Updated 26 February 2015

What to eat if you lead an active lifestyle

If you want to optimise your health, you need to ensure that you are following a well-balanced eating plan.


Runners are often in the process of trying to improve their eating habits or lose weight and yet make dietary choices that negatively affect their ability to train. Here are 10 pointers that have been tried, tested and proven to work optimally in feeding your mind and body if you lead an active lifestyle or exercise daily.

1.     A healthy, well-balanced diet is the answer. Be wary of avoiding certain food groups entirely or following a low calorie diet, that promises faster weight loss. In many cases they are not sustainable and often the person regains even more weight than they lost! Our recommendation is to consult a registered dietitian, who can give you an individualised eating plan that fits in with your lifestyle; accommodates your running programme and helps you to achieve your goal. OptiFit offers you the chance of consulting with a dietitian, based at SSISA, at a reduced rate.

2.     Weight management: If you are wanting to lose weight, we recommend that you create a deficit of about 500 calories per day (through modifications in your diet and activity levels).

For example – try to cut out about 250 calories (of unnecessary food) in your eating plan every day and try to burn an extra 250 calories every day by climbing stairs, walking more or even doing a quick gym session. This should result in a weight loss of approximately 0.5kg per week.

If you have lots of weight to lose, you might find that with your new, healthy eating plan, you lose weight more quickly initially. But be patient, 0.5kg a week is perfectly acceptable

Read: Dieting and exercise together work best

3.     Consider consulting a dietitian more regularly if you have special needs and require more than one consultation to develop an individualised eating plan that fits in with your lifestyle, accommodates your running programme and helps you to achieve your specific goal.

4.     Carbohydrates (CHO) are important if you are exercising regularly: Whilst there is much debate about carbohydrates in the media – many runners have no problems consuming some carbohydrates in their diet. However, choose healthy, unrefined CHO (with a low glycaemic index- GI) –rather than refined or high glycaemic CHO’s that can cause an insulin spike to remove this sudden boost of sugar in your blood. Shortly after consuming very high glycaemic index foods – you are left feeling rather flat and low in energy. Also avoid sugary drinks and processed foods. Remember CHO’s are just one of the important macronutrients in your diet; protein and healthy fats are vital too – so it’s all about getting the balance and quantities right for you.

Read: GI and sports nutrition

5.     A very low fat or fat-free diet is not healthy: Gram for gram, fats contain almost twice the energy compared to protein and carbohydrates, but that doesn’t mean it must be avoided. Certain fats play an enormously positive role in overall health (e.g. omega-3 and 6 fatty acids) and also help you to feel full after a meal which means you are less likely to overeat.

 6.     Consume enough protein: Don’t neglect protein – it is important for building and maintaining lean muscle mass and is also quite satiating. Try to eat some with every meal (lean meat/fish, low-fat/fat-free dairy products and legumes).

 7.     Plan snacks: In order to keep up your energy levels especially if you are training early evening, have some low GI snacks available (fruits, low-fat yoghurt, seed loaf, popcorn, peanut butter on crackers etc.) available to eat. Have a snack about 2 hours before training.

8.     Vitamins and minerals. You should all be aiming to eat 5-8 portions of fruits and vegetables every day. If you find yourself falling short, then a multivitamin is advisable.

9.     Fluid intake.

a)     Daily: Fluid requirements of different people vary enormously and environmental conditions play a role in determining how much fluid you need on any particular day. Whilst 8 glasses of fluid a day is usually the recommendation, just ensure you are adequately hydrated. Fluids might include water, herbal teas s well as the water in fruits, veggies and other foods.

 b)    When exercising: “Drink to thirst”! You will probably need some fluids on the longer weekend runs, so bring along a water bottle. 

10.  Energy intake on long runs and during 21.1km race

It is advisable to have some form of carbohydrate (glucose) in runs lasting longer than 1 hour, and certainly essential during your 21.1km race. 

Read more:

What constitutes a healthy diet?
Tim Noakes on overhydration in athletes
How Tim Noakes wants you to train

Image: eating and exercise, Shutterstock


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