by Megan Kuikman, RD
Juggling the demands of training, work and family life can make healthy eating a struggle. However, eating healthy meals and snacks should be an essential part of your training plan. If you want to perform at your best, you can’t neglect your day-to-day meal planning.
Before you can make a meal plan, you need to know what you should eat for optimal performance. Nutrition requirements are extremely individualized based on various factors such as age, gender and activity level. Nutrition requirements will also change from day to day based on your planned workout and any other physical demands.
Aim to include a protein-rich food with each meal to help your muscles properly recover from training. Good protein sources include meat, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs and legumes. While people often get enough protein with dinner and lunch, many people don’t meet their protein requirements at breakfast or in their post-run snack. Try mixing some Greek yogurt into your oatmeal or topping your morning toast with an egg.
Protein should not be the only focus of your meals. Each meal should also include a carbohydrate source such as potato, pasta, corn, bread, or fruit. Carbohydrates act as fuel for our body during exercise, thus the amount of carbohydrates needed per meal should match the demands of your training. For example, on long run days, include more carbohydrate-rich foods in your meals.
The final component of your plate is the one that is most often missed: vegetables. Unfortunately, these seem to be the first to go when in a time crunch. Vegetables are nature’s multivitamin, providing antioxidants that are important for health and recovery. Aim to make half your plate vegetables at both lunch and dinner.
Increased training demands can increase a runner’s caloric needs, making it necessary to grab a snack in between meals. Be prepared by always having a healthy snack on hand, such as a granola bar, a handful of nuts or an apple.
If your schedule is preventing you from eating healthfully, plan in advance for busy days. One strategy is to cook part of the meal ahead of time. For instance, on the weekend, cook a large batch of chicken that can quickly be used in tortillas or added to salads during the week. A slow cooker can also help on busy days. Turn it on before you go to work so that you have a meal waiting for you when you come home after a long day.
Other time-saving hacks include buying prepared food such as pre-cut or pre-washed fruits and vegetables. A container of carrot sticks, sliced peppers and cherry tomatoes can easily be added with a sandwich or wrap to make a balanced weekday meal. Many frozen foods also provide healthier options that can offer a quick meal option when you’re short on time. Compare the products’ nutrition information panels to make the best choice.
Don’t throw away your training efforts by neglecting your day-to-day nutrition. Properly fuelling your body will allow you to show up at your next workout or race feeling healthy and ready to perform your best.
Megan Kuikman is a Registered Dietitian and distance runner from Brantford, Ontario.