Marta Napierala is a SNHS Nutritional Practitioner. We asked her about the best kind of diet for those preparing for and taking part in Shine, Cancer Research UK's night-time walking marathon in London.
The more natural and simple your food choices, the better. Aim for single-ingredient foods, as your body digests and absorbs them best. It will not only help fuel your training, but also keep you healthy and functioning optimally every day.
Avoid processed, man-made and multiple-ingredient food. Your body does not recognise it as fuel and is more likely to store it as fat rather than use it to help with your training. Read the labels, especially the ingredients list. If there’s anything you don’t know or understand, you’re best to put it away.
A combination of good-quality protein (lean meat, fish and eggs), good fats (avocados, nuts, coconut oil and olive oil), plenty of leafy green veg and natural starchy carbs should be part of your day-to-day diet. You’ve never seen a field of pasta, have you? Go for what grows – sweet potatoes and rice being good examples.
Aim to eat every three to four hours to keep your blood sugar level stable and energy level high. Plan your meals and your training wisely; eating too close to your training walk won't give your body time to digest the food. Use it as fuel: give yourself around an hour before setting off.
Refuelling during and after training is also important, especially when your training walks get longer. Make sure you have a water bottle and some snacks with you; bananas and raw, natural nuts are a great option. After training, a good, balanced meal is a must. A home-cooked Sunday roast, for example – lean meat, lots of broccoli and cabbage and a few roast potatoes. Drop the puddings to make it even healthier.
Keep your hydration up. Water is just as important as your balanced meals. It’s not only needed for numerous important processes in your body, such as shuttling nutrients into cells, but dehydration can also affect your performance. Aim for two litres of clean, filtered water a day. Add a slice of lemon or lime for flavour; it will also help alkalise your body.
Avoid fuelling yourself with caffeine and energy drinks. While a cup of organic black coffee half an hour before your training walk may be a good idea, too much of stimulants will eventually only make you more tired.
Electrolyte drinks may be a good idea, to keep replenishing what's lost through sweating while you're out on your training walks. Make sure you read the labels and avoid sugar-laden chemical drinks. Consider making your own; adding a pinch of sea salt to your water will help rebalance minerals lost through sweating.
Just as your training should be progressive, you should let your body adjust to new eating habits. Be patient and change one thing at a time. It takes time to create a habit, and your body will thank you for it.
Plan your last day’s meals in advance to avoid under- or over-eating. Don’t overdo it on carbohydrates; yes, you will be walking a long way and will need energy, but too much can make you lethargic and sluggish. Everyone is different and needs different ratios of main macronutrients (protein, fats and carbohydrates), so there’s no one-size-fits-all prescription. Use all ten tips wisely and you can’t go wrong!
Find out more about Shine 2013 by going to www.shinewalk.org/timeout, or simply sign up now and help make London shine. The entry fee is £35, which helps cover the cost of putting on the event. Registration closes at midnight on Sunday September 15 2013.
Many thanks to Wilde Performance for the above tips.