Derval O'Rourke: Food is big part of your 2019 fitness goals

This week I’m explaining how food works in conjunction with your fitness goals, particularly for those considering a marathon in 2019.

Recipe-wise I’ve got a simple post-workout smoothie and delicious chilli con carne.

In recent weeks I’ve spoken to a lot of people in relation to their 2019 fitness goals and lots of them have told me they are tackling the marathon. With this in mind I sat down with Aishling O’Hea, a nutritional scientist, and we discussed how a well-planned nutrition strategy is key.

With so much information and resources available, it can be difficult to know where to focus your time and effort. The key areas I would focus on, in order of importance, are:

  • 1. Food quantity
  • 2. Food quality
  • 3. Nutrient timing
  • 4. Supplements

I will cover the first two headings this week and follow up with the remaining two in next week’s column. I want to dedicate enough time to covering each aspect in detail so as to give you the best advice possible.


Adequately fuelling your body is so important when it comes to training. Undereating during heavy training periods can lead to a number of negative physical problems — loss of muscle, illness, decreased sleep, decreased performance and poor recovery, with knock-on psychological effects. We need to make sure we are consuming sufficient calories (from food and drinks) to offset our energy expended on exercise.

There are a whole host of online calculators you can use to estimate your energy requirements. They are never going to be 100% accurate so it’s important to monitor your weight and performance and adjust your intake as required.

I think that for most people counting calories and tracking food can be more hassle than it’s worth. Instead, I would keep a food diary to track your intake and to highlight areas you could improve on. I would focus on getting in three good meals and 2-3 snacks plus extras on training days if needed.

It’s important to talk about macronutrient intakes; this refers to the amount of protein, fat and carbohydrates you are consuming.

Protein – As an athlete your protein requirements will be higher than the general population but you can still meet them through a normal balanced diet. General guidelines would be 1.2-1.4g/kg/day for distance runners. My advice would be to spread your protein intake over the course of the day and to aim for 25-30g at each meal; that’s roughly equivalent to one chicken breast,one salmon fillet, three eggs, 300g Greek yoghurt or one scoop of whey protein. Getting enough protein into your diet can help increase muscle recovery; repair muscle damage; increase adaptations to training; increase performance, and support immune function.

Carbohydrates – The evidence suggests that for sports — a higher CHO diet helps to replenish muscle glycogen stores and promote optimal adaptations to regular training. The recommendation for carbohydrate intake for runners is between 5-10g carbohydrate/kg body weight/day. The advice would be to aim for 1-2 cupped handfuls at each meal and then top it up with snacks as needed. Aim your diet around slow release versions like oats, potatoes, brown rice, quinoa and wholemeal bread and use quick release versions around training sessions and races and top up your intake if needed.

Fat – Fats are essential for optimum health and performance. They help to maintain a healthy immune system, produce recovery hormones and can act as a fuel source for lower intensity and longer duration exercise. Low-fat diets (<15% of your total calorie intake) are not advisable long term. Aim for a 1-2 thumb-sized portions of fat at each meal and two portions of oily fish per week. If this is not achievable for you then a fish oil supplement may be advantageous.


While eating enough food is the primary issue when it comes to sports performance, the types of foods you eat are also important. Base your diet around whole foods that are rich in the vitamins, minerals and fibre your body needs to function at its best. Aim to fill half your plate with vegetables and try to incorporate as much colour as possible. I often get asked about multivitamins and while it may be beneficial for those in calorie deficit or with poor dietary quality, the evidence suggests they do not improve strength or endurance performance.

Hydration is an important factor and can be considered under three headings:

Before an event: Drink enough fluids the day before and the morning of the marathon to ensure you are hydrated, about 300 – 500 ml water/isotonic drink before the race should be sufficient. Monitor the colour and volume of your urine as a measure of hydration status; if you are passing less urine or the colour becomes darker than normal, then you may not be drinking enough fluids.

During session: During training, you lose fluid through sweating. If these fluid losses are not replaced by drinking, you run the risk of becoming dehydrated, which can cause fatigue and impair your performance. Fluid requirements are different for everyone but as a general guide, for runs lasting less than 60 minutes, water should be sufficient and for runs longer than 90 minutes an isotonic sports (Lucozade sport or homemade version) drink may help to replace fluids and provide a source of carbohydrate during longer runs. Aim to drink 100-150 ml every 15-20 minutes or at a rate that is comfortable.

After: Aim to replace fluids and electrolytes by drinking fluids slowly over the next 24 hours.

Milk can be a great option post workout. Also, ensure you have rehydrated before consuming alcohol after the race.

Once you have your food quantity and quality in order you are well on the way to having a solid base to your training nutrition.

I will cover the final two tiers of the sports nutrition pyramid, nutrient timing and supplements, in next week’s column.

