Category Archives: diet

The perfect breakfast – for training or race day

In your quest to run better, faster, stronger, how much time and consideration do you give to fuelling your body with the perfect race-day breakfast?

If you’ve been training for a race for weeks, even months, it seems strange to dedicate little time to how you are going to fuel that race to ensure optimum performance, but some people treat their race-day breakfast just like any other. Not me! I prepare my race-day breakfast the night before, so my porridge is made up waiting for me in the fridge, I have one hard boiled egg ready to eat after that, and a selection of nuts and fruit, mostly banana and raisins, ready to snack on. If you want your body to perform at its best, It’s pretty important that it’s running on the right fuel.

This was the Jamaica Half Marathon, which started at 5am; I had breakfast at 3am that day!

This was the Jamaica Half Marathon, which started at 5am; I had breakfast at 3am that day!

We all know we should carbo-load the night before a race, but what, ideally, should we be eating on the morning of the big day? “Breakfast is especially important for runners,” says Emma Patel from North Norfolk Nutrition. “Whether you’re a morning, noon, or evening runner, breakfast can provide you with important nutrients and the energy you need for a strong workout. A nutritious, well-balanced breakfast can make you burst with energy and helps your body cope with the demands of the race/run that you have coming up.”

Emma stresses that your breakfast menu needs to include foods that are quick to make and easy to digest but also give you sustained energy. Breakfast foods that work for one runner – rice cakes with nut butters and black coffee – may not sit well with another. “Most runners need to experiment to find out which foods work best for them,” says Emma. “The American College of Sports Medicine recommends eating a high-carbohydrate, 400- to 500-calorie meal two or three hours before exercise.” A mini meal or snack of 100 to 300 calories is plenty for runs of up to an hour at a moderate pace.

These legs don't run anywhere unless they get their porridge

These legs don’t run anywhere unless they get their porridge

Whatever calorie count you’re aiming for, the best breakfast foods are those rich in complex and simple carbohydrates and high-quality protein, with smaller amounts of healthy fats. This combination of nutrients will set you up for better running no matter what time of day you head out. “Try to avoid foods that can cause stomach cramps and stitches such as too much milky products or hard fruits such as apples and pears and dried fruits such as figs, prunes and mixed seeds,” she says.

Keep it simple for breakfast as the goal is to fill the stomach up without taking any risks before the race! “You may want to prepare breakfast the day before in case the hotel you are staying at does not have the ‘right’ runners diet.” If there is one day of your life to bring your own food to the table it is race day! Also, don’t forget to hydrate with a good amount of water prior to the race/run and a black coffee. “Although caffeine will not transform a poorly prepared runner into a better one, two-thirds of studies with trained runners show significant benefits of caffeine on performance or physiological responses or both.”


Emma suggests these options (all of which can be accompanied by a black coffee):
Granola: most granola contains some sort of oil but you can use fruit juice, agave nectar or manuka honey to give your oats moisture.

Quinoa and fruit: make sure that you limit the amount of fibre and avoid fibrous fruits like figs, prunes and apricots which may leave you feeling bloated and put you at risk of GI distress during the race.

Teff porridge or wholegrain rice porridge: leftover wholegrain rice makes a fast quick breakfast. Add some nut butters for added protein for example almond, cashew or brazil nut butters.

Rye bread with egg whites/scrambled eggs: this is a good low Gl meal that will provide sustained energy throughout your race/run.

Oat groats with hemp protein powder: to provide good amounts of slow release carbohydrate and protein for sustained energy to reduce spikes in blood sugar before the race. Raw oat groats need to be soaked before eating to soften them. They are the whole oat kernel that includes the bran layer which makes them even healthier than rolled oats or steel-cut oats. As they are rather fibrous they need to be tested out in training first.

Spelt or millet cereal, banana and peanut butter.

Don’t forget recovery post-run snacks:
Sweet potato cakes: perfect for brunch post race/run. When you have time, make a double batch and stock up the freezer.

Fig and honey rice cakes with nut butters: this is a gluten free recipe that can work best as a snack following a run or as a quick pre-run snack. Warning: avoid too many figs!

Buckwheat pancakes with kefir yoghurt and mixed berries. This post workout breakfast is a good mix of carbohydrate, protein, healthy fats and antioxidants to replenish your stores after a hard race/run.

Focus on easily digestible carbohydrate as they ‘store’ very easily, such as bagels, oatmeal with water, honey, banana and rice cakes.

Balancing your blood sugar

Are you like me? My blood sugar can drop at any time… even though I try to manage what I eat as I’ve always suffered from this. I don’t have a serious blood sugar disease like diabetes, but I do have that kind of ‘Porsche’ metabolism where I struggle to put on weight. I’m slim, petite and maybe a little wiry (that’s quite hard to write as all women want to be curvaceous, don’t they!).
Whatever I eat, my body seems to burn it off quite quickly making me want more. I can feel hungry within half an hour of having a roast dinner! Leaving the house without some form of snack, just in case my blood sugar plummets leaving me shaky and spaced out, just never happens. I always have to be prepared when I travel, or if I’m out and about – in fact anytime I’m not at home where I have instant access to food.


In a jam? Donut eat this!

Obviously I try to avoid sugary foods and drinks, though I am a woman and I do like cake! My body, as if in silent cooperation, doesn’t tend to crave sugar (except in cake!). I also get into trouble when I’m running long; I have to carry nutrition as I am also hungry, but if I take too many gels I feel spaced out and nauseous. What to do!
Nutritionist Henrietta Norton ( believes understanding how  certain foods or methods of eating effect our blood sugar, will help us optimize our energy, essential to running.

