Whether you're training for an event this year or are simply struggling to get your nutrition right for exercise, sports nutritionist James Collins is on hand to answer some of your most commonly asked questions...
''Fuelling for training is vital for optimal performance'' says James. ''The main fuel for training is carbohydrate, which is stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen, which the body draws upon for energy. The body is only able to store a relatively small amount of carbohydrate, which is why keeping it topped up is so important.''
How long after eating a meal should I wait before going for a run?
Everyone has different levels of comfort regarding eating around training, so it is important to trial what works best for you. In general, allow two - four hours before running after eating a large meal, to allow time for your food to fully digest. After a smaller snack, 30 minutes - two hours should be sufficient, depending on how much you have eaten.
For energy boosting snacks before a run, try to focus on smaller carbohydrate snacks that have a reasonably high glycaemic index score (GI). A food's GI measure is relative to how quickly it is digested and broken down into glucose, so high-GI foods are absorbed faster and less strain is placed on the gut.
The following options are great as quick snacks, before, during, or after training and when 'carbohydrate loading' before an event:
As a general rule, low-GI foods are best eaten as part of your main meals whilst training (alongside moderate amounts of protein and fat), as their energy is released more slowly into the blood stream and will provide you with long term energy.
Should I eat before an early morning run and if so, what should I opt for?
You should eat where possible before your morning run, especially if it's over one hour in duration. Many people find this difficult, but it is important to 'train your gut' for the big day, especially on longer runs.
There are two morning situations to plan for:
1. The early riser
If you wake up two hours before your run, good options include oats, wholegrain toast topped with eggs, granola, bagels or breakfast muffins and freshly made smoothies.
American blueberry pancakes
Cinnamon porridge with banana & berries
Get up and go breakfast muffins
2. Straight out of bed
If you prefer to get straight on the road with minimal fuss, try a small snack with quick releasing energy such as dried or fresh fruit, nuts and seeds or a shake.
If you are really struggling to eat first thing, try increasing the carbohydrate portion of your evening meal the night before, as this will be stored in the muscles ready for your morning run.
What should I definitely avoid eating before a run?
To provide sufficient fuel, foods should be predominantly high in carbohydrate but you should also eat foods that you're used to, make you feel comfortable and don't feel too 'heavy' in your stomach when you begin exercising.
In the two - four hours before a run, try to limit the following foods as these are well known causes of gastrointestinal distresses such as diarrhoea and bowel upsets.
What to avoid...
- Foods very high in fibre
- Excessively fatty foods
- Unusually spicy foods
- Drinking too much caffeine
On the morning of a big race, how long before should I eat and what should I opt for?
What you eat on the morning of your event should link into an overall fuelling strategy that you have developed during your training. Eat a meal two - four hours before the start of the race, and include a range of foods depending on your taste.
Good breakfast options for the morning of your race may include:
- Pancakes and mixed toppings, such as fruits and nuts
- Porridge oats with milk or soy milk
- Granola with milk or soy milk
- Multigrain bread topped with eggs
- Fruit salad and low-fat Greek yogurt
- Bagels or breakfast muffins with low-fat cottage cheese
- Fruit juice or a fruit smoothie
Are you training for an event this year? Share your tips and experiences below.
As a sport and exercise nutritionist, James Collins regularly provides comment and consultation within the media and maintains a role of governance within health & nutrition in the UK, where he sits on The Royal Society of Medicine's (RSM) 'Food and Health' Council. He was heavily involved in advising Team GB in the run up to the London 2012 Olympic games, and now towards Rio 2016.