Nutrition to give your training an edge

Nutrition Tips.

Andrea Holwegner provides us with essential nutrition tips for running performance. She is president of Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc., media expert for the Dietitians of Canada, professional speaker and independent consultant.

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Proper Nutrition Improves Your Running Performance.

Whatever type of result you are looking for, nutrition can help you get there faster with more lasting results. In order to accomplish changes in your body composition, overall health, energy levels, and running performance, you need to exercise and eat well.

The best way to lose weight and change your body composition is by using a combination of nutrition and exercise. If you are trying to lose fat or gain muscle mass by exercising alone and neglecting your nutrition, you will find the process is very slow. Watch out for the common misconception that because you are exercising you can eat whatever you want. Often runners overestimate how many calories are burned during exercise and underestimate how many calories they consume. Keep in mind that it only takes you a few minutes to eat 500 calories, but a long time to burn them off.

Optimal nutrition can also help you to achieve better short-term health and immune function. By avoiding colds, flu's and other bugs you can keep your workout routine consistent and see the best results. Eating well directly influences your energy levels, motivation, and overall mood. This will help ensure you have the stamina to get to your workouts and do them with vigor.

Nutrition is also strongly related to the prevention of the leading causes of death and disability such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and osteoporosis. Sound nutrition also helps slow aging and ensures protection against other health concerns. Don't assume that if you are exercising and/or you are a healthy weight that you don't have to worry about what you eat. Your body is like a car, and nutrition is the gas, oil, and other components of your car that make it run properly. Neglecting to take care of your nutrition is the equivalent of forgetting to change the oil or failing to fill a high performance sports car with premium fuel.

Proper nutrition will improve your overall running performance (speed, strength, power, and endurance). Genetics and sport/exercise training will only take you so far; examining your nutrition will give you a leading edge. Proper nutrition will also greatly improve your recovery after hard workouts so you are fresh for your next workout.

What to eat before a run

Nutrition Before Training.

Regardless if you are headed out for a short training run, long endurance run or hitting the gym for a workout, you need to understand what to eat before training. Your pre-training nutrition is important to top up your energy for the workout ahead.

There are several important considerations for the pre-workout meal:


Drink fluids throughout your day and be sure to drink at least a half litre to a full litre (two to four cups) of fluid starting four hours before your workout.

Choose carbohydrate rich foods:

Carbohydrates should comprise the main part of your pre-training meal. Carbohydrates found in foods such as grains, cereals, breads, fruits and veggies are quick to digest, provide energy for your working muscles and top up your blood sugar.

Have a small amount of protein if eating 2-4 hours before training:

In order to sustain energy and fullness, add a source of protein such as meat, poultry, seafood; peanut butter; yogurt/milk, cottage cheese or eggs. Excessive amounts of protein are not ideal if you only have a short amount of time before your workout since protein is slow to digest and may feel heavy in your stomach or cause cramping or bloating.

Avoid high-fat foods: 

Fat is very slow to digest and won't top up your muscle fuel. In your pre-training meal skip high-fat foods such as chocolate, chips, fries, greasy burgers, and cream soups.

Watch high-fibre foods: 

While small amounts of fibre are generally well tolerated, be aware that fibre is slow to digest and may cause stomach upset during a workout without enough time to properly digest.

Timing before your workout: 

The less time you have, the smaller the amount of food generally tolerated. In general, if you have two or more hours before exercising eat a high carbohydrate meal that is low in fat and has a small amount of protein. If you have less than an hour before your workout stick with a small snack that is mostly carbohydrate.

Sample meal ideas for 2 or more hours before training:

  • Smoothie with fruit, unsweetened juice and yogurt, milk or protein powder.
  • Hot/cold cereal, milk/yogurt and fruit.
  • Toast, banana, and peanut butter.
  • Toast, egg(s) and juice.
  • Sports bar and sports drink.
  • Sandwich with turkey/roast beef/ham and veggies.
  • Pasta with tomato sauce and a small amount of meat.
  • Chicken noodle or vegetable soup with crackers and flavoured tuna.
  • Cottage cheese and canned fruit with a low-fat muffin.
  • Pasta salad with low-fat dressing, chicken breast and veggies.