Why does the food we eat make a difference?

When we eat foods containing sugars, the pancreas responds by releasing insulin to push the blood sugar into the cells. If we eat foods higher in fast releasing sugars, insulin will be used to remove that sugar quickly because it’s not safe for us to continue experiencing high blood sugar. However, sometimes this process can cause a sudden ‘high’ in blood sugar levels followed by a more dramatic drop or ‘low’.  Symptoms of low blood sugar may include not being able to go for more than 1-2 hours without food, not experiencing fullness from meals (being more prone to snacking after meals) and experiencing dizziness, nausea, fatigue and mood swings when feeling hungry.  Another sign of blood sugar fluctuations may be sugar cravings or a ‘sweet tooth’.  We can moderate this process by eating foods that support this process better.

What can we do then to help limit and manage any fluctuations?
“Be your own sugar-detective,” says Henrietta, “high sugar foods are not always obvious.” Here are just some of the hidden sugars Henrietta says you may be eating daily.

White flour products: These are often both nutrient poor and release glucose quickly into the blood stream. Avoid all white flour carbohydrates such as white bread or pasta. Switch to brown rice, quinoa, oat or buckwheat. Ideally stick to a fist-sized amount of carbohydrates and have generous servings (ie half your plate) of vegetables and salad and proteins like meat, fish, eggs, beans and legumes. Avoid white potatoes and switch to sweet potatoes instead. You can also use vegetables as a starchy carbohydrate replacement. For example, a raw carrot and beetroot salad instead of brown rice.

Fruit:Getting the right ratio of fruit and vegetables in your diet is also important. Try to stick to 2 pieces of fruit per day to minimize fructose (fruit sugar) and choose fruit lower in fructose such as pears, apples, plums and any berries. If you do suffer from blood sugar fluctuations you may wish to avoid bananas, mango and pineapple. Dates have become enormously popular with health food blog recipes but they are very sweet, so you only need a few (not 10 or 20)! A good trick to slow down the release of sugar is to combine fruit with nuts and seeds so you might eat 1 apple alongside 4 almonds and a small handful of pumpkins seeds. All vegetables are great but be careful to either moderate your intake of starchy vegetables such as parsnips and pumpkin and preferably eat them with plenty of protein and healthy fats (see point no 2). Generally try to avoid fruit juice, as the fruit sugar will be released more quickly than when eating whole fruit because fruit juice lacks the fibre.


Sugars: If you want to sweeten a hot drink, try a little maple syrup, natural stevia root powder or coconut sugar. Honey is OK if local or manuka (some bees are fed sugar to make commercial honey so avoid these where you can). Be vigilant about checking snack food labels for glucose syrup, dextrose syrup and high fructose corn syrups, as these types of sugars will cause blood sugar levels to soar. We recommend avoiding sweeteners, as even these have been show to affect blood sugar levels as the sweet taste still signals insulin production in the body. Watch out also for sugary drinks and alcohol which often contain quite a lot of sugar too.

These are Henrietta Norton’s top tips to be on top of your blood sugar levels:
Eat protein and healthy fats with every meal: All meals should include protein (e.g chicken) and healthy fats (e.g avocado), as these food groups take much longer to break down in the stomach and provides a slow and steady source of energy – imagine a dripping tap of sugar rather than a tap turned on full blast.

Managing your stress levels: When our adrenal glands produce stress hormones such as cortisol, our liver also releases stored glucose called glycogen. In more primitive times, this was so we would have the energy to fight or run away from danger. However our daily ‘stresses’ are more desk bound than mammoth based which means that the released glucose is now circulating in the blood stream and more likely to be converted into unwanted fat in the body. Simple tips to improve this include getting enough rest, eating well and cutting down on caffeine containing drinks.

Supplementing your diet with magnesium and adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha as well as practicing calming exercise such as yoga or Pilates can be very supportive too. Supplement with chromium. This mineral is required for normal blood glucose concentrations and the maintenance and achievement of normal body weight. Research has shown that chromium works by supporting insulin sensitivity by optimizing the receptor sites on the cell wall. Back to our analogy, this is basically all about helping to get our ship with sugar cargo get into the harbor by the aid of the lighthouse and lighthouse keeper. Chromium may also be really helpful taken alongside a healthy diet for weight management.


Eat breakfast: Research has shown that those who eat a good solid breakfast each day are less likely to experience blood sugar fluctuations throughout the day. Aim for a balance of food groups rather than just a plain piece of toast or cereal. Try a bowl of wholegrain muesli with full fat milk or full fat yoghurt with nuts, seeds and berries or sliced pear on top OR wholegrain (or rye) brown toast with scrambled eggs, half an avocado and a green smoothie.

Get your ‘Z’Ss: Research has shown that getting enough sleep can improve blood glucose levels and how effectively our body uses insulin. Practice winding down earlier in the evening and aim form 8 hours sleep, preferably between 10.30pm-6.30am. If you find it a challenge to fall asleep try chamomile herbal tea or a valerian based natural sleep aid.

Wild Nutrition stockists include Space NK, WholeFoods UK and online. Henrietta Norton’s new book ‘Your Pregnancy Nutrition Guide’ will be published 8th August 2015 (Vermilion).


Do nut eat this!


Health warning! A burger containing 1966 calories, 98 per cent of a woman’s Guideline Daily Amount, has been launched by pub-restaurant chain Hungry Horse.

You’d need to run 20 miles to burn off the 1966 calories in this one burger! I love donuts but….