Fitspiration: @anitabean1

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Red lentil shepherd’s pie Happy New Year! Here’s a fool-proof recipe for a lovely warming Shepherd’s pie from The Vegetarian Athlete’s Cookbook to kick off the New Year It combines nutritious root vegetables with lentils and thyme and strikes the perfect balance between healthy and comforting I’ve used both white and sweet potatoes for the topping. Sweet potatoes have a similar calorie and carbohydrate content to ordinary potatoes but are richer in beta-carotene. The vegetables and lentil filling provides plenty of protein, fibre, B vitamins and iron. I’ve used carrots, butternut squash, pepper and courgettes but you can swap for different veg. Recipe from The Vegetarian Athlete’s Cookbook Serves 4 1 tbsp olive oil 1 onion, chopped 2 garlic cloves, crushed 2 large carrots, chopped ½ butternut squash, peeled and chopped 1 red pepper, chopped 2 courgettes, chopped 2 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped (or 2 tsp dried) 250 g (9 oz) red lentils 750 ml vegetable stock (3 tsp vegetable bouillon or 3 stock cubes dissolved in hot water) 400 g (14 oz) can chopped tomatoes 3 tbsp tomato purée 1 kg (2.2 lb) mixture of white (ordinary) potatoes and sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks 2 tbsp olive oil or butter Salt and freshly ground black pepper Preheat the oven to 190 °C/170 °C fan/Gas mark 5. Heat the olive oil in a large pan and fry the onion and garlic for 3-4 minutes until softened. Add the carrots, butternut squash, pepper and courgette and cook for 10 minutes. If it starts sticking a little, add a splash of water. Add the lentils, stock, chopped tomatoes and tomato purée and stir. Cover and leave to simmer gently for about 20-25 minutes until the lentils are pulpy, stirring occasionally. Add a little more stock if you think it needs it. Meanwhile, boil the potatoes for 15-20 minutes until tender. Drain, then mash with the olive oil or butter, salt and pepper. Spoon the lentil mixture into an ovenproof dish, top with the mash, then bake in the oven until the mashed potato starts to crisp and brown at the edges, about 20 minutes. Serve with broccoli and green beans. #shepherdspie #lentils #veggiepie

A post shared by Anita Bean (@anitabean1) on

Anita Bean is a sports nutritionist, registered nutritionist and best-selling author.

Her Instagram page is packed with recipes to help fuel your performance and evidence-based information on all things sports nutrition.

Pre Gym Smoothie

This smoothie is a great option after a tough session. It’s got protein to help muscle growth and repair, carbohydrates to help refuel your energy stores, and hydration from the milk to replace fluid losses.

Serves: Makes one tall glass.

Nutritional information:

  • Protein – 37g
  • Fat – 19g
  • Carbohydrates – 71g
  • Calories – 584


  • 1 banana, peeled
  • 1 tbsp peanut butter
  • 3 tbsp porridge oats
  • 1 tbsp milled flax seeds
  • 200ml milk: add an extra 100ml if adding protein
  • Three-quarter scoop vanilla protein powder — optional protein kick

Place all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth.

Pour into a tall glass and serve, or pour into a travel cup and take on the go!

Chili Con Carne

This is a perfect post-run dinner and one that the whole family will enjoy. Leftovers are portable and perfect for a workday lunch. The meat sauce freezes really well too, so it’s a great recipe to make in big batches.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour

Serves: 5

Nutritional information:

  • Protein - 78g
  • Fat - 31g
  • Carbohydrate - 38g
  • Calories - 765


  • Tbsp. coconut oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 chili, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1¼ kg lean minced beef
  • 2 × 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
  • a handful of cherry tomatoes halved
  • 500ml beef stock
  • 5 tbsp tomato purée
  • 400g tin of kidney beans drained and rinsed
  • Salt and pepper
  • 250g natural yoghurt
  • A handful of chives, chopped
  • A handful of coriander leaves
  • Brown rice, to serve

Heat a tablespoon of coconut oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for five minutes, until softened. Add the garlic, chili and paprika and cook for five minutes, stirring frequently.

Heat a tablespoon of coconut oil in another large pan over medium heat. Add the beef and cook for about five minutes, until golden brown. Use a slotted spoon to remove the cooked mince, leaving behind the fat in the pan.

Place the cooked mince into the pan with the onions. Add the chopped tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, stock and tomato purée and stir well. Simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Stir in the kidney beans and cook for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix the yoghurt and chives in a medium bowl and set aside.

When you are ready to serve, season the chili con carne to taste. Ladle it into warmed serving bowls and top each portion with a tablespoon of the yoghurt and chives. Sprinkle over the coriander. Serve with brown rice

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