You've downloaded the couch-to-5k plan, and you've brought a smart new pair of running shoes. But did you know that nutrition also plays a big role in running performance, even if you're just starting out?

We spoke to registered nutritional therapist and run coach Helen Morton, for her tips.

1. Hydration is important, no matter what the weather

“Running causes sweat loss and those fluids need replenishing to avoid dehydration," says Morton. "Drinking sufficient fluids helps to regulate body temperature, keep your joints lubricated, and flush out waste from your body. Staying hydrated can also help control sugar cravings; thirst is often mistaken for hunger.

“Although there is no set recommendation for daily fluid intake, a good rule of thumb is eight glasses, or two litres, consumed evenly throughout the day. Water and herbal teas count as fluids, but alcohol and caffeinated drinks do not. Don’t forget that vegetables and fruits also contain water so count towards your fluid intake too.”

2. Aim for a healthy balanced diet

“As a beginner to running you do not need to worry in great detail about the specifics of nutrition; however, it is important to aim for an overall healthy and balanced diet to best support your running.

“Base your meals around fresh vegetables and fruit, carbohydrates such as oats, potatoes, rice, pasta and bread, lean protein including eggs, fish, meat, beans and pulses, and healthy fat from olive oil, nuts and seeds, and avocados. Tailor your food intake relative to your training. On the days you run you may benefit from slightly more carbohydrates and protein, while on non-training days carbohydrates and protein needs will be lower. 

“Treat foods are fine as part of a healthy, balanced diet but don’t use the excuse of taking up running to overindulge.”

3. Don't overeat

“Yes, you do need to ensure that you have eaten enough in the hours before running to have sufficient energy to fuel you through your run. However, overeating will make you feel sluggish and may cause stomach cramps. Every runner is different but, as a general rule, leaving around three hours after a main meal before running will give enough time for digestion.

“Another reason for not overeating is if you are running to help with weight loss. Although some runners find hunger levels can increase, new runners who stick with sensible portion sizes and eating regular, healthy meals are rewarded with a better chance of weight loss, as well as increased fitness.”

4. Keep a food and training log

“New runners often get caught up in training plans and results. With many apps and ways of recording running distances and times, it is easy to keep track of improvements in performance.

“Keeping track of your nutrition is another useful practice for new runners. Food diaries are very revealing. By knowing what, and when, you eat and drink, it can be possible to determine why you are slowing down at the end of a run or why you have come down with yet another cold.

“It isn’t necessary to record your nutrition every day, but keeping a record for a few days every now and then can be very useful alongside your training log.”

5. Mimic race day nutrition during training

“One of the most common mistakes I see with new runners is making different food and drink choices on race day. They get caught up in the excitement and nerves of the race, leading to nutrition plans going out of the window. This pattern tends to result in either stomach complaints during the race or inadequate fuelling and not performing to the best of their ability.

“Your best strategy is to try out different food and drink combinations during training, work out the best nutrition plan for you, and then stick to it. One trick to keeping to a schedule of fuelling during a long-distance race like a marathon is to write on your hand mile markers or set your watch to alert every 30 minutes.”

Helen Morton can be found at

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