It’s common knowledge that nutrition is a really important element of training and racing however what’s not such common knowledge are the facts and information behind this title. Since starting my blog I’ve realised that most of the people contacting me about nutrition already know just how important it is, but they generally want to know what this actually means in terms of what to eat each day for example.
In this post I’m going to talk about what I eat and why, and I because I have no qualifications in nutrition whatsoever, I don’t want you to feel that you need to change what you eat or anything like that- all choices should be your own and what works for me might not work for you! Despite this, I will be including some advice that I have previously been lucky enough to receive but it’s up to you to make judgements on what’s right for you.
What I Used To Eat
Back a couple of years ago, I didn’t really know much about nutrition and how to fuel my body correctly. This was fine up to a point, but when I progressed in training and starting running more, this had adverse effects as I unintentionally lost weight and immediately found myself at risk of low bone density and declining performance. At this point I wasn’t really taking notice of how much I ate, but I thought that I ate quite a healthy and balanced diet on the whole. I wasn’t really thinking about the energy intake I would need to train 4 or 5 days a week, but thankfully we noticed this pretty quickly and changed for the good.
What Did This Involve?
To put it bluntly, after some time we realised that the only way to gain weight was to eat a lot more. Generally, a runner’s viewpoint is that you want to eat ‘healthily’, and this healthy involves green things, proteins, ‘good fats’ and whole grain everythings. At first I tried this approach by eating what seemed like balanced meals of salmon fillets, quinoa and veg… sounds like an elite runner’s diet right? But after a while we realised that this still wasn’t really working. These types of food aren’t as high in calories as other more basic types of food, and it was really becoming a struggle as I had to eat much more of it to get enough energy. I remember feeling full pretty much the whole time and I think the fibre content of all the grains and veg wasn’t really helping. This called for another change- one that took a little more getting used to.
After talking it through, I started eating more normal and starchy foods, getting rid of all of that ‘healthy nonsense’ as my mum calls it. It took a little while to adjust to this new way of thinking as it felt as if it was contradicting all that you see on the TV and online about exercising and eating ‘healthily’. For breakfast I started having an omelette (2 eggs with a couple of tablespoons of cream) along with toast, greek yoghurt fruit bowl, or a few scotch pancakes. I always packed snacks for school- usually bounties (which I discovered that I really, really loved) accompanied by a banana, and then brazil nuts for the bus on the way home.
At lunch I would take the hot meal with a pudding as always, and dinner we would usually have pizza or pasta with dark chocolate for after. I realise that none of this is ridiculously unhealthy, but the change came in reducing the amount of vegetables and superfoods on my plate. This did take some time and it definitely wasn’t always easy but it eventually worked which was great as I became a much stronger runner. At one point I also discovered how to make porridge and so made that on quite a few mornings (hence my Instagram photos!!). I actually wrote a post about this ages ago which you can read here (What I Eat in a Day).
I would say that this is what I ate until around April (2017) where I changed little things again.
What I Eat Now
As you all know, I unfortunately landed myself with a stress fracture back in January 2017, the day after I qualified for English Schools Cross Country. This injury is finally on its way to clearing up (7 months later I know…), but I have been lucky enough to have Jess Coulson (MSc in physiology and bone and muscle researcher at MMU, not to mention British half marathon champion 2015) helping me since April. With her advice, we have slowly increased my food intake. There have been no radical changes, but in order for my body to repair my bones, balance hormone levels, and maintain bone density (thus avoiding the female athlete triad), eating even more food was necessary.
And finally after much waffle, here is what an average day probably looks like for me.
Notes before we start: I struggle with yoghurt and milk so now drink lactose-free versions, and I don’t have the same meals everyday- I usually mix it up depending on what we have or don’t have in the fridge.
Porridge made with 2 cups oats and 4 cups lactose-free whole milk, some kind of fruit, peanut butter.
1.5 servings of TheProteinWorks protein pancakes with fruit, lactose-free yoghurt, honey and a glass of lactose-free whole milk.
Plus all of my vitamins as mentioned in a recent supplement post.
Post Session Snack
Chocolate MyProtein Brownie
Or a protein shake and maybe a banana.
If I don’t train it would probably be a couple of chocolate digestives and then some chicken pieces from the fridge.
3 eggs (scrambled, omeletted, poached, boiled, fried- it depends!), 3 toast or a large chunk of french stick, chicken pieces and maybe some spinach.Squares of dark chocolate.
Or sometimes I might have one pack of Uncle Ben’s/ Tilda Rice with a can of tuna, pesto, cheese and vegetables. Squares of dark chocolate.
During term time I’ll have a hot meal at school with a pudding or fruit.
Banana and peanut butter.
Sometimes pasta with a can of tuna, pesto, cheese and carrots. Sometimes a stone baked pizza from Tesco. At weekends and in the holidays we usually have a large spag bol, chilli (my favourite), sausage and mash, or pie and chips, and occasionally we get steak and chips (but that’s pretty rare as steak is ££).
Then I either go for some lactose-free yoghurt and chocolate, or a mug of milk and chocolate. If not we may have a dessert like trifle or cake depending on what’s on offer at the supermarket!
