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Getting a balanced diet for your running

Nutrition advice for your beginner running training

Becoming fitter via a running training schedule is a fantastic way to keep your mind and body healthy. However, a balanced training plan for your runs will also require maintaining a balanced diet. Here is our introduction to running nutrition, which will point you towards the best foods to consume if you wish to build up your essential reserves of running energy.

We are all generally more aware these days of the physical and psychological benefits of being physically active, particularly through running. If you want to lose some weight or wish to avoid putting weight on, it's a great idea to increase your level of physical activity, and to reduce the fat intake in your diet, which you can achieve by upping your intake of sugary and starchy carbohydrates.

If you don't lose weight, but still become fitter, it will help you to avoid the plethora of health complications caused by being overweight, and therefore increase the quality and length of your life. What's more, regularly taking part in running training or other physical activity will also help to reduce your risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis and some types of cancer. And don't forget the positive role that exercise plays in boosting your psychological well-being, too.

So, the recommendation that you should take a minimum of 30 minutes of physical activity daily for most days of the week is completely justified. How, though, can you start to become more active? If you're fairly inactive at the moment, then what you will need to do is change your lifestyle by building in more runs or other physical exercise.

So begin by trying to be less sedentary - for example, by reducing the amount of time you spend watching TV, using the internet or playing on your PlayStation or Xbox. Next, become more active, use stairs instead of lifts, park your car further away from the shops, or get off the tube one stop earlier than usual and walk the rest of the way to work. After this, gradually add some regular exercise to your everyday routine, such as fast walking, swimming or cycling.

The eventual aim is to do at least 30 minutes of sustained exercise five days every week, but gradually building up to this is key, so try three ten-minute sessions to start with, and increase the number of sessions and amount of time from there. The question after this is - how do you fuel your running sessions and other physical exercise?

Considerations for your running diet
As we all know, a balanced, healthy diet is necessary to maintain good health. The best way to keep your diet healthy and balanced is simply to have everything in moderation, with additional carbohydrates for when you're running or exercising.

Why the emphasis on carbohydrates? Well, your body always needs to use some glucose for energy, no matter what forms of running or exercise you do. The breakdown of carbohydrates - i.e. the sugars and starches you eat - forms glucose, and this is stored in your body as glycogen. The body can store only a certain amount of glycogen, though, so you will need to keep your stores topped up to avoid tiredness. If you don't consume enough carbohydrates but continue to exercise, you will become dizzy and sluggish quite quickly and your fitness goals will go right out of the window!

Your body will use more glucose, and therefore you will need to eat more carbohydrates, the more physical activity you do. So, physically active people generally need to plan so that more than half of their diet comes from carbohydrate-rich sources. The largest proportion of your carbohydrate intake should come from starchy foods such as pasta, rice, bread and potatoes, and the remaining proportion from more sugary foods such as fruit and juices.

As most carbohydrate-rich foods, such as bread or sugars, are eventually broken down to make glucose, one form is not necessarily better than the other. However, if you run regularly, you will need to eat a large amount of carbohydrates, and there is only so much rice and pasta that you can eat - so this is where snacks and drinks containing sugar can be a viable alternative, as they will provide you with energy before exercise, and will help you to restock your stores of glucose after exercise, so you will be ready for your next run or other session of physical activity.

Eating a high-carbohydrate snack within 30 minutes of your training session has several benefits. Also, consuming 25-50g of rapidly-absorbed carbohydrate just prior to exercise will not only help to improve your performance, but will also keep up your levels of blood sugar and therefore lessen the chances of you feeling light-headed. There are many portable high-carb snacks to choose from, including cereal bars, bagels, bananas, honey or jam sandwiches, watermelon, jelly beans, dried fruit, Liquorice Allsorts, Jaffa cakes, sports drinks or fruit juices - so try to find something you fancy.

 

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