Diet is a big enough issue for the non-exercising public, with millions of pounds being spent on encouraging us to become fat, and similar sums spent on “helping” us to lose it. But for anyone who is into sport, it’s even more difficult. We have to eat to maintain our bodies, and then we have to eat to fuel our sport. Our bodies learn to convert food into energy very effectively, but how much do we help?
I eat too much, I also eat a lot of things that I know I should not. I love food, and I love eating. I am definitely one who lives to eat. So trying to become a slim, lightweight distance runner is an uphill struggle for me. When I was bike racing, I could get away with eating more or less anything, long days in the saddle took care of that. But with less cycling and more running, I am having to be more disciplined with my diet.
I lost four stone in the first nine months of running, but this included a two thousand mile cycle tour of France, and the training that went into that. My weight is holding around the twelve stone mark, and it is proving difficult to move nearer to my eleven stone target. Weight becomes more difficult to lose with age. But that is just an excuse. If it can go on, it can also come off.
I eat a varied diet; lots of fruit, veg, cheese, milk, pasta, eggs, fish etc. I like most things, and I usually have a clean plate at the end of a meal. But it’s cakes and chocolate that make life difficult. The sense of failure that comes with the first chocolate of the day sends me into a downward spiral, which sees me eating even more in self recrimination. I promise to do better tomorrow, always.
So how do I fuel a long run, say thirty miles plus? Two or three hours before the run I will have a large bowl of porridge, or scrambled eggs. I will also have a slice of bread, or a teacake. One hour before usually sees me enjoying a coffee and a biscuit. On the run, I will have a small cereal bar every hour and I will have a banana at some stage, usually around half way. As far as drinking is concerned, I carry one and a half litres of water with a splash of lemon juice, and one litre of squash with added salt and sugar. It is winter time at the moment, so I am returning with around one and a half litres remaining. I expect this will change when the warmer weather comes.
Everyone seems to eat and drink at different stages when running, it really is something for you to discover what suits you best. I drink a little every fifteen-twenty minutes, alternating between squash and water. This is where I am at currently. A similar system served me well in bike racing, though I have yet to run in any kind of heat.
Don’t fall into the trap of over feeding for your training. When I started doing twenty mile runs, I would carry enough food to feed an army. Now, I carry one or two cereal bars for that distance.
You have to respect your body. You are battering it through your sport, especially if it is an endurance sport, so reward it by eating good food. I never miss the chance of a steak, or a beef dinner. If you use poor fuel, your engine cannot perform at its best. I don’t drink alcohol in any quantity, and I don’t smoke. My biggest vice is sweet food, but I am working on it.
I keep repeating the words of advice; eat a little of everything, but not too much of anything. We always have fruit in the house, which is a first stop for me when I am in binge mode. Winter is difficult for me, I eat when I am bored during the long, dark evenings. I kid myself that I need to eat more to keep warm, and to fuel my activities outside in the cold. The summer months present less of a challenge to me, because I can go out for long rides. This summer, I hope also to be doing long runs.