Eating for Athletes

By Katherine Shone – Accredited Sports Dietitian


We all do it. We all do it daily. Hopefully we do it many times a day. But just because we do it so often, that doesn’t mean we get it right all the time. What on early am I talking about? Eating. Yes that’s right. That simple act of putting something in our mouth. Even well be­ fore I studied nutrition, I was eating and drin­king, and just like many of you out there, I had experiences where I made the  wrong choice and paid for it dearly.I recall at least two occa­sions where I crossed the line after finishing a sprint distance triathlon and rather than bas­ king in the glory of finishing, I had to make a mad dash to the portable toilets. So what was I doing wrong?

To eat or not to eat?

The first thing to consider is what distance/ duration are you running for? Is it a short re­covery run or is it your weekly long run? And then, what is the purpose of this run? Is it a slow continuous aerobic run or a high intensi­ty interval ‘smash my legs’ session? Assuming you have eaten suf­ficient food the day prior, most of us have sufficient energy stores (glycogen) to get through 60-90 minutes of low- moderate intensi­ty running first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. For longer durations like your Sunday long run which might last between 90-120minutes or a speed  session or race where  you want optimal speed and/or  endu­rance, I would recommend having a small energy rich breakfast. If you decide optimal performance is required, then make sure this breakfast is at least 2 hours prior so that’s had time  to digest and you don’t get a stitch.

What not to eat?

I spend most of my day as a dietiti­an educating people about the be­nefits of high fibre foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grainy breads and cereals for providing vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, stabilising blood sugar levels and keepings you feeling full for lon­ger. But unfortunately, the other si­gnificant benefit of a fibre rich diet (regular bowel motions), also makes for a highly undesirab­le experience during running! What I know now,after those fa­teful days in the portaloos, is to go easy on the fibre the night before and morning of a race. Steer away from the brown, unprocessed op­tions like grainy breads, mueslis, wholemeal pasta and brown rice. You are better of opting for the white basmati rice, white pas­ta and white I sourdough breads complimented  with just token amount of salad or vegetables.

So what do you eat on the day?

Ideally you want something that is high in carbohydrate, low in fat, easy to digest and appealing to the taste buds. Personally I know my stomach loves toast topped with banana and honey. It’s quick to prepare, easy to get down and al­ lows me to get through my session without the dreaded toilet stop. Other simple suggestions include- crumpets with jam, a small bowl of oats or a couple of weetbix topped with banana. If you don’t have much time. Some runners prefer a liquid breakfast like a Sustagen Sport.

Practice makes perfect

We spend hours trai­ning for an event. Then we go to great lengths to select the best runners, shorts, vi­sor and t-shirt to prevent blisters, chaffing, sunburn and of course… look good! Why then do so many athletes leave their race day nu­trition to chance? In the lead up to an event, I strongly encourage you to practice what you are going to eat so that come race day you know what you ‘ re doing, you’re confident it’s going work and you can maximise the chances that a super quick run time is coming your way.

For assistance with an in­dividualised plan for Eating and Drinking before sport speak to an Accredited Sports Dietitian.