Eating to maximise performance and enjoying an active life
- 28 February 2018
With the Sheffield Half Marathon coming up soon, (and various other running events of course), running coach Alasdair Menmuir gives us his thoughts on eating well for an active lifestyle.
"Eating and drinking are personal, culturally-specific activities. But as a running coach, I have some thoughts that could be useful to you if you want to become more active, either in endurance sports such as running and cycling, team sports, or strength-based activities such as weight-lifting, Body Pump or CrossFit.
The great thing about adding more activity to your life is that you will feel more energetic and even more able to control hunger. So, if you are taking your first steps into serious exercise, well done. Embrace it as part of your life and it will pay you back.
Over and above nutrition, being more active will help you regulate sugars, release fats and improve your body shape. So, yes, you will be able to get away with some slip-ups or indulgences, but on the other hand you may find that you want to eat more healthily, and that eventually, as a good saying goes, you can’t outrun a bad diet!
One mantra that nutrition experts come back to, despite all the debates that rage in science labs and in the papers, is to eat real food, less of it, and mainly vegetables. What does this mean in real life? It could mean embracing your local market and local shops such as the great offerings at Sheffield’s Moor Market. Here you will find exactly the produce that you need for optimal nutrition. Fresh fish, meat and vegetables are the foundation of good diets. And if you’re vegetarian or vegan, you can generally find a broader range of healthful foods and vegetables at the market than at any supermarket.
Simple is often best, and easier than you might think. A breakfast of full-fat yoghurt, locally sourced Sheffield honey, and some stewed or fresh local fruit is quicker to prepare than toast, and far more nutritious and satisfying. Eating full-fat suppresses hunger longer, and will actually help you shift more weight in the long term.
Adding healthy fats such as those in olive oil and avocados has the same purpose. Try a lunch of mashed avocado on some locally-baked rye or sourdough bread.
Again, fresh doesn’t mean inconvenient. Cook up a curry with seasonal veg, using a Yorkshire-made curry paste, such as those by Akbars. Let it simmer while you get on with things, and cheat a bit when serving up by using a pre-cooked rice pack. Use the left-overs for dinner later in the week, or freeze for another time. Preparing meals ahead is one way to be sure you won’t end up in a take-away.
Snacking often gets the better of our nutrition plans. However, if you fill your store cupboards with easy to access healthy snacks, and avoid buying sugary snacks, this need not be a problem. Oatcakes and hummus, or a handful of carrot and cucumber sticks, or an apple, are going to help you feel good and you'll be less likely to start hunting down biscuits.
We often talk about ‘nutrient-timing’ as coaches, when we’re asked to advise on nutrition. In brief, eat something small and easy to digest an hour or two before any strenuous workouts or races. After those efforts, get enough protein to help your muscles repair, ideally within 15 minutes, but any time up to a few hours afterwards. A handful of nuts or a glass of chocolate milk would do it. Then resuming normal eating and drinking to hunger and thirst cues is all you need to recover. If you are doing more cardio exercise, you might want to include more carbohydrates in your diet, or if you’re doing more strength based workouts, include more protein. But really, it’s all about balance. A plate of food that balances carbs, protein and healthy fats in equal measure is going to be of more long-term benefit than any fad diet.
Don’t starve yourself, but tune in to when you are hungry by assessing whether your tummy is rumbling. Likewise, if you’ve got a dry mouth, have some water or milk (dairy or non-dairy), but there’s no need to force fluids down. Try to avoid sugary drinks, because these are often unnecessary sources of sugar, which if unused is stored as fat, and diet ones just develop your sweet tooth: beware.
Finally, exercise can allow us the occasional indulgence, so, if you like to drink, why not get a special Sheffield-brewed beer from Sean at Beer Central as a treat, or cake from Turners? By allowing yourself a treat, you won’t feel cheated out of some of those pleasures of eating.
Equally, if you’ve been pumping iron, restore your muscles with a steak from one of the Moor Market’s many butchers. Or if you’re vegan, go all out and see if one of the expert greengrocers can source you some Jackfruit. Experiment, and have some fun!"