for our working muscles, but we don’t always focus on the right type of carbohydrate. Cut down on the highly refined or processed carbohydrates and “carbs” that contain trans and certain saturated fats such as cakes, biscuits, pastry, sweets, chocolate and bakery products.

While there’s no need to count calories, you may be interested in knowing roughly how many calories your body needs. That way, if you pick up a confectionary snack or a ready meal in the supermarket, you can judge if it’s a good idea or not to include it as part of your meal plan. Grab yourself a calculator. This is not as complicated as it looks.

Your total calorie requirement = basic energy requirements (BER) + extra energy requirements (EER).

Step 1: BER

For every kg of body weight, 1.3 calories is required every hour.

If you weigh 60kg your BER = 1.3 × 60 kg x 24hrs => 1,872 calories/day.

Step 2: EER

For each hour of vigorous training, you require an extra 8.5 calories for each kg of body weight.

If you complete an hour of vigorous training, you need 8.5 × 60 kg x 1 hr = 510 calories).

Step 3: Total calories required

Your total calories = BER + EER = ? For example, 1,872 + 510 = 2,382.

Therefore, if you weighed 60 kg and you trained for one hour, you would need an intake of approximately 2,382 calories that day.

Losing weight

If you want to lose weight, it is best to aim for a realistic and steady weight loss of between half and one kilo (1-2lbs) per week. A loss of more than one kilo (2lbs) per week means you could be losing muscle and this will affect your ability to train and perform.

The only way to lose body fat is to take in fewer calories than your body needs and increase your amount of exercise. The best way to cut 500 calories a day is to reduce your calorie intake from food by 250 calories, and burn an extra 250 calories through exercising.

Food groups

The simplest way to put together a 10-mile eating plan is to think of the main five food groups and the number of recommended servings you need from each group every day.

By eating a wide variety of foods, you will gain all the nutrients you need without getting bored. To get a tailored nutrition plan, and an assessment of your energy, carbohydrate and protein requirements, log on to to find a dietitian.


and vegetables:

provide critical vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants.

Your goal: At least five servings a day (two fruits and three vegetables).

n A serving is any medium sized fruit or two small fruits (for example, satsumas, kiwi, plums) or three heaped tablespoons of vegetables. Eat a rainbow of colour. Every day, aim to have:

n At least one dark green vegetable (for example,

broccoli, cabbage, rocket, spinach) for iron and folic acid.

n At least one red fruit or vegetable (for example,

tomatoes, watermelon, peppers) for lycopene.

n At least one type of berry or citrus fruit (for example,

raspberries, blueberries, oranges) for immune-boosting flavonoids and vitamin C.

n At least one orange/yellow fruit or vegetable (for example,

carrots, orange peppers, mango) for antioxidants and beta-carotene.

Bread, cereals

and potatoes: provide energy to train and fibre for a healthy digestive tract.
Your goal :Include six

or more servings a day. If your main objective is to lose weight, six servings may well be enough, whereas competitive runners with high energy requirements will require much more carbohydrate.

n A good bowl of porridge is two servings ; two slices of wholemeal bread is two servings; four baby potatoes or six dessertspoons of brown rice is two servings.

n Start each day with at least two

portions from this group, for example, an oat-based breakfast cereal such as porridge or a wholegrain cereal such as wholegrain toast and a banana.

n Include mostly wholegrain varieties of bread, breakfast cereals, pasta and rice to boost your fibre intake.

n Choose your fillings and toppings carefully. For example, a tomato-based sauce instead of cream-based sauce over your pasta.

n Eat potatoes with their skins on

– baked potatoes or baby boiled potatoes.


and dairy products:

provide calcium for bone health, protein, iodine, vitamins B2 and B12.

Your goal: include three servings of milk, yoghurt or cheese a day. A serving is a glass of milk, a small carton of yoghurt or a matchbox of cheese.

n Use milk and yoghurt that is fortified with vitamin D where possible.

n Use dairy in cooking. It doesn’t destroy the calcium and protein.

n Choose lower fat dairy especially if you are trying to lose weight.

n Lower fat cheeses include Edam, Brie, Camembert, feat, mozzarella, haloumi.

Lean red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, nuts

and seeds:

provide protein and some minerals such as iron, zinc and selenium

Your goal: include two to three portions a day. A portion is a chicken breast, a salmon cutlet or six dessertspoons of mixed beans.

n Eat fish at least twice a week for your main meal, one oily and one white.

n Eat lean red week up to three times per week.

n Choose chicken and turkey, eggs, lentils and beans regularly.

n Grill, roast or bake but don’t blacken meat or fish.

n Beans, pulses and lentils can bulk out lunches and meals and are a valuable source of soluble fibre. This type of fibre can help lower cholesterol levels too.

Essential fats

and oils: provide energy, essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins.

Your goal: include the healthier versions at meal times.
n Choose olive or rapeseed oil instead of blended vegetable oils.

n Oily fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring) will provide you with essential omega-3 fatty acids. Include at least one main portion a week.

n Nuts and seeds are also good providers of healthy fats. Snack on a small handful of unsalted nuts and seeds. If you are slimming, stick to just the small handful.

Paula Mee is lead dietitian in Medfit and a member of the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute.
Email or tweet @paula_mee

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