Whether you’re training for this year’s London Marathon or just trying to get the new year off to a good start by going for the odd jog, you’re probably asking yourself the same question: “What can I eat before a run that isn’t spaghetti Bolognese?”
As well as Lycra, smugness and hi-vis fitness jackets, bowls of pasta are synonymous with running culture – but there are alternative running-fuel ingredients, and sports nutritionist and former bodybuilding champion, Anita Bean, is committed to proving that. The health writer has put together 100 recipes specifically geared towards the needs of runners – regardless of speed and ability – in her collection, The Runner’s Cookbook.
“A lot of athletes and runners come to me with the same questions because they don’t really know what they ought to be eating – there’s a lot of conflicting information,” she explains. “Do I really need to take gels during a run? What’s the best way to fuel for a 5k or a marathon, or a half a marathon? What should I be eating straight after a run? Those are the kind of questions I really wanted to address.”
Part nutrition guide, part cookbook, the recipes are simple (“You don’t need advanced cooking skills”), come with extensive nutritional information, and are tailored to a typical runner’s lifestyle – meaning they’re generally quick to whip up, and will keep you going and going and going.
But what food mistakes do runners consistently make? And does all that exercise mean you can eat anything you fancy? Here, Anita busts some myths and sets out some golden rules…
There’s no need to consume energy supplements
“I see runners relying on supplements, thinking they need to have sports nutrition products after all their runs, and they’re taking sports drinks and gels and they really don’t have to. For the majority of runners, if you’re running for less than 60-90 minutes, you certainly don’t need to be taking sports drinks or any other kind of sports nutrition products.”
Being a runner doesn’t mean you can eat whatever you like all the time
“Runners starting out often think running is a license to continue eating whatever they want. Runner’s weight gain is quite a real phenomenon, and that’s because many runners overestimate the amount of calories they burn, or overcompensate by consuming extra food after their runs,” explains Anita. “Or they think, ‘Well, I’ve run 10k today, so I deserve this chocolate cake’. Basically, it’s getting the balance between calories in/calories out wrong. And it’s fair to say some runners will find their appetite increases, but once you continue running regularly, you find your appetite will reduce.”
The Runner’s Cookbook: More Than 100 Delicious Recipes To Fuel Your Running by Anita Bean, photography by Adrian Lawrence, is published by Bloomsbury Sport.
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