14 November 2014

In the long run: advice for the athlete

Whether you run 5km or marathon, you can boost your performance with good nutrition.

Running is no longer fashioned by sweaty men in vests and takkies. Athletes of all shapes and sizes can enjoy the rush of the road – or trail – thanks to the explosion of new events. Take, for instance, the parkrun global phenomenon. Taking place on Saturday mornings in public spaces, it’s a timed 5km run for beginners or professionals to enjoy. Or, for those with an appetite for something longer, there’s the 21km distance typified by the Cape’s Two Oceans Half Marathon or Knysna 21km.

Read: Why people run marathons

But road races aren’t all equal, especially when it comes to nutrition and supplementation. Even seasoned athletes who’ve cut their teeth pounding the pavement make rookie errors – which could impact their PB (personal best). So, to perform optimally while having fun, what should you take, when? Here are my top tips:

5km casual runners
This distance is often the start of a life-long love of running. If completed within an hour, water will do. If it’s hot, take in an electrolyte drink too. More than 60 minutes and you’ll need additional carbs.

10, 21km or triathlons
Once the 5km bug has bitten, longer distances become easier. But H20 isn’t enough. Add carbs to your programme, either as an energy drink or gel. A good rule of thumb: if you are going longer than an hour, make sure you start eating before you run out of energy. This normally happens within 30–45 minutes. And don’t forget the post-run recovery. Muscles are damaged during strenuous exercise, so it’s vital that you replace amino acids. The same applies to electrolytes and body fluids.

Marathons or ultras
Considering the recent Cape Town Marathon Festival attracted a whopping 12 000 entrants, it’s clear that marathons are going mainstream! But nutritional planning is key. Your body will need to burn fat and sugar to give you the energy required to complete these longer events. Keep your glycogen levels topped up, as fat burns in a carbohydrate fire! The amount depends on your weight and fitness, but generally you need 30–60g of carb per hour.

The Big Guns!
Racing for longer than 12 hours is the pastime of the minority, although events like Ironman and Comrades are getting bigger. Taking the correct nutrition tailored to your body and fitness isn’t just a nice-to-have – it could be the difference between finishing or not! Couple solid foods like bananas, potatoes and white bread with your tailored drink, gels and bars. Protein intake is also important: consider a drink that has additional protein.

Whatever your current distance or racing experience, knowing a bit about your body and what it needs will make you feel, perform and recover better.

Read more:
Go from walker to runner
Learn to run 5km
Wear the correct running shoes

This article was written by Wayne Allen who is an endurance athlete and the COO of health, fitness and wellness etailer For more tips and product recommendations to keep you going for longer, visit


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