Plan Your Ultimate Training Diet

Womens Running Summer

Renee McGregor is a dietitian and nutritionist who has worked at the University of Bath’s Sports Science Centre and with many elite athletes. She is author of Fast Fuel: Food For Running Success.

Renee McGregor explains how to plan your diet.

So much hype surrounds sports nutrition these days. The science is evolving, with an increasing number of studies proving that nutrition plays an important part in performance gains. It is vital not only to fuel each training day according to the type of session on your schedule, but also to think about how your training sessions flow together in a week.

Here’s my guide to fuelling your way through a training week:

Easy days

A low-intensity day has few fuel demands. Working at a low intensity, such as doing an easy run, the body can oxidise a higher percentage of fat for fuel to provide energy to the working muscles. There is no urgency for the muscle to receive energy quickly to maintain a high-intensity level of work. Everybody needs and has fat stores; some may have more than others, but ultimately we all have them and they are there for a reason. They provide energy.

“Fat is a great fuel for endurance events, but it is not adequate for high-intensity exercise, such as sprints or intervals.”

If you are exercising at a low intensity, you have enough stored fat to fuel activity for hours or even days as long as there is sufficient oxygen to allow fat metabolism to occur. As there is no need for any specific fuelling strategy in preparation for a day on which you are doing only a low-intensity session, your maximum carbohydrate requirements are 3g/kg body weight (BW) and your protein requirements will be 3-4 servings of 0.4g/kg BW a day.

You’ll achieve this easily if you stick to three meals a day, combining a fist-size portion of complex carbohydrate foods, such as oats, sweet potato, root vegetables or pulses, with a palm-size portion of protein, such as eggs, chicken or fish at each meal, served with unlimited undressed salad or vegetables. Snack on fruit or vegetables.

Intense sessions

This level of training is demanding and your body requires a ready supply of carbohydrate. Trying to do this type of session on low or empty glycogen stores is not going to be beneficial because you will be unable to achieve a fast pace. You may find you can maintain a pace for the first 10-20 minutes of a session, but once your glycogen stores become depleted, your body will have to revert to fat stores to provide energy. And this makes for a much slower process. This switching from glycogen to fat for fuel is also known as ‘bonking’ or ‘hitting the wall’. Additionally, training with insufficient fuel can increase your risk of injury and illness.

On hard training days, your daily requirements of carbohydrate will be as high as 5g/kg BW in females and 7g/kg BW in males, depending on the duration and the number of sessions in the day. If you plan to train hard in the morning, pay attention to consuming carbohydrate in the 24 hours prior, aiming for 1-2g/kg BW per meal. Follow this up with a similar portion at breakfast at least 1-2 hours before you plan to train. If you are planning to do this type of session in the evening, ensure you consume 1-2g/kg BW carbohydrate at breakfast and lunch, and have a pre-training snack of 0.5-1g/kg BW carbohydrate prior to the session.

EATING FOR EASY TRAINING DAYS

Try these meal plans for low-intensity training days

Option 1

60-min low-intensity session

Breakfast: Blueberry bircher muesli

Lunch: Beans on toast, piece of fruit

Snack: Frozen vanilla yogurt

Dinner: Baked seabass with rice noodle salad and salsa

Recovery hot chocolate

Option 2

Breakfast: Scrambled egg and pitta

60-minute low-intensity session

Lunch: Lentil dhal with coriander and chili

Snack: Two oatcakes with yogurt dip

Dinner: Chicken stir-fry, fruit compôte with crème fraîche

EATING FOR HARD TRAINING DAYS

Option 1

Breakfast: Blueberry bircher muesli

Snack: Banana and nut butter sandwich

Lunch: Chicken and quinoa salad

Pre-training: Sweet potato brownie

45-60 minute high-intensity session

Post-training: 250ml/9floz flavoured milk

Dinner: Chicken with rice; berry and toasted almond yoghurt

Evening: Recovery hot chocolate

Option 2

60-minute low-intensity session

Breakfast: Scrambled egg and pitta

Pre-training: Banana

45-minute high-intensity session

Lunch: Sweet potato and red lentil soup; slice of fruit tea bread

Snack: Fruit smoothie

Dinner: Fish pie; Greek yogurt and fruit; recovery hot chocolate

*This article was first published in Athletics Weekly. For more of the latest running and athletics news, plus performance features and much more, grab a copy of the magazine or check out www.athleticsweekly.com

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