Whether you want to lose weight or learn the best way to fuel your workouts, there can be a lot of confusion about the best nutrition strategy for beginners.
If you're feeling overwhelmed, we're here to help. Before you stock up on protein powders and strip your cupboard of carbs, get the facts on fuel so you can set yourself up for nutritional success.
Be Proactive and Don't Deprive Yourself
No matter your caloric needs or training goals, it's important to stay ahead of your hunger, and eat enough to make it through your workouts.
"As a new runner, the most important thing you can do is be proactive to your hunger," says Tara Coleman, a San Diego-based clinical nutritionist. "Your appetite is going to increase with your activity level, but when you react to hunger cues, you tend to wait until you're starving and end up overeating."
New runners often make the mistake of cutting out food groups or severely restricting calories. This can be problematic because food provides the energy you need to work out. If you feel fatigued during a run, a lack of fuel could be the culprit.
"I'm not a proponent of cutting out food groups," says Jennifer Gill, a Road Runner's Club of America-certified distance running coach. "Unless you have health concerns, cutting out carbs is ridiculous. You need carbs for energy. Whether you're a runner or you're sedentary, you need carbs to live."
Just because carbs deliver necessary energy doesn't mean you should load up on sugary, high-carb foods. It's important to pick healthy, nutrient-dense carbohydrates.
"You want to choose foods like whole grains, fruits and vegetables, not white breads, pastas, doughnuts and that sort of thing," says Gill. "There are good carbs out there. Pay attention to the types of foods you're eating and when you're eating them."
It's also important to distribute your carbs throughout the day rather than eating large carb servings for your pre- and post-run meals.
"Make sure there's some sort of carbohydrate present each time you eat," says Coleman. "This is going to make sure you have enough vitamins and minerals. An example would be an apple and almond butter as a snack."
Learn How Many Calories You Really Need
While there are some general guidelines that can help you determine your caloric needs, if you're new to nutrition and meal plans, you may want to consult a professional."
"When it comes to running and calorie requirements, your daily calories need to be high enough to provide energy for your regular daily tasks (from breathing and thinking to actual physical activity) in addition to any workout you may do," says Gill. "Running burns approximately 100 calories per mile, so you'll need to provide enough calories in preparation for your run and enough calories to recover.
The timing of your calories is just as important as the quantity. This can be confusing for new runners, so if you take in about 2000 calories (for women) on days you run and about 1800 calories on your rest days, you should be fine. Again, your personal goals can change this number, so it's best to speak with a professional to ensure you're getting the right amount calories."
There are also several online resources that can help you determine your needs and an ideal meal plan that fits your goals.