Eat well, train hard, run farther

As the GBS Mutual Bank Mountain Drive Half-Marathon creeps its way closer, with just 15 weeks to go until race-day on 24 August, runners and walkers planning on tackling the mountain should be starting their training for the event. However, what many first time runners do not always take into consideration is the importance of one’s diet while training.

Marna Oettle, a Registered Dietician practicing in Makhanda (Grahamstown), explains the importance of a good diet for any athlete. “Nutrition plays a key role in supporting the demands of training for a competition. Good food choices and optimal fluid intake can enhance training and aid recovery,” said Oettle. “Some nutritional goals to keep in mind while training for an endurance challenge include: eating a varied, well-balanced diet that provides enough energy and nutrients to support overall health; optimizing carbohydrate intake based on the amount of exercise you plan on doing; refuelling with the correct foods and fluids as soon as possible after exercise to aid recovery; and staying hydrated before, during, and after exercise.”

While a lot of people avoid carbohydrates, with ‘low-carb’ and ‘no-carb’ diets being particularly popular these days, Oettle explained that, for athletes, a healthy carbohydrate intake is vital. “Carbohydrates play an especially important role in supporting endurance exercise, as they are the main fuel source for exercising muscles,” she said. “The more intense the exercise programme, the more carbohydrates you will need to include.”

Oettle continued to explain the effects that too little carbohydrates can have on the body when preparing for a extreme exercise, such as a half-marathon. “If your diet is too low in carbohydrates, you may experience early fatigue during exercise and delayed recovery after exercise. The body’s carbohydrate stores (glycogen) are limited, so carbohydrates need to be eaten daily to support endurance exercise,” said Oettle.

When you eat is also important for training, as the human body needs different types of nutrients at different times of the day for optimal performance. Oettle suggests that runners have a carbohydrate-rich, low-fat snack or meal (e.g. bananas, potatoes, pasta) 2-3 hours before exercising to help ensure sufficient carbohydrates are available during exercise. To replenish glycogen stores, a carbohydrate-rich, low-fat snack can be eaten within 30 minutes after exercise.

Aside from carbohydrates, the other important nutrient that is essential for training for a half-marathon is protein, according to Oettle. “Protein is needed for building and repairing muscle and plays an important role in how the body responds to exercise,” she said. “Endurance athletes need approximately 1.2 to 1.4g per kg body weight per day. This requirement is only slightly more than that of the general population (0.8 to 1.0g per kg bodyweight per day). Adding 15 to 25g of protein to a post-workout meal or snack can enhance muscle recovery,” said Oettle.

Additionally, Oettle suggests that athletes should focus on unsaturated fats, and avoid the unhealthy, saturated fats found in butter, cream and the fat found on meat.

The last thing that Oettle recommends when training is to remain hydrated, as water and isotonic sports drinks are essential to ensure that the body does not shut down during exercise. “Start each training session and competition hydrated, stay hydrated during exercise, and restore hydration levels as soon as possible afterwards,” said Oettle. “The fluid of choice to drink during exercise depends on the intensity and duration of the exercise. Generally speaking, water is a good choice for low to moderate exercise that lasts less than one hour, and isotonic sports drinks are best for moderate to hard exercise that lasts more than one hour.”

While everyone’s body is different, and every diet plan must be tailored to your unique running style, pace, and distance, it is important to understand how a diet can affect your running, and have a rough outline of what to eat throughout the training process. Paired with the right training programme, an example of which Grocott’s Mail will be publishing every week from Friday 10 May until race day, a good food plan will put you on the right track to conquering the mountain.

For more information, Oettle can be reached at or contacted on 0829661293.

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