However none of this is set in stone: from time to time I’ll be out and so eat there, and when it’s coming to the end of the food shop week I usually end up eating random combinations of foods that probably shouldn’t go together!
Why do I eat these foods?
Obviously the main reason why I eat these foods is because I like them, but there are also a few other things to think about.
As I have mentioned in a previous blog, Jess has educated me about the importance of protein. I now try to have protein at every meal and snack, even if that’s just having a couple of spoons of peanut butter as well as a couple of digestives. Protein 15 minutes after every session has also become a very regular affair. From what I understand, protein is important for a whole range of things with a special focus on muscle repairing and growth, so this is definitely something that I’m going to continue doing in the future. At running camp we learned about the importance of protein but also the necessity of things like oily fish. They recommended that we try to have fish like sardines or mackerel twice a week, which is something I will also try to do.
One thing that I have only recently starting doing is attempting to make sure that we as a family are eating 2 meals which include red meat a week. This is great for me as I absolutely love any meal with mince but it’s actually surprisingly hard to maintain because before we know it the end of the week creeps up and we’ve forgotten to cook anything red meaty. Every two weeks we also try and have steak (another favourite) but as I mentioned earlier, for 4 of us (soon to be five although I don’t think the baby will need a steak anytime soon) it’s quite pricey to get the nice cuts! This is all for iron levels and protein. Iron makes up part of your red blood cells and by eating more red meat (which by the way has way more iron than they try to claim that spinach has) I’m reducing my chances of developing anaemia.
I also have (what I think to be) big servings compared to what I see people eating on Instagram. For example when I have pasta I have a full on bowl whereas I literally see some people talking about their nice tea cups of ‘carbs’. Since I can remember, I’ve always a had a very conventional sandwich for lunch when not at school. My parents would always bring out the classic 2 bread, ham, cheese, cucumber, mayonnaise triangles followed by a piece of fruit and then maybe a penguin or club bar. However I’ve moved away from that now to more protein and filling options like eggs, meat or tuna, accompanied by 3 or sometimes 4 pieces of bread. On my recent running camp we were told that 2 large eggs were the equivalent to 1 chicken breast in terms of protein which I was happy to hear because I always have 3 large now anyway. I also make sure to add extras to my meals at dinner, like for example an extra jacket potato if we’re having them.
In terms of veg, health foods and random things like that, I do try make sure to have at least some kind of green/ fruity thing each day because I do enjoy it but sometimes that doesn’t really happen and I’ve now learned that it doesn’t actually matter. The 3 main nutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) are far more important so I would much rather focus on them first. I know most of you will probably be thinking about my Instagram page, where I occasionally post ‘food photos’ which tend to have colourful things in them, but at the end of the day those kind of things always seem to make a more interesting photo than the plain omelette and bread that I usually have. Even with these posts though, you’ll find that there are still the same amounts of proteins, carbs, and fats that I have talked about in this post.
The problem that I often see with Instagram is that some food and fitness accounts base their meals around salads, fruit and veg and then add meat and breads on the side. I completely understand that this might be right for them, but for myself I struggle to see how this would fuel training sessions and general everyday life because most of those foods are water-based. I tend to go for the carbs, proteins and fats first, and then add the veg on the side.
It has taken a while for me to realise that snacking is something I need to do even if I’m not hungry. Most people are told to only eat when they’re hungry, but for athletes I’ve been told that this really isn’t the case. At most meals I usually have to eat a little more than I want, and I always make an effort to eat something every four hours even if I’m not even the slightest bit hungry as the body is constantly rebuilding after training.
The only way is up
And finally, the last thing I want to say is that it wasn’t easy at first when stepping up my food intake. Most people would think it would be really enjoyable as you get to eat what you want, and although I had free range over what foods I wanted, the amount used to get quite uncomfortable. However, you get used to it really quickly, and I’m now finding my daily nutrition really easy and enjoyable. I also eat as many cakes and supposedly ‘bad things’ as I want because what’s the point in not?!
I completely understand that there are loads of different foods to think about and it can sometimes be quite overwhelming trying to remember when to eat and what foods to include, so I would recommend that if you are thinking of changing your diet, take small steps at a time so that you easily get into a habit. And nobody’s diet is going to be perfect and it’s definitely not the end of the world if you make a few mistakes!
At the end of the day, if you’re training much more than the average person, you also need to eat much more, whatever the level of sport you’re currently at. Many younger runners are happy to train like the elite but then neglect other aspects of their lifestyle. I think this definitely needs to change.
To conclude this post I would just like to say thank you to everyone who has helped me along the way from my family for buying me extra food (and cooking it!) to Jess who really has been incredible in giving me the best advice available.
PS. Because there was always going to be an extra note on this kind of post. As much as I love Instagram, I have been a bit critical about the whole thing this weekend. So whilst I’m here, I’m just going to say one last thing. I eat A LOT of peanut butter, and as much as all the health enthusiasts bleat on about how ‘unhealthy’ brands like Skippy are because of the salt and sugar content, these type of peanut butters taste the best and for the amount that you eat you’re probably only consuming a couple of granules of sugar anyway so let’s be honest it doesn’t really matter.