As I’m plodding my way through my training for my sixth marathon I thought I’d do a mini series on some bits and bobs (“the nitty gritty”) to do with my training that might either be interesting (who knows!) or helpful to other people. Obviously I’m no expert and this is only my experience, which isn’t huge, and everyone is an individual. What works for me might not work for you, but you might find something that helps! I have a few other topics in mind but if people find this a) boring or b) have a request, please let me know
First topic surrounds one of my favourite things (other than running): FOOD. When it comes to food and marathon training I think it can get over-complicated and confused. To be quite honest, if you’re a regular runner or do regular exercise then really not a huge amount needs to change straight off the bat. You don’t suddenly need to be eating pizza every night and gulping down a protein shake to get through the day.
Ideally as you gradually increase the miles each week then you should also gradually increase your calories/fuel as well. This is especially true if you’re trying to lose weight (I’m not, don’t worry!). Just because you added an extra few miles onto your usual run at the weekend doesn’t mean it’s time for a second lunch. That being said, as the miles do get substantially bigger and you suddenly find the day after a long run you are rungry ALL THE TIME then sensible snacking can help immensely.
As you probably know I’m a huge fan of protein. Personally I think a snack that’s high in protein is fantastic because not only is it quite satiating but it’s also great to help towards muscle repair. Running takes a lot out of the body and protein can really help build back up the muscles.
- Cottage cheese – this might sound a bit odd but cottage cheese is a fantastic, tasty snack. It’s high in protein and low in fat and sugar. It’s a good source of calcium and selenium (a good antioxidant). Have it plain or add in some berries and some seeds and suddenly you have quite a well-rounded snack with protein, carbs and fat. I take a little Tupperware box with me to work and eat it like a yogurt in the afternoon.
- Nuts – pistachio nuts are a regular snack for me at work. I prefer them to other nuts as they’re a bit harder to eat as you have to de-shell them. This means I’m less likely to mindlessly power through a bag of them. Nuts are high in calories but they’re a fantastic source of protein and ‘healthy’ fats. If you have more self-control than I do, other nuts are also just as good.
- Meat jerky/biltong – OK not exactly a ‘normal’ runner’s snack but I love these. Just make sure you get good quality that’s not full of sugar and strange chemicals. It’s super high in protein, while low in carbs and fats.
- Icelandic-style yogurts – they taste just like normal yogurt though they’re a lot thicker. They’re low in fat and sugars but really high in protein (something like 11g per 100g) and contain all the good probiotic magic too. There are flavoured ones too but they’re usually full of sugar so I’d recommend just throwing in whole fruit instead.
Fat, like protein, is very satiating and shouldn’t be feared. It’s an important source of nutrition for our body, helping contribute to healthy hair, skin and nails and also hormonal function and reducing inflammation. Just avoid trans fats as they’re the nasties that can mess around with your system.
- Hummus – pair with some vegetable crudités or some wholemeal crackers and you’re good to go. A great source of fat from the chickpeas and olive oil.
- Avocados – the star of Instagram posts all over the world, mash onto a rice cracker (preferably a wholegrain one to bump up the fibre and satiety factor). It’s a great source of potassium (more than bananas!) and monounsaturated fat.
- Nut butters – again, spread on rice crackers, toast or eat by the spoonful. Fairly calorific so a good choice if you’re in a rush and need to get in some nutrients fast. Personally I’m not a fan of nut butters. It’s alright but I don’t get the craze for it…
- Cheese – avoid processed rubbish (though I’m always partial to Babybells as they’re in such handy little packages). Try and get some good quality cheese that will be more tasty, more nutrient rich and just generally better for you. Cube up some feta and throw in some cherry tomatoes or olives and that’s quite a nutritious and filling snack.
Carbs are a necessary requirement for running. When training for a marathon, a low carb diet is probably not the best approach unless your body is really used to this way of exercising. Your body needs fuel and carbs are the easiest and simplest fuel for your body to use. You do want your body to tap into your fat reserves as well but within reason.
I’d avoid crisps purely because they’re not that filling and they’re likely to spike your sugar levels and leave you wanting more. Aim for low GI (more complex) carbs that will digest slowly and leave you feeling full and satisfied.
- Fruit (banana is obviously a great choice here but obviously I’m going to say apples are the best).
- Vegetables, such as carrots. I don’t need to convince you veg is good for you.
- Pretzels – a nice salty snack that’s more filling than crisps and really moreish.
- Popcorn – a great snack as long as you avoid the sugary ones. A great source of fibre as well which is key for a good working gut and digestive system.
- Toast – a slice of wholemeal toast can be exactly what the body needs. Add some jam and have before a run and you’ve got a great source of fast and slow releasing energy. Or peanut butter for a more sustaining snack.
Little bits of what you fancy…
Life is too short to not enjoy food! Have that slice of cake or bar of chocolate, just don’t have it every day “because I’m training”. I will always have a naughty snack/cheat meal/whatever the hell you want to call it at the weekend because though my body might not need it, my mind and soul does.
My ethos is that I generally try and save a big treat until the weekend so I can fully enjoy it rather than some shop-bought cakes or biscuits someone from work has that I eat because I’m bored. I want to go out to a nice restaurant and eat a nice meal with people I enjoy being around. I make it into something that can be fully immersed into and enjoyed. Like afternoon tea or enjoying some home-baked cake from my friend.
If you’re feeling tired and worn out, generally it can be one of two things: you’re not getting enough quality sleep or you’re not eating enough. Your body needs fuel and recovery. Sleep and food are two very simple easy ways to make running easier (IN THEORY – busy mums all over the world don’t shoot me!). If you’re not looking to gain weight, eat as much as you possibly can to maintain your weight with your training. Don’t skimp on calories, dive into those bad boys. And if you start gaining weight? Drop it your calories down a bit. Better to gain a little weight in the process of good running than burn out because you’re not eating enough. I’m not saying to suddenly count your calories and become obsessed over it, but just be mindful of what you’re putting in to get the best out.
Just my personal thoughts!
What are your favourite snacks?
Do you lose weight or gain weight when training for a marathon?
Do you graze through the day or stick to bigger meals?