Fitness Challenge: Ready for the big run

Rachel Grunwell brings you the lowdown on a new form of exercise

Anna Williams advises Rachel Grunwell on what and how to eat before her 42km race. Photo / Michael Craig
Anna Williams advises Rachel Grunwell on what and how to eat before her 42km race. Photo / Michael Craig

Sports Nutrition

What is it? Learning how to improve your diet to improve your performance in a chosen sport.

What's needed? Clients complete a medical and health questionnaire then, at a first session, they talk about "a typical day". For follow-ups, clients keep a food diary.

The experience: "Hello, my name is Rachel Grunwell and I'm a chocoholic. I also love coffee and I temporarily forget the word "no" when offered a good, seductive red wine."

These are my guilty confessions to nutritionist Anna Williams at Mission Nutrition: Dietitians and Nutritionists. I've gone to see Anna to find out if better food choices can fuel my body better for running because I'm training for the adidas Auckland Marathon in November.

I was inspired to take on this challenge having interviewed amazing runners for today's cover story. Some of them will clock enviable times - my aim is simple: to complete the daunting 42.195km event. So I'm training hard, and know I also need all the help I can get food-wise.

First, Anna asks what, and when, I typically eat and also when I exercise. She wants to check I consume a good mix of carbs, protein, fruit, veg, dairy, good fats and that I drink enough - water, that is. She says it's okay to have treats, just try to keep coffee to once daily, chocolate to two pieces daily and wine to just sometimes. And before I can ask if there's a magic drink or supplement, she tells me the biggest gains will be made by getting my "base line" diet right.

Anna quickly picks up that I eat lots in the second half of the day, which I hadn't realised. She reckons because I run early in the morning, I ought to eat more calories shortly after this - rather than playing catch up at night, sitting on the couch munching lots of chocolate.

I learn that I have a "half-hour window" following exercise to quickly eat carbohydrates and protein to replenish energy levels and for muscle repair.

I'm also taught that I can have a snack half an hour before a run and that it might be worth having my "main" breakfast soon after exercising. Anna teaches me ways to add protein to things - such as in a smoothie. She also praises me for the food choices I make (ie, 70 per cent cocoa chocolate is full of antioxidants), then teaches me how to tweak meals. She also gives me healthy and practical recipes.

I am interested to learn why there's no ultimate diet - it's because people wake, exercise, work and eat differently and, fundamentally, some people are more on-the-move than others, so burn calories differently.

It's all about getting a meal plan that suits an individual and their lifestyle.

Some of Anna's tips that can help anyone include eating "clean", less processed food, being organised with food (so you are less inclined to eat takeaways) and that a dinner plate should generally be half salad/veg, a quarter protein, a quarter healthy carbs.

Anna adds that carbs are not the nasty things they are made out to be. They are good fuel for muscles, plus they keep us feeling emotionally stable. I will definitely need some on race day.

As for race day food - it's about eating things like porridge in time for it to digest before the big race - and trying foods or race gels beforehand, so I know how my body will react to them.

How much? There are lots of different prices for individuals to family plans. For example, a face-to-face meeting, phone or skype for an individual can be $180 for an initial consultation (1 hour), follow-up chat (30 minutes) $95, and touch-base consultation (15 minutes) $55.

Worth it? The science of good food is important to know.

Try it: Mission Nutrition: Dietitians and Nutritionists is in Auckland, ph (09) 948 7999.

Rating: 9/10

Rachel wears: Ingrid Starnes Clancy top, $239, Ingrid Starnes Odette cardigan, $359, ph (09) 376 4802.

- Herald on Sunday

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