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Training & advice

Food for thought

The fuel that you put into your body should be a prime consideration in your life and even more so because you are a runner. Food is a major contributor to your energy levels, physical well-being and growth, concentration, mood, sleep and more. You need to eat the right things at the right time to get the best out of yourself.

How much, what type and where from?

The table below shows the estimated average kilocalorie (kcal) per day that you require to give energy for normal, everyday life. If you are training you need to factor this in and take in more. If you run at 8 miles per hour (or 12km per hour) you will use another 248kcal per 30 minutes of running.

Estimated Average Requirement for Energy (kcal/day)
Male Female
2550 1940

So where do you get the kilocalories from? For normal, everyday living you should get approximately 50% from carbohydrate, 35% from fat and 15% from protein but when you are training hard you need to increase the amount of carbohydrate you take in, depending on how intense your training is. During heavy training periods you should look to take in another 6 – 10g of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight per day. It may be necessary to eat more than your appetite demands and so to do this you may need to include regular meals and also snacks. A wide variety of food should give you the vitamins and minerals that you need without taking supplements. See the Food Standards Agency ‘Eatwell Plate’ for more information on getting the balance and variety right.


Carbohydrate is very important for you, as a runner. Whatever exercise you do some carbohydrate will be used and the longer and more intense the exercise, the more you will use. If you fail to eat enough carbohydrate and so have insufficient glycogen stores you will not be able to exercise at high levels. Carbohydrate is also important to keep the immune system functioning well. Below is a guide to the amount of carbohydrate that you may need

Regular levels of activity: 3 – 5 hours per week

4 – 5 g per kilogram of body weight per day

Moderate duration, low intensity: 1 – 2 hours per day

5 – 7g per kilogram of body weight per day

Moderate to heavy endurance training: 2 – 4+ hours per day

7 – 12g per kilogram of body weight per day

Extreme exercise programme: 4 – 6+ hours per day

10 – 12+g per kilogram of body weight per day

Glycaemic Index

The glycaemic index (GI) tells you how quickly the sugar enters the blood stream.

Foods with a high GI include dried dates, jelly babies, mashed and jacket potato, white/wholemeal bread, some cereals, isotonic drinks.

Foods with a moderate GI include pitta bread, muffins, basmati rice, boiled/new potato, couscous, raisins, banana, sweetcorn, beetroot, soft drinks.


Foods with a low GI include pasta, granary breads, porridge, beans, peas, carrots, muesli, all bran, dried apricots, fruit and sponge cake, milk, yoghurt, orange juice, lentils and pulses.

As a runner you will need to consider GI in relation to when you are going to train and race. A general rule of thumb would be to eat low GI foods several hours before training or racing, to improve endurance, and then eat high GI foods immediately afterwards to replenish glycogen stores so that they are topped up and ready for the next training session. There is a window of opportunity to top up to capacity and this is within 90 minutes of finishing your training session or race. If you miss this opportunity you won’t be able to top them up optimally and so will be starting your next session with depleted stores. You should also include protein in this meal or snack. Protein is key in repairing damaged muscles and they will need to be repaired after your training session or race. A tuna sandwich or chocolate milk drink has a good ratio of carbohydrate:protein (3:1)

You can lower the GI of your meals by adding soluble fibre such as salad or vegetables or you can combine foods such as cereal and milk. Fat lowers the GI of food but increases the fat.


Below is a guide to the amount of protein you may need

Non runner

0.75g per kilogram of body weight per day


1.2g – 1.4g per kilogram of body weight per day


1.2g – 1.7g per kilogram of body weight per day

As you can see, you don’t need a lot, as an endurance runner. It is actually easy to eat more than required. It is unlikely that you need it to be a big part of every meal but you will need more after an intense training session. 10 – 20g of protein in addition to 50 – 100g carbohydrate after a tough session should meet your recovery needs. Protein also provides iron and calcium, important minerals for endurance runners.

Post Exercise recovery snacks/meals

The table below suggests meals or snacks that contain the recommended 10 – 20g of protein and 50 – 100g of carbohydrate

Lean meat/fish sandwich

(75g lean meat/100g fish)

500ml isotonic drink

500ml low fat milkshake

Low fat cereal bar

1 pint low fat milk

Bag of jelly babies

1 small chicken breast

4 – 5 heaped tablespoons of rice

3 tablespoons of peas


Fat gets a bad press but it is essential for good health as long as you use the right kind. Use mono or polyunsaturated fats such as olive oil. Use semi-skimmed milk instead of full fat, use oily fish and trim the fat off red meat. Men should have approximately 90g of fat per day and women should have approximately 70g.

Vitamins and Minerals

As a runner you should pay special attention to vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc and iron and ensure you get your daily requirement. If you find you are run-down more often than is normal you should go along to your GP and ask for a blood test. Some runners find that they cannot get enough vitamins and minerals from their food and so need supplements. As a runner you may use these more quickly than other people.

Reading food labels

Food labels normally compare the recommended daily amount with what is in the packet or per 100g. If it is a ready meal or prepared sandwich and you are going to eat the whole pack you should take note of the figure given ‘per serving’. If you are going to eat part of the pack you may need to look at the figure ‘per 100g’ (or the amount that you will eat). See the table below for recommended figures.



A lot

A little


10g or more

2g or less


20g or more

3g or less

Saturated fats

5g or more

1g or less


3g or more

0.5g or less


0.5g or more

0.1